We Came, We Saw, We Conquered

Why We Went by Robby Barthelmess

The legal technology field is a frontier for both entrepreneurs and lawyers. We’ve all seen major changes in our lifetimes due to technology, and many more of those changes are certain to come from disruption within the legal market. Now is a perfect time to jump into the world of legal technology.

Jacob, Tiffany, and I are first year students at Seattle University’s School of Law. When Tiffany came across the announcement for a legal technology startup weekend in Seattle, the three of us jumped at the opportunity to participate in the nation’s second-ever Legal Tech Startup Weekend. Startup Weekend is a competition in which participants pitch ideas for a new business, vote on the best ideas, and then break up into teams to build a product in fewer than 48 hours. At the end of the weekend, a panel of expert judges listens to presentations and votes on the first, second, and third-place teams. Although only four 1L students sacrificed a weekend of casebook reading (which, I thought, was not difficult to pass on), we knew that the investment would be worth it.

The three of us are part of the so-called “Millennial Generation.” Our reality is defined by a troubling economic future and a lifestyle heavily influenced by the Internet. The competition is intense for those of us entering the legal market. We recognize that opportunity is out there, but we need to separate ourselves and stand out from the number of other soon-to-be law school graduates around us. This Startup Weekend seemed like an opportunity to do just that.

Despite the industry’s slow adoption of new technology, the optimist inside of us sees this as an opportune time to strike. We didn’t want to sit by and watch these changes come—we want to be a part of them.

Legal technology is going to be a part of our future legal careers whether we want it to be or not. We thought we could begin toying with the possibilities offered by this emerging field by taking a shot at building the latest legal technology. Legal Tech Startup Weekend was the perfect way to get our feet wet in this new and exciting market that shows great promise. We were excited to meet others in the industry, put our creative minds to work, and experience a bit of how the law works outside of a classroom.

What We Learned by Jacob Wittman

Legal Technology Startup Weekend was valuable for reasons other than free food and good vibes—although a law student does appreciate the free food. The weekend provided law students with the tools necessary to engage in startup companies, small business practice, and the legal technology industry.

Coming into startup weekend I had never heard of a “sprint,” and being a distance runner in high school, I thought to myself, “No way am I sprinting anywhere!” I came to learn that a sprint is a designated time period in which a team is tasked to complete a project, with the goal of completing a shippable product. Sprints begin with a planning meeting where the team lead and development team agree on what work will be accomplished during the sprint length. Sprint lengths vary—some are days, while some may last weeks. During legal startup weekend, the typical sprint would last four to six hours.

During the sprint, teams check-in at the daily scrum meeting and provide team updates, issues, and goals. The scrum meetings were an effective learning device and can be applied to many situations. The scrum allowed a team to reflect on the work that had been recently completed, focus on important issues that needed to be attended to, and create short-term and long-term goals. The scrum is effective in the development sense, but also can be applied to varying academic situations. The scrum may be an effective tool for law students to use in their studies to reflect on recent work with others, discover issues in learning legal complicated theories, and set short-term and long-term academic goals.

Legal Startup Weekend provided me with the tools to enter into startup businesses. The three-day weekend began with many participants making an initial pitch—participants then chose a team based on the idea. The team-building process was very quick and complex. Within one hour, we had our pitch made, team built, and tasks designated. With such a small time window, communication was key. I learned to communicate more efficiently with team members by asking, “What do you need from me?” and informing the other members if there was a task that I could not complete myself.

We only had three days to design, build, and test an application. Although communication was important, completion of designated tasks was instrumental to the team’s success. I learned that when working in a team setting, each person is just as important as any other. If one team member failed to complete their designated task, it was up to the others to ensure the task was completed. Thankfully, all members of my team were able to finish the assigned tasks.

Last, and most importantly, the weekend reminded me to have fun. Although the task at hand was difficult and time was an essential element, the team was able to grow closer and work more efficiently by building a product that we enjoyed building. This can be applied to the law school setting when working through complicated legal scenarios and adopting legal theory may be difficult and frustrating.

Legal Technology Startup Weekend was an amazing experience and provided me with tools that can be used in varying experiences.

Why It Was Valuable by Tiffany Curtiss

To say we are entering the digital age would be incorrect. We have been in the digital age for at least two decades now. Yet, the legal community is still slowly wading into cyberspace. Long-held legal traditions are still being reconciled with innovative and disruptive technologies. One large barrier in updating our thinking to the digital age is often our own inability to understand how technologies work and foresee how they may work in the future.

As a law student, much of my time is devoted to reading century-old cases. There is rarely time to keep up with current legal news, let alone the quickly evolving tech industry. Unless you go to Legal Startup Weekend, that is.

As with any diverse team, we had opportunity to improve on communication skills and share varying perspectives. I learned how to lighten up on my legalese, and my developers learned how to simplify their tech talk. Working with developers and designers enabled me to get a crash course in what is possible today with current technologies, many of which raise interesting hypotheticals of how various rules and regulations would be applied. For example, how can we promote market efficiency between legal skills and legal needs through the internet, while staying within the bounds of ethical standards of various state bar associations and preserving privacy protections? Where I would see one door shut, my technical counterparts would see another door open.  It stretched my imagination of what legal considerations I may be facing when I become a practicing attorney.

To responsibly influence public policy, I believe the legal community has an obligation to learn and understand the world that we live in. Technology will only become increasingly integrated into all aspects of our lives. I view Legal Startup Weekend as a great way for me to keep a finger on the pulse of the industry and build a network of technology professionals that can expose me to new perspectives outside of the classroom.

About the Authors

Robby Barthelmess (barthelm@seattleu.edu), Jacob Wittman (wittman1@seatle.edu) and Tiffany Curtiss (tiffany.j.curtiss@gmail.com) (pictured respectively) are students at the Seattle University School of Law.

(Image Credit: ShutterStock)


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