“Hackcess to Justice” Legal Hackathons in 2014 and 2015

8812567121_f31c46101c_z

Image by Sebastiaan ter Burg

 

[This post was originally uploaded on August 14, 2014. It has been updated below with new information on February 15, 2015 and again on March 24, 2015.]

August 14, 2014 Post:

Last week, the American Bar Association held its 2014 annual meeting in Boston. Among many other events and presentations, was one called Hackcess to Justice, a two-day hackathon held at Suffolk School of Law. The goal was to produce tools and apps to enable greater access to legal services for people who otherwise might not be able to obtain assistance or legal representation. A number of these problems seeking technological solutions were first identified by the Legal Services Corporation. A fully detailed report was posted on ABAnet.org on August 8, 2014, entitled Winning Apps in ‘Hackcess to Justice’ Help Write Wills, Navigate Disasters and Calculate Jail Time.

Prize money was awarded to the first, second and third place winners. The winning entries were apps, respectively, for creating and distributing living wills and health care proxies; proving information and resources to people in natural disasters; and to determine eligibility for legal help in MA and to calculate the length of state prison terms.

Recently, there have been other legal hackathons around the US. Two of them include one held at Brooklyn Law School in April 2014 and another held MIT in June 2014.

I hope to see more of these events in the future as I anticipate that they will continue to produce interesting results potentially benefiting clients and attorneys alike. I also think it will be interesting to track whether any of the tools and apps resulting from these legal hackathons gain acceptance in the marketplace for legal services.

February 15, 2015 Update:

A new Hackcess to Justice legal hackathon will be held in New Orleans on March 21 and 22, 2015. It is being presented by the ABA Journal and the New Orleans Bar Association. The details and a link to the registration page appeared in an article on ABAnet.org on February 12,, 2015 entitled Registration Opens for Hackcess to Justice New Orleans, by Lee Rawles. The event will be held at Loyola University New Orleans College of Law. Here is the link on the law school’s calendar to the event. The objectives, procedures and presentations appear to be very similar to the first Hackcess to Justice event held at Suffolk School of Law discussed above.

Once again, I am delighted to see another legal hackathon in the works. I believe that many tangible and positive results can come from such events for clients, law students, law schools, lawyers, bar associations, and the entire legal profession. My best wishes for its success in New Orleans and I hope to see these events spreading to other areas in the US and elsewhere.

March 24, 2015 Update:

A fanfare, please!

The top three winners of Hackcess to Justice competition (described in the February 15, 2015 post above), were announced on the Daily News page on the ABAJournal.com site yesterday, March 23, 2015. The article entitled Winning App at Hackess to Justice New Orleans Helps Clients Preserve Evidence, was written by Victor Li. I highly recommend clicking through and reading this for all of the details of these imaginative and innovative apps. It also has an embedded deck of tweets (with the links and hashtags remaining clickable), from the event that provide a vivid sense of this competition and the enthusiasm of its entrants.

Briefly summing up the top three winners:

  • First place went to an app called Legal Proof by a Omega Ortega LLC. This enables users to photograph documents and other evidence, generate metadata for it, and record additional relevant data.
  • Second place was awarded to attorneys William Palin and Ernie Svenson for a document generation app they call Paperless. This is designed specifically for legal aid attorneys to ascertain client eligibility, exchange legal documents, and transmit reminders concerning legal dates and issues.
  • Third place was won by a New Orleans non-profit called Operation Spark that promotes careers in software for young people. Their winning app is called ExpungeMe. This helps users to generate documents needed to prepare an expungement request without an attorney.

Massive amounts of congratulations to all of the winners!

Let’s continue to track these important events and the exciting new apps that are emerging from them.

Twitter Invests $10M in Establishing the Laboratory for Social Machine at MIT

The astronomical diversity of Twitter users and topics never ceases to expand and amaze. Everyone and their neighbor from #anthropologists to #zoologists and countless others post approximately 500 million Tweets each day. This produces a virtual ocean of highly valuable data and accompanying analytics that have found applications in, among a multitude of other areas, e-commerce, marketing, entertainment, government, sports, academia, science, medicine and law. For example, two recent Subway Fold posts here have looked at the mappings of Twitter networks and the analysis of Twitter traffic about TV shows to examine this phenomenon.

Taking this to yet another level of involvement and sophistication was an announcement on October 1, 2014 that was posted on Gigaom.com entitled Twitter Gives MIT $10M and Access to the Firehose to Build a Laboratory for Social Machines, by Matthew Ingram. To briefly recap, Twitter is providing funding for a new undertaking at MIT called the Laboratory for Social Machines (LSM). Its mandate is to examine the effects of social media on society, including the creation of new tools (such as pattern recognition and data visualization), and methodologies for doing so. They further intend to create a platform where the findings can be openly discussed and possibly acted upon by the interested parties.

LSM will have access to the entire quantum of Twitter posts going back to the social platform’s launch in 2006. Other planned participants will include journalists, “social groups and movements”. Their website provides more fine-grained details about their objectives, approaches and personnel. I highly recommend clicking through to the LSM site to learn more and get a genuine sense that this could really be something big. As well, their own new Twitter feed is @mitlsm.

Additional coverage of this story can be found here on The Wall Street Journal’s Digits blog and here on the Boston Business Journal’s techflash blog.

What a remarkable and admirable leap forward this is for Twitter and MIT. At its outset, this sounds like a venture that is destined to produce practical and actionable benefits to nterested groups across the real and virtual worlds, not to mention the positive publicity and good will this announcement has already generated.

My own questions include:

  • Will other interested parties be invited to provide funding or is this an exclusive venture between Twitter and MIT?
  • What types of new startups will the work of LSM inspire and support? Will LSM expand itself to become an incubator of some sort?
  • What policies will guide the LSM’s decision-making on the types of studies, tools, movements and so on to pursue? Is establishing an advisory board in their current plans?
  • Will other universities build comparable labs for social media studies?
  • Will professional organizations, trade associations, and other specific interest groups likewise create their own such labs?

Spotify Enhances Playlist Recommendations Processing with “Deep Learning” Technology

Music fans across the Web are now using music streaming services such as Spotify and YouTube for more than downloading sites according to a report in the July 3, 2014 edition of The New York Times entitled Downloads in Decline as Streamed Music Soars. Moreover, streaming is continuing to gain momentum for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it is less expensive to access. Correspondingly, downloading sales are in decline. This article contains all of the details about this very significant shift in the online music marketplace, including the benefits to consumers and the concerns of musical artists.

A related follow up report entitled How Spotify is Working on Deep Learning to Improve Playlists was posted on Gigaom.com on August 5, 2014 that helps to explain how Spotify is trying to maintain its technical advantage. As reported here, Sander Dieleman, and intern at the company, has developed a method based upon deep learning (a branch of artificial intelligence), that parses large data sets in a new manner aimed at getting newer and lesser known recommendations into Spotify’s users’ playlist recommendations. Underlying this data processing is an examination of the acoustical properties of the user base’s song preferences.

The science behind the recommendation engines used so successfully by Spotify as well as Netflix and Amazon has come along many light years in it sophistication and accuracy since its earliest incarnations on the Web. For a comparative historical perspective, I also, well, recommend checking out an article from the December 1997 issue of WIRED magazine entitled Pattie about the work of Dr. Pattie Maes, a professor at MIT who founded (and later sold to Microsoft), a company called Firefly. Its technology was was one of the first efforts used to create software “agents” to scour the web for user-defined preferences for prices and products.

December 19, 2014 Update: 

Presenting an even stronger case that you-ain’t-seen-nothing-yet in this field was an engaging analysis of some still largely unseen developments in deep learning posted on December 15, 2014, on Gigaom.com entitled What We Read About Deep Learning is Just the Tip of the Iceberg by Derrick Harris. These include experimental systems being tested by the likes of Google, Facebook and Microsoft. As well, there were a series of intriguing presentations and demos at the recent Neural Information Processing Systems conference held in Montreal. As detailed here with a wealth of supporting links, many of these advanced systems and methods are expected to gain more press and publicity in 2015.

 

Recent Conferences Addressing Changes and Innovation in the Legal Marketplace

During the past few months, I have had the opportunities to attend, either in person or by webcast, four conferences addressing the dramatic technological, business and service changes affecting all sectors of the legal market. The speakers have covered such topics as legal entrepreneurs, big data and analytics, project management, adding design elements law practice, enhancing law schools’ offerings with business and tech skills, collaboration methodologies and platforms, pricing models, expert systems, legal apps, addressing under-served markets for legal services, and ethical considerations posed by many of these changes. The links below contain videos of many of these presentations and offer an incisive window into how various innovators and their innovations are leading the way towards meeting these challenges.

  • Reinvent Law NYC held on February 7, 2014 at Cooper Union in New York is part of the ongoing series of Reinvent Law presentations being organized by the Reinvent Law Laboratory at Michigan State Law School. This show was standing room only on what was a very bitter cold day in NYC. IMHO, everyone involved in the production and presentation of this did an outstanding job of directly defining and addressing the current and future technological and business issues. Videos of some of the presentations from this and other Reinvent Law events are available on the site’s Reinvent Law Channel.
  • Disruptive Innovation in the Market for Legal Services was a day-long conference at Harvard Law School held on March 6, 2014 covering many of the same concerns. I found the concluding Q&A session with the last panel of speakers to be particularly compelling.
  • LegalScience.TV was a graduate seminar presented at MIT’s Media Lab on March 13, 2014. Many of the speakers focused on the more scientific and technological influences and innovations in law practice.
  • From Bleak House to Geek House: Evolving Law for Entrepreneurial Lawyers was another all day conference held last week at Brooklyn Law School on April 4, 2014. The details are clickable here and the videos are gathered here on YouTube.  Among a great many other things expertly covered by the speakers, was the changing needs of today’s legal education.

The next conference on many of these issues, themes and advances will be Codex Presents the Future of Law 2014 conference to be held at Stanford Law School on May 2, 2014. Here is the agenda of what sounds like a top flight lineup of speakers and their topics.