Opening Statements

Hackers wanted: DC wants to build an open-source legal platform

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David Zvenyach

Photo of David Zvenyach by David Hills

What if city governments had a way for citizens to view their legislative agenda in real time as committees and the city council hear, mark up and pass bills? What if attorneys had a way to link to legislative citations or judicial opinions as they wrote courtroom briefs?

These coding projects and more are on the mind of David Zvenyach, general counsel of the Council of the District of Columbia, as he seeks D.C.'s first-ever "civic hacker in residence" to develop open-source tools and platforms that improve access to public data and enhance city government transparency.

The "free law innovation fellow" will work alongside practicing government lawyers to prototype, test and roll out code, building on the council's previous work in providing online access to D.C. municipal codes. "I want somebody who has experience putting together projects and building things," Zvenyach says.

While he would be perfectly happy to hire an attorney as his civic hacker, he's more concerned about finding someone with development experience. And Zvenyach has another qualification: "Somebody who's willing to work in the open and fail in the open. Our work is going to be open source, allowing the civic hacker community to engage fully. That, for most developers, is not the most comfortable posture."

The civic hacking community includes such groups as DC Legal Hackers and Code for DC, whose continuing feedback the council would like. "These are people who want to give up their nights and weekends, and sometimes during the day, to help the community and government solve its problems, Zvenyach says, "and that's something we should welcome."

He believes the D.C. Council will be the first legislature in America to hire a civic hacker, and he sees the potential to share the results widely. "If we can build tools that work not just in D.C., but across the country, that could be an exciting opportunity," Zvenyach says.

Applications for the position, which has an $80,000 salary, are due Dec. 14.

This article originally appeared in the December 2014 issue of the ABA Journal with this headline: "Hackers Wanted: Washington, D.C., wants to build an open-source legal platform."
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