(Top – Teams, mentors, volunteers and judges at the end of Hong Kong’s Global Legal Hackathon in Hong Kong; Bottom – Winning team Decoding Law with judges and organisers)
Decoding Law is a machine learning powered browser plug-in that helps people, especially unrepresented litigants, to read and understand legislation by breaking down complex legislative drafting into simple language and explains defined terms.
This access to justice project 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 and Thomson Reuters, this inaugural event to co-create tech solutions to improve the legal and regulatory services and access to justice was one of 40 tech sprints held in 22 countries around the world as part of the Global Legal Hackathon.
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 diversity of participants is a tribute to the hackathon’s supporting organisations, including the Fintech Association of Hong Kong (FTAHK), HKU Faculty of Law, Cyberport, WHub and Association of Corporate Counsel – Hong Kong.
Opening with a technology workshop from Australia’s RegTech startup Checkbox and Thomson Reuter’s Developer API group, participants were initially invited to pitch ideas to attract team members to co-create their solutions. 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 a senior in-house counsel from Tencent, the innovation lab manager from Commonwealth Bank, the global knowledge manager from DLA Piper, consultants from NewLaw firm Korum Legal and also fintech regulators from the Securities and Futures Commission.
The final pitches were made on Sunday evening in front of judges including 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.
Decoding Law was selected as Hong Kong’s overall winner, and the team comprises third year HKU BBA (Law) and LLB students Alison Li Pui Wun, Edelweiss Kwok Yuet Yi and Sally Yiu Man Ki and CUHK third year LLB Students Ellie Tse Yik Tung and Sherman Ho Ho Chi, as well as data scientist Jesmer Wong, software developer Steven Suen Wai Sing, business strategist Wendy Kwan and AI researcher Yan King Yin. Together, they will now represent Hong Kong in the next round of the competition, with the chance to pitch at the finals in New York in April.
The first runner-up team was The SCP Network, which developed a web-based risk rating platform for customer and transaction review that addresses critical KYL and AML issues, and the second runner-up team was LEGOT, which developed a conversational AI-powered legal assistant. Each team were spearheaded by experienced compliance officers and lawyers who knew firsthand the industry pain-points. Other projects included blockchain-based estate planning, gamifying immigration procedures for minors and a blockchain platform for pro bono legal services to crowdsource justice.
Judge Andrew Keith, Deacon’s COO observed: “It was a great honour judging. It was so difficult as all the teams had brilliant ideas, well executed using clever coding and cutting-edge tech. Well done to the winners; I hope you develop your app and go on to represent Hong Kong's talent on the global stage at the next round.”
Student Sally Yiu from Decoding Law, who had previously interned at a legal analytics and intelligent search services firm in Beijing, said: “This is the first hackathon that I have ever joined. It is amazing to meet so many people with different expertise who share the same vision of making lives better by way of Legaltech.”
Teammate and data scientist Jesmer Wong added: “It’s been an amazing journey for me to understand the data in the legal industry and how important each word expresses legal opinions. We will continue to be humble to contribute to society. May I express my gratitude to all the organisers and sponsors that brought us together to create something really amazing. Thank you!”
Through organizing Hong Kong’s first ever LegalTech and RegTech hackathon. we look forward to building upon Hong Kong’s strengths a leading global financial centre and legal hub, and growing our ecosystem and talent to further develop innovative solutions that can better serve our society and our clients.
Brian W. Tang is the managing director of the Asia Capital Markets Institute, and also serves as co-chair of the Fintech Association of Hong Kong’s RegTech Committee. He curated the hackathon event.