There’s a good chance that if you mentioned the word “hackathon” to someone in the legal profession two years ago, they might not know what that word meant and all that it would soon encompass for Big Law.
But since the veritable success of the 2016 Women in Law Hackathon that produced the widely implemented Mansfield Rule, the Diversity Lab, an organization dedicated to closing the gender and diversity gap in the legal profession, is poised to announce this week that it will be holding two new hackathon sessions in 2018.
“There’s just been an outpour of interest in continuing to try new things,” said Caren Ulrich Stacy, CEO of the Diversity Lab.
The first hackathon will run from February to June, in partnership with Harvard Law School Executive Education, while Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law and the University of California, Hastings College of the Law will host a second session running from July through November. Bloomberg Law is facilitating the series in collaboration with Diversity Lab.
Rather than focusing solely on the issue of women in the law, Ulrich said that next year’s hackathons will focus on the broader topic of diversity and inclusion within the legal profession. Also, for the first time, the hackathons will be open to in-house legal departments.
Participants will be divided into a team of eight law firm and legal department leaders who will meet at a kick-off event and then work together virtually during the following three-to-four months to develop innovative ideas designed to address pipeline issues, as well as the retention and advancement of diverse lawyers in the legal profession.
Teams in the second hackathon session will have the opportunity to either develop new ideas or “hack” other ideas from previous sessions and continue to develop them, Ulrich said. The teams will then present their ideas at a pitch session at the conclusion of their respective hackathon.
Ulrich said the decision to include legal departments in this iteration was made because general counsel face many of the same issues that law firms now face in terms of retaining diverse talent. Given the recent diversity demands that general counsel are placing on law firms, these hackathon sessions will give both sides the opportunity to work in tandem to create innovative solutions to fix this common issue, Ulrich said.
“Instead of just saying, ‘Do better,’ [they’re] helping law firms to think through how to do better and then partnering with law firms to increase diversity and inclusion for them and then also looking internally at the legal department,” added Ulrich, who has previously held positions at Arnold & Porter, Cooley, McGuireWoods and Weil, Gotshal & Manges.
As of Monday, Ulrich said 16 legal departments, including representatives from 3M Co., Amazon.com Inc., Bank of America Corp., Facebook Inc., GlaxoSmithKline plc and 41 law firms, including new Am Law 100 participants like Shearman & Sterling and Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton, have already committed to attending one of the two hackathons next year.
“There are so many law firms and legal departments now that are seemingly wanting to try something new,” Ulrich said. “They understand that the things we’ve been doing to boost diversity and inclusion either haven’t worked or haven’t worked fast enough, and so now they’re seemingly OK with trying something and failing, which is a really good first step.”