Bringing Facebook-Style Hackathons To The Law

By Ian Davison on

Legal Cheek’s tech correspondent i@n davison shares his diary from one of the all-night hackathons he has introduced at his in-house legal department

I am a big fan of Facebook’s legendary ‘hackathons’, where the social network’s employees stay up from dusk til dawn working together on creative side projects – which they then use to help take the business forward.

Pedram Keyani, the Facebook coder who came up with the idea, explained the philosophy recently in Fast Company: “The core idea is to take ideas you haven’t had a chance to focus on and think about them in a different way,” he said.

I am proud to say that I have introduced hackathons myself in the legal team I head up at a leading global solutions management company. Just like at Facebook, some of the best ideas we have had have been generated during the hackathons, which we’ve been running for six months now.

Yet for some strange reason hackathons are still rare among solicitors. To try to raise awareness of their positive benefits, I kept e-diary of our most recent one last week, which I have shared below.

8pm: The last of the regular guys from the office has left and finally it’s just my team, all three of us: Duncan, Patricia and myself. “The hackathon begins!” I call out, and we get to work.

8.30pm: I take out an app – which regular readers of my column may remember – that I developed at a previous hackathon. It’s still at the beta prototype stage, but as you can see below, it has all the key ingredients to perform as an effective bridge between time recording software and social media, with an added rehydration element.

9.30pm: As a leader it’s absolutely key to ensure that other members of the team are moving forward positively. So I make a cup of tea on my app and take it over to Duncan, who’s working on what, in simple terms, is a kind of ball made up of rubber bands. Duncan sees it as a metaphor for the increasing flexibility of the legal market. Tonight he is looking to take it forward into a physical tool usable when negotiating the purchase of legal services. Duncan seems very focused on actioning this goal, so I move on.

11pm: I’ve been comforting Patricia for over an hour now. She has got a little bit “silly and upset” about missing the bedtime of her little boys, and I remind her of the importance of perspective. It’s a competitive job market right now for those without employment, and we only do hackathons once every fortnight. “Hackathons are key to the performance of the team,” I remind her.

12am: Midnight! And time for the traditional hackathon Chinese takeaway. Like Mark Zuckerberg and the guys at Facebook, we have this tradition of going to a particular Chinese takeaway during hackathons. When the food arrives, I spread it out across a table and we all dig in.

1.30am: “We’ve only experienced the tip of the iceberg of the impact of the SodaStream,” I explain to Patricia and Duncan, as we sit among the empty takeaway containers and I serve up some soft drinks. “The last time I purchased a can of Coke was the day before I received my SodaStream in 1987, but I’m aware that others have been slower to move with the times,” I explain to them. “What if we could do to legal services what the SodaStream will continue to do to the carbonated drinks market?” Duncan asks. An idea is born.

7am: We’ve been working flat out on our legal services syrup for five hours when I spot the sunrise. “Sunrise!” I shout, before asking Patricia to press play on the stereo. Our hackathon anthem, U2’s ‘Beautiful Day’, begins its familiar tune. Full of energy and ideas, it’s time to start the traditional working day.

i@n davison is a senior in-house lawyer at a leading global solutions management company. There is more from i@n here.