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Clifford Chance

Clifford Chance

Innovation Insights

Online legal hackathon: Helping to solve Covid-19 challenges

FT Innovative Lawyers, RSG Consulting and sponsors Barclays Eagle Labs have initiated an online legal hackathon that aims to deliver solutions to some of the urgent challenges being created by the Coronavirus pandemic.

It is being run by Global Legal Hackathon between 27 April and 22 May. Anthony Vigneron, Director Legal Technology Solutions, who is facilitating the e-Signing collaboration with the assistance of Hayley Kwan, Junior Product Manager, Clifford Chance Applied Solutions, and Chris Grant, Lawtech Director at Barclays Ventures, give the FT an update on this Hackathon challenge.

FT: Why did you propose e-Signatures as your challenge, and why now?

Anthony: Although e-signing has been available for some time, its need has been accelerated as a result of COVID-19. This has amplified the challenges that remain to its efficient adoption across the industry, in particular when most staff are now working from home and in many cases unable to print documents. This is especially true within Financial Services, where questions about its feasibility and legality still loom large at a time where there is an even greater need speed to execute decisions, loans, for example. This is a challenge that needs cross industry collaboration that will work so it seems like the ideal opportunity.

FT: What is the tie-up with Barclays Eagle Labs?

Chris: The lockdown meant that we've had to close our Eagle Lab collaboration spaces. We've been thinking for some time about how we can make the Labs more virtual and we saw the FT Hackathon as an opportunity to drive this forward at pace. Barclays and our partners in the Labs, of which Clifford Chance is one, understand that collaboration is an imperative in making change happen so we got involved as a cohort. There are 70 individuals from Barclays Eagle Labs participating in the Hackathon across a number of challenges. Clifford Chance proposed a collaboration on the e-Signatures challenge and we recognised the urgency of getting a workable solution.

FT: Why is the Hackathon a good opportunity to tackle this?

Anthony: The timeboxed collaboration opportunity was irresistible. We collaborate widely with the industry as a normal behaviour, and are very involved with Barclays Eagle Labs. However, this virtual format, with a huge number of collaborators, across countries, and a looming deadline…. it's a highly effective formula.

Chris: Since lockdown, I think everyone has been surprised by how adaptable big businesses and organisations have been. Circumstances have encouraged the quick adoption of tech solutions which, ordinarily, would take much longer to embed. There's a bit of a race mentality: how much can we make happen before lockdown eases and we start to revert?

FT: Who is on the project team?

Anthony: There's a core team of around 17 people and an extended team of around 70 contributing via the Hackathon website, including over 35 from across Clifford Chance. The core project team has representatives from Barclays Eagle Labs, Barclays Legal, law firms Norton Rose Fulbright and Ashurst, and technology vendors Adobe, DocuSign and Neota Logic. There are also some 50 individuals (from several other firms, clients, students and trainees) who volunteered via the Hackathon website who we are engaging to help gather insights and validate our thinking. Our core team has competing law firms and tech vendors all working together to find a solution. It's an amazing experience.

FT: How the process has been so far? How are you managing it?

Anthony: Early on in the process we agreed how, as traditional competitors, we would make this collaboration work. In the interest of getting it up and running fast, we've gone for low tech collaboration so we have daily calls with the core team. Each law firm has an extended network of experts per jurisdictions which they have mobilised.
We are using design thinking practices which means putting our various preconceptions about the client issues to one side and ensuring that we have consensus on the fundamental client issues before leaping into solution-mode. We have used the extended teams to disseminate a survey, which is helping us define a comprehensive problem statement. In just two days we received responses from over 90 organisations so we are confident that, for the first time, we will have a comprehensive and agreed problem statement.

FT: What do you hope to have achieved by the end of this process?

Anthony: Three weeks was always a challenging timeframe. We know that by 22 May we will have achieved real clarity on the issues. Our ambition is to have a high level proposal on the overall workflow plus, working together with the software vendors in particular, we'll have identified practical and actionable guidance to implement, operate and adopt e-signatures correctly, in particular across jurisdictions. We hope to publish this information publicly, and have it embedded into the technologies such as DocuSign, Adobe Sign and other legal transaction management tools such as Litera for example.

Chris: On a more general level, our ambition is to use this experience to showcase how collaboration can work across even competing parties in the legal sector. We hope that this will produce a pattern for collaboration that can be repeated for other challenges. Additionally, Barclays Eagle Labs will be looking at the outputs of all the Hackathon challenges to see what we might be able to pick up post-event to support through to completion.

FT: Thank you both for sharing your progress.