Big Ideas ALA Executive Director’s Letter

Proud to be a Hack(er)

I’m a hack. Or is it “hacker”? I’m still getting used to the terminology and recovering from an intense weekend of creative problem-solving.

Oliver Yandle, JD, CAE

On February 23–25, ALA hosted Chicago participants in the first Global Legal Hackathon, an event bringing together legal professionals, technologists, entrepreneurs and business experts focused on finding solutions to challenges facing the legal industry. Joining us for the weekend and making up Team ALA were 2018–2019 ALA President-Elect James L. Cornell, III; Region 3 Director Debra L. Elsbury, CLM; Past President Teresa Walker; Chicago-based attorney Adam Scavone; ALA’s User Interface Web Developer Bert Saper; and myself. Serving as mentors were David Berger, Chief Technology Officer of Integra Ledger, and Matt Heck, President of Hard Problems Group, LLC.

Friday night, we got to work and zeroed in on the billable hour. Over the years, law firms have become pretty adept at capturing data from timekeepers whose work is billable. However, they are less successful at capturing data from attorneys and staff related to all the processes and tasks that go into delivering legal services and that impact client costs and firm profitability. This weekend, we wanted to find a way to collect this important data in the easiest and least intrusive manner we could.


We know that it is challenging to have attorneys and staff learn new technologies. Additionally, people have limited time to take on new processes. So, Team ALA went to work developing a solution using our Uniform Process Based Management System (UPBMS) code set, in which a bot automatically captured data, recorded it on the Integra Ledger and distributed it to various platforms such as Office 365 and Clio.

We know that it is challenging to have attorneys and staff learn new technologies. Additionally, people have limited time to take on new processes.

Using the collaboration tool Slack, we simulated conversations among law firm team members who were bringing on a new client, HackCo, and creating a new LLC. Using natural language processing and context clues from the conversation, the bot was able to determine the specific task (for example, conducting a conflicts check), identify the appropriate code within the UPBMS, open a time entry for the task in the time entry system, record a time stamp in Integra Ledger, and export the captured data to an Excel spreadsheet — automatically. We’re excited to report that our entry will be moving onto the next round, where eight semifinalists will be chosen to compete in the finals! Four overall Hackathon winners will be selected.

Around the world, similar teams were working on a variety of other solutions, ranging from apps to improve access to justice to machine-learning systems to help people read and understand legislation. The event gave us an opportunity to demonstrate a practical and innovative application of the UPBMS and provided ALA with global exposure as a thought leader. We’ve made new connections with leaders in artificial intelligence, blockchain technologies and other cutting-edge applications for the legal industry.

The Global Legal Hackathon is just the latest initiative advancing ALA’s Strategic Plan goal to enhance our industry thought leadership. We are also partnering with Experience Matters and the University of South Australia on a research project analyzing the impact of law firm information management practices on productivity. Additionally, we’re collaborating with consultant Elizabeth Mell on sexual harassment in the legal industry.

Speaking of the strategic plan … we are making great progress on all five goal areas and have our 2018 first quarter update available here. Be sure to check out future issues of Legal Management for more updates on our progress — and to find out how we fare in round two of the Global Legal Hackathon! Maybe being a hack(er) isn’t so bad after all!