Like many in-housers, the Z Energy lawyers knew they could manage their information better. Systems and filing conventions that had grown organically over time no longer worked as well for a larger team with a wide scope of responsibilities. But before buying a potentially expensive document management system, they decided to explore whether they could adapt some of Z Energy's existing tools and technologies for their purposes.
Enter the hackathon!
Hackathons are events where IT developers and other professionals collaborate intensively on a project, with the goal to create a functioning solution by the end of the event.
The Z legal team put aside a full day to focus on working through all their requirements. Z Energy's IT team fully supported the legal team's initiative, with both digital partners and solution architects attending the whole day. I was invited as Juno’s legal technologist to share my experience of the needs of lawyers and the solutions I have seen developed and helped develop for other legal teams.
Over the course of the hackathon, the legal professionals in the room shared experiences of what worked well, what could be improved, and how they would like to work if the IT tools let them. We discussed matter management, knowledge management and documents and records management. The IT professionals worked through the requirements, suggested possibilities and supported the discussions. Everyone was open to new ideas and shared their views openly and freely. Over the course of the day, post-it notes were applied to whiteboards and lawyers were involved in detailed discussions about the relative merits of structured databases against unstructured wikis for metadata management of legal knowledge. I facilitated the discussion and contributed some ideas at the outset, but the key to the success of the hackathon was being agile and following the flow of the discussions to their natural conclusions.
By the end of the day, a working proof of concept prototype had been set up and demonstrated, largely using Z Energy's existing technologies. The Z Energy legal team expects to be trialling the new prototype in earnest within another week or two.
A great advantage of hackathons for legal teams is having dedicated time where the urgent (i.e. requests for legal advice) doesn’t constantly trump the important (developing new and better ways of working).
In my experience, most IT teams are desperate for feedback on the tools and systems they support, and are very happy to make modifications or deploy new systems where there is a business need. But a delayed feedback cycle on existing or new tools as busy legal teams will "get around to looking at that when they get the chance" makes it very hard for IT teams to make improvements where they are needed.
Another great benefit of a joint legal and IT hackathon is showing IT just what goes on in a legal team. As lawyers, we often underestimate just how mysterious legal services can be to non-lawyers. While legal teams do have some special requirements, many other needs are common with other work teams, and tools and technologies may well already exist in the business (the statement "lawyers are just professional email handlers" may be been mentioned during the hackathon).
And of course, there are very few ways other than a hackathon to actually have a working prototype by the end of the day and a trial version deployed within weeks!
Z Energy based the majority of their legal tech solution on their existing Office 365 platform, with a couple of additional third party add-ons. Office 365 is a fantastic tool, but many legal teams could be getting more out of their existing subscriptions, often just by turning on or off certain functionality.
If you are an existing or former Juno Legal client, please get in touch with me to schedule a complimentary one-hour consultation or workshop on how to better use your legal tools and technologies, and if you are a new contact, we’d love to hear from you.