Opening Statements

Tech-based problem-solving movement spreads to lawyers

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Hack isn't a word with a lot of positive professional connotations.

But an international network of attorneys, academics and technology professionals is embracing the word as they preach the practice of legal hacking. Their aim is to rethink the way lawyers think by creating a formal network of similarly minded lawyers called Legal Hackers.

The group now counts chapters around the globe, including ones in New York City, Seattle and Washington, D.C., as well as South Korea. They host "hackathons," workshops and Meetup-style gatherings to discuss issues relating to law, technology and policy. Their aim is to make the legal system more efficient and accessible through technology.

Now the founders of the movement are putting a spotlight on it by taking it to the South by Southwest Interactive conference and presenting a panel on legal hacking. The panel was the idea of Jameson J. Dempsey of the chapter DC Legal Hackers.

Seattle lawyer Dan Lear was one of the four panelists at the Austin, Texas-based event in March. While the SXSW audience may not be exclusively attorneys from large, traditional firms, being on the schedule shows the movement has street cred. Team members hope it will spur more awareness of their efforts.

"We are bringing together lawyers and technology and creating a lingua franca," says New York lawyer Phil Weiss, who, with Lear, is one of the founders of the legal hackers movement. Weiss, who also spoke at SXSW, says legal hackers used to get raised eyebrows of skepticism when they talked about their passion.

The group hopes the SXSW event will help those interested see that the movement is "a big tent. This is not for a certain type of lawyer or type of person," says Lear, director of industry relations at Avvo in Seattle. "I think there is a subset of attorneys who want to embrace their inner hacker or outer hacker."

This article originally appeared in the May 2015 issue of the ABA Journal with this headline: "Legal Hacking: The tech-based problem-solving movement spreads to lawyers."
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