During the mid-semester break, myself and five other ANU law students were lucky enough to head to Sydney to take part in the Law Society of NSW’s inaugural #Innovatelaw2018 Hackathon competition held in conjunction with the Legal Forecast.
What is a hackathon you ask? We had no idea either. In fact, before meeting at the Jolimont centre on our way to Sydney, nobody in the team had ever even met! However, after the whirlwind experience that the last few months has been I am so grateful I had the opportunity to discover what a hackathon was and take part.
Basically a legal problem-solving competition, legal hackathons are designed to bring together legal minds in collaboration with tech experts and designers to think about what our world will look like in the future, and what ‘innovation’ means in a legal context.
Taking place over three days, our first night in Sydney was spent meeting practicing lawyers, development professionals and other experts in legal tech before being presented our problem by representatives of the NSW Supreme Court. Simply, how can we improve people’s access to interpretation and translation services in the court system?
We then spent Saturday and Sunday in our windowless, fourth-floor meeting room in the city centre, brainstorming and developing our product, ‘InterpretNOW’, we ultimately would pitch to a team of judges. Assisted by a constant stream of interested mentors from across the legal world, slowly everything came together. By Sunday afternoon our “minimum viable product” was ready to go. Just like the problem, our solution was also simple. Our team, hACTivate, had developed an Uber-esque platform designed to connect working interpreters with potential clients in real time, and as fast as possible. Utilising video-conferencing or an availabilities-based system that meant clients could request nearby interpreters to be brought into the courtroom, we designed our platform to plug some of the current holes in the system in relation to accessible interpretation services.
After pitching in front of all the other teams and our panel of judges, it was amazing to learn we were one of two teams chosen as finalists. This meant that this hackathon experience did not end that weekend; as finalists we were invited as a team to the NSW Law Society’s FLIP Conference to pitch again in front of more industry professionals.
While up until this point I had always thought about either becoming a lawyer or looking towards policy-centred opportunities after law school, the FLIP conference particularly opened my eyes to the fact that the legal industry is changing and there are so many opportunities I wouldn’t have ever even thought to consider.
We had the opportunity to meet and talk with law firms and legal start-ups about how technology and the law were being brought together and how, as young people, we are going to be entering a world vastly different to the one we recognise from our studies. While I am still not sure whether this new legal world is exciting, a little scary or a mixture of both, it was an amazing feeling when we took the stage to pitch InterpretNOW alongside so many creative legal thinkers.
Following the conference was the most exciting (and unexpected) part of all – the announcement at the big FLIP awards dinner that hACTivate won the Innovatelaw 2018 NSW Supreme Court challenge. None of us knew what to say, but it was a great feeling to have our ideas listened to by such interesting people.
My biggest lesson from the whole hackathon experience is that words like ‘innovation, technology and design’ can seem so scary at the beginning, but our success was all about teamwork and collaboration.
While I am unsure about InterpretNOW’s future, I know the whole ANU hackathon team is excited about the opportunities that may follow. Particularly, I would love to be involved in running similar initiatives here at ANU. Even though it sounds cheesy, #Innovatelaw2018 showed us all that the future is coming, and that students can and definitely will play a key role in shaping it.
Anneka Atley is in the second year of a Bachelor of Arts / Bachelor of Law (Honours) double degree.