The term “legal hacker” and “legal hackathon” have been bandied about for some time now, and its use seems to have gone through a bit of a renaissance in the past few months in the legal technology space.
RR&H views this development with some mixed feelings. On one hand, it’s great. Awareness about the increasing intersections between computer code and the law require some kind of brand – and any common brand that helps spread the word is alright in our book. “Hacker” is cool and a bit subversive, and we’d be lying if we didn’t say that was alright by us.
On the other hand, to be honest – it’s intellectually flabby. No one at all seems to have a cohesive, concise framework for what, indeed, legal “hacking” is or would imply. No one is at all sure if the idea can weather sustained discussion and argument. At present it seems to gesture vaguely at a not entirely coherent jumble of people, practices, technologies, business models, educational approaches, skill sets, and much more.
The obvious question, then, is whether or not it is actually a useful category. Does it describe something truly new? Is it just a weak attempt to paste a neat title onto an industry in flux (or decline, depending on your view)? Are there more effective ways of explaining or describing the space that we’re in? We’re not honestly sure ourselves.
One thing seems clear though: there’s a need to have a better ongoing dialogue about these issues that steps back from the daily humdrum of the latest product or company acquisition.While people like Richard Susskind and the late Larry Ribstein have laid some of the intellectual groundwork – there’s room to stage an ongoing conversation online with a broader scope of participants and a quicker pace of publication.
We’ll be doing exactly that.