Unless you have a bit of Elliot Alderson in you, you might be put off by a group with “hackers” in its name. But despite the initial connotation, the global Legal Hackers movement is a network of “lawyers, policymakers, designers, technologists, and academics who explore and develop creative solutions to some of the most pressing issues at the intersection of law and technology,” according to its website.
Comprised of a cornucopia of local chapters, Legal Hackers use local meet ups, hackathons, and workshops, to better spot issues and opportunities where technology can improve and inform the practice of law, and where law, legal practice, and policy can adapt to rapidly changing technology, the site describes.
Launching at the beginning of the year, LegalHackersPA — the local Philadelphia chapter — hosted several events throughout the year, such as networking happy hours, meetups at trade shows, hackathons, workshops, and lunch and learns. At their recent Fall Legal Tech Demo & Lunch, held at the Jenkins Law Library, the group showcased three innovators that were each presenting their respective apps for the legal community and beyond.
Interestingly, all three apps had direct or tangential application to access to justice problem-solving solutions, indicating the importance of this issue and the willingness of legal tech entrepreneurs to tackle it. The apps featured at the meetup included:
Presented by founder and legal tech entrepreneur Maggie Treuting, DiaLog is an anonymous blockchain-based workplace assault and harassment reporting app that provides a safe, secure space for employees to store and access their testimonies. (Treuting also co-founded LawDecoder.)
According to the presentation, 78% of employees face some form of unfair treatment at work; 75% of harassment incidents in the workplace are never reported; and 81% of people believe that sexual harassment goes on in most American workplaces today. Faced with those jarring statistics, the need for an anonymous, immutable reporting app is all but a necessity in today’s world.
When a testimony and any supporting data is entered by the DiaLog user, the app records an immutable timestamp, removing “the pressure to speak out before [they] are ready, and the burden of hoping people will take [them] at [their] word.” Testimony and supporting data entered into DiaLog is timeless, anonymous, and encrypted; only publicly viewable when the user chooses to make it so.
Designed to operate in an enterprise environment, DiaLog can be incorporated by socially conscious organizations into their HR departments to create an environment of safety and integrity for their workforce. Built on Ethereum, DiaLog hopes to move to its own private blockchain in the near future.
Katherine Zuk, Community & Outreach Coordinator for Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity (PLSE), offered three projects currently in development for PLSE’s Criminal Record Expungement Project. PLSE is a non-profit legal aid organization with the mission “to work toward just outcomes for low-income individuals who have had contact with the Pennsylvania criminal justice system. Through individual representation, strategic litigation, community education, research, and legislative advocacy, PLSE advocates for a more equitable social environment for those with criminal records, including expanding access to employment and social services.”
The Pennsylvania Clean Slate Law was passed last year with the intention of automatically sealing the criminal records of minor offenders and wiping about half of the charges in the state court’s database. While it is a positive step for many Pennsylvanians trying to move on with their lives, it has the unintended consequence of restricting access for groups like PLSE, who had relied upon the public records database to draft legal paperwork for expungements and complete the erasure of criminal records.
Out of that issue arose three projects: The collection and safe storage of necessary data for their work; The creation of an internal expungement paperwork generator with the ability to screen for sealing and pardon eligibility; and to link the generator to a publicly available app to assist people with filling out pardon applications. Enter the open source app that currently is in development, PardonMe.
The average Philadelphian applying for clemency has a fifth-grade education; and more than 80% of applications submitted to the Board of Pardons are left incomplete, and at least 33% are rejected for errors. Using gamification, the PardonMe app aims to break down the pardon application process with tutorial videos, detailed instructions, and deconstructed questions to assist the applicants in having a better understanding of what they are being asked. The app will even auto-fill “N/A” in fields left blank to help ensure the application will be considered.
When the app comes to fruition, PLSE’s hope is that its open source platform will inspire similar advocacy groups in other states to build off of PardonMe and bring assistance to those in need.
The third app to be presented, and probably the one with the most universal appeal, was Orai, presented by co-founder Aasim Sani. Orai is an interactive speech coaching app designed to train the user to be more confident with public speaking and to tighten up their presentation style.
Using integrated AI, the user receives instant automated feedback and on their pace, filler words (I am a big “umm… uhh…” offender myself), energy level, facial expressions (smile, smile, smile!), pausing, confidence, and the ability to be concise (not my strong suit either). Featuring entertaining, interactive lessons to target valuable skill development, the app customizes curricula to users’ specific needs and goals. In addition, the user can track their progress and gain valuable insight for improvement with tips and tricks.
There is also an enterprise version for organizations that want to offer Orai’s lessons to their employees and enhance public speaking skills across the workforce. The analytics module measures employee improvement, gives personalized feedback, and even generates a leaderboard for the entire team. Additionally, the platform allows scaled, customized training across entire organizations, which would be perfect for sales and customer relations departments or just about any other client-facing occupation.
Overall, the event was informative and even encouraging for the future of legal tech — and certainly for the future of access to justice, which these apps addressed. The LegalHackersPA event also provided a great networking opportunity for professionals of like mind in the Philadelphia area. And for those looking to join this global movement, this event and others offers them a positive step in the right direction towards helping to future-proof the legal industry.