Updated: Feb 2, 2020
On April 21, 2018, Decoding Law from Hong Kong, China, won the public sector award at the inaugural Global Legal Hackathon (GLH) in New York amongst entrants from 40 cities across 22 countries worldwide.
Decoding Law is a machine learning powered browser plug-in that helps people, especially ordinary people who are unrepresented litigants, to read and understand legislation by breaking down complex legislative drafting into simple language and explains defined terms.
The other public sector winner was New York's RightsNow (which enables access to law through voice), and the private sector winners were Denver's LexLucid (which rates online terms and conditions) and Budapest's Revealu (which helps individuals get their personal data under the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation).
[Legaltech and regtech innovators at Hong Kong’s first legaltech and regtech hackathon as part of the Global Legal Hackathon in Hong Kong, together with judges, mentors and organisers]
The Hong Kong access-to-justice solution was created over one hectic weekend by a team comprising Hong Kong University (HKU) and Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) law students, together with experienced software developers, data scientists and AI researchers, at Hong Kong’s very first LegalTech and RegTech hackathon.
Co-organised by Asia Capital Markets Institute (ACMI) and Thomson Reuters, with supporting organisations Fintech Association of Hong Kong (FTAHK), HKU Faculty of Law, Cyberport, WHub, InvestHK, Korum Legal and Association of Corporate Counsel – Hong Kong, this inaugural event enabled Hong Kong to be part of the global community to co-create tech solutions to improve the legal and regulatory services and access to justice.
On February 23-25, over 60 lawyers and regulatory compliance professionals, software developers and law and engineering students spent the weekend at Thomson Reuters’ Central offices selected from the more than 170 people who initially signed up. Half of the participants were developers, with a third legal and regulatory compliance professionals and a quarter university law and engineering students. For the lawyers and compliance officers who participated from Baker & McKenzie, Dentons, HSBC, ICBC and Standard Chartered, this was often their first hackathon.
The top 10 teams then spent the next 54 hours ideating and developing their prototypes and pitches under the supervision of experienced mentors from diverse backgrounds such as the Commonwealth Bank’s Hong Kong innovation lab manager, a senior Tencent in-house counsel, DLA Piper’s global knowledge manager, a senior Ashurst technology lawyer, consultants from NewLaw firm Korum Legal and also fintech regulators from the Securities and Futures Commission.
The Hong Kong judges comprising Paul Weiss Hong Kong’s senior partner, Deacons’ Chief Operating Officer, a City University Law School professor, venture capital firm CoCoon Ignite’s managing partner and LegalTech Zegal’s Chief Technology Officer, named Decoding Law the top team to represent Hong Kong.
Other fascinating Hong Kong projects included a risk rating platform to address know your customer (KYC) and anti-money laundering (AML) requirements, a conversational AI-powered legal assistant, blockchain-based estate planning, gamifying immigration procedures for minors and a blockchain platform for pro bono legal services to crowdsource justice.
As one of the 37 teams worldwide in the second round that was judged based on online submissions, Decoding Law was selected as one of the final 14 teams to pitch at the Global Legal Hackathon gala finals in New York.
[Watch Decoding Law’s video submission]
With the generous sponsorship and support of law firms Deacons and Paul Weiss as well as Thomson Reuters and ACMI, four of the nine team members flew to New York to present live prototypes of their solution at Pier 60 in front of an international judging panel as well as industry CIOs and CTOs, senior partners and legal innovation leaders.
HKU BBA (Law) and LLB Year 3 students Alison Li Pui Wun, Edelweiss Kwok Yuet Yi and Sally Yiu Man Ki, together with PCCW Solution telecom systems analyst Raymond Luk Siu Chung, represented the Decoding Law team in New York. The other team members comprised CUHK third year LLB students Sherman Ho Ho Chi and Ellie Tse Yik Ting, software developer Steve Suen Wai Sing, data scientist Jesmer Wong King Lok and business strategist Wendy Kwan Wing Yee. The teams had the opportunity to develop their hackathon prototype further between rounds.
[Decoding Law team proudly representing Hong Kong in New York]
"Here I saw the magic of a hackathon! Our potential was first unleashed and pushed in the 52 hours in the first round in Hong Kong, “said team member and self-described grassroots student Edelweiss Kwok. “We thought we were limited to Hong Kong but GLH told us no - you can be more and go to the world stage”.
Team member Sally Yiu agreed: "It is simply amazing to meet so many people with different expertise who share the same vision of making lives better by way of legal tech. The legal industry has always been described as very conservative especially when it comes to the application of technology. I am indeed impressed to see so many talented minds collaborate and come up with feasible solutions to solve certain legal problems in the society… We can’t wait to see more innovations in the industry in the future".
[Winners of the inaugural Global Legal Hackathon in New York, including Hong Kong’s Decoding Law]
Aileen A. Schultz, Co-founder of Global Legal Hackathon, complimented all the winners: “You have proven to the global legal industry, that it is possible to transform the industry, and that it can happen a lot quicker than most would think. You've joined us in breaking down silos, expediting innovation, and creating a platform for ongoing global change."
According to one of the judges, George Beaton who co-authored the book Remaking Law Firms: How and Why (2016): “Decoding Law is an inspiring idea, enabling lay people to cut through legalese and understand the law and its implications for themselves, where and when they need assistance. This service should be available in every jurisdiction. Congratulations on a brilliant, energising pitch!”
Decoding Law’s efforts to improve access to justice had also gotten the attention of Hong Kong’s Department of Justice, who invited the team for a mutual sharing before they left for the finals.
[Decoding Law team members (from third from bottom left) Alison Li, Edelweiss Kwok, Ellie Tse and Sherman Ho, together with Hong Kong organizer Brian Tang (bottom left) and staff from the Law Drafting Division of the Hong Kong Department of Justice.]
“The Law Drafting Division of the Department of Justice wholeheartedly supports initiatives to give everyone good access to the legislation that affects them,” said Hong Kong’s Law Draftsman Teresa Johnson. “Written laws, now deliberately drafted using a Plain Language approach, are still often complex documents. The Decoding Law prototype and the team involved in developing it are to be applauded. The team's innovative thinking and efforts may result in it being easier for people to find answers to questions they have about situations covered by legislation.”
Professor Simon Young of the HKU’s Faculty of Law also beamed: "We are extremely proud of our students’ achievement in this international competition. They exemplify the qualities of collaboration, innovation, interdisciplinity, and working towards impact in society – all values at the heart of The University of Hong Kong’s strategic vision.”
Founder of ACMI and FTAHK co-chair of the RegTech committee Brian Tang Wha-Li, who curated and organized Hong Kong’s first legaltech and regtech hackathon and supported the team throughout the process, shared: “There is so much talent, dedication and heart in Hong Kong. Once we give our youth the opportunity, freedom and platform to innovate and create, they have demonstrated time and time again that they can create world-class solutions to improve our communities.” Last year, Tang also introduced to Hong Kong the Technovation Challenge through his social enterprise Young Makers & ChangeMaker, where local teenage girls won the Junior Division at the World Pitch Summit at Google’s headquarters in Silicon Valley for an app that addressed dementia care.
"I am dedicated to helping legal-tech gain momentum in Hong Kong and Asia, in order to assist more people to get access to justice,” said Decoding Law’s Alison Li. “GLH has been an awesome platform for great legal and tech minds to meet and for fantastic ideas to thrive. Being one of the winners is indeed a significant recognition and a huge encouragement to Decoding Law and me."