The Law Without Walls Experience: A European Law School student participating in the worlds biggest law and technology competitionOctober 15th, 2018 Posted by admin Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “The Law Without Walls Experience: A European Law School student participating in the worlds biggest law and technology competition”
By Pierre Ferran
Pierre is a 3rd year European Law Student at Maastricht University. He is particularly interested in LawTech, as he also is a software developer in this free time. In 2018, he participated in the innovative Law Without Walls program, where, with his team, he focused on streamlining low-risk contract lifecycle for in-house legal teams. He now works for the legal engineering firm Wavelength as a Legal Engineer Intern.
What is LWOW?
Law without Walls is a giant Hackathon. For four months, we worked in a team to develop a solution solving a legal problem of your choice, ranging from corporate workflows to social justice, all topics ultimately revolving around a mixture of technology, law and entrepreneurship. I was the first ever student from Maastricht University to be sent to LWOW, after applying and being the one lucky student to be selected. The application process takes place in three stages: you first have to apply to the law faculty, by sending a letter of motivation, as well as all the application material required by LWOW. If selected, the Law Faculty will issue a recommendation for you to LWOW. You can then send in your application to the LWOW staff. If the LWOW staff selects you, you will then be interviewed through Skype. Should the interview be successful, you will be invited to the kickoff, where everything begins.
LWOW O Kick off
The LWOW O Kick off took place in St Gallen, Switzerland. No preparation was required aside from taking an online personality test. I knew nothing about what to expect, who was going to be in my team, or really anyone there for that matter. The organizers will assign you a hotel room that you will share with another participant, allowing you to meet another person from the program on the first day. I shared a room with Angelo Massagli, a student from Miami Law School, where LWOW originates. I arrived in St Gallen on the Friday evening, with the first day of the kick off starting at 9am on the Saturday, running the whole day. At breakfast, it became apparent how diverse the LWOW student were. While we are used to working in an international environment here in Maastricht, that environment is very European centred. LWOW students come from around the world, including many from South America. Upon arriving at the location of the kick off, the first thing they have you do is pose for a Polaroid picture, which you then have to pin to a board, alongside the other pictures of your team members, who have been doing the same.
With the help of the pinned pictures, your next task is to find your team amongst the crowd. This is the first time you get to find out who is in your team, so let me introduce you to them: the team is composed of three students, three team leaders, and two mentors. The two other students in my team were Valentina and Nicolas. Valentina is a Chilean law student, studying at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile in Santiago, while Nicolas is also a law student, studying in Bogotà, Colombia. The three team leaders all originated from the UK, with two of them, Chrissy and Adam, working at Pinsent Masons LLP, the law firm sponsoring our Team. Chrissy is a Senior Associate at Pinsent, while Adam is a data scientist. The other team leader was Peter, a commercial solicitor working in-house at Royal London, an insurance firm in London. Finally, our experienced mentors were Marsha, a retired American attorney, and Chris, a French-American attorney, who sits on so many boards he probably has a say on what you eat for breakfast without you knowing it. I am not going to spoil the entire kick off for you, but you can expect amazing speakers with insane credentials, great team bonding and fun activities. The first day pumps you up, and you will become very excited for the second and last day. It is worth noting that the people you get to talk to during the day are amazing, all dynamic and with interesting background. Most importantly, all these people are all very accessible and open to conversation. To give you an example, the assistant general counsel of Microsoft was in the room, and he insisted on being called “Steve”.
The second day of the kick off is where you get to do stuff. After intensive coaching, you and your team get to do a mini hackathon. We were assigned the theme of mental wellbeing of law students. We got to work and designed a small app that would allow students to anonymously vent off their frustration and get feedback on how many students are also experiencing difficulties in their local area. The project was called Stressbot, and its business model was based on the idea that universities could pay to access anonymized data about the wellbeing of students in their local area. This idea was the runner-up as the most viable project amongst all projects presented.
These two days are very intense but will leave you full of energy and optimism for the real project you will have to build over the next few weeks with your team. Of course, the final day is closed off with complimentary drinks, as a nice way to say goodbye.
LWOW O itself: “an experience”
The process of developing your idea is very well structured by the LWOW Team. The first thing you do coming back from the kick off is schedule the many meetings you will have between your team and the LWOW staff. The staff gave us set targets to meet every week, much like PBL, with the team working at its own pace. We decided to have a weekly meeting with our team leaders, with the students working during the rest of the week and reporting at the meeting. This is a demanding schedule, considering you also must prepare your regular tutorials!
Initially, we planned to focus on the gender pay gap, and using technology extract pay data from employment contracts to render out simple statistics. We identified this problem as it was a recurrent topic on the news at the time. Our team leaders also pointed out that a new UK regulation was coming into force at the time, which requires businesses to disclose gender pay gap statistics.
You quickly learn that LWOW is a lot of back and forth, and that’s a good thing! As inexperienced students, this back and forth allows you to try out different areas, question professionals, and figure out what problem is actually worth solving. The goal the LWOW staff sets for you are helpful for this. The LWOW meetings are like a hardcore drilling session (for those of you accustomed to the French education system: they are something like a khôlle de prépa). You have a set format to follow, that always includes a slide deck. You then present your work and progress using your slide deck. Often, the feedback will seem quite harsh, being strong but constructive about your performance, but this harsh feedback is only meant to push you further and further, to really make you go above and beyond. Despite the emotional rollercoaster these may cause, they bloody work.
The quest for perfection in LWOW allows you to learn fast, develop many skillset, and give you a good introduction to the workplace of tomorrow. Technology is all around in LWOW, we might be young millennials drowned in it, but we still have a bit to learn. LWOW will teach you how to use technology in a business setting efficiently.
Back to our project, we had to start investigating whether the problem of gender pay gap statistic was meant to be solved. We used our excellent mentor’s and team leader’s connections to interview working professionals, questioning them about how they planned to get ready for the upcoming regulatory deadline to publish gender pay gap statistics. All of these professionals were extremely helpful and kindly offered us some time from their busy schedule. It truly was an enriching experience to discover how potential “clients” see a solution to their problem, and how they currently deal with the matter.
We quickly found out through the interviews that our initial problem had already been solved outside the legal world. Human Resources system already provided a way to quickly access gender pay gap statistics, and thus, after receiving feedback from both our team leaders and the LWOW staff, decided to pick another problem.
At this point, we were already a bit behind on the LWOW schedule and needed to catch up. We went back to basics and started questioning our team leaders about their issues at work. Peter quickly started complaining about an issue he faces every day. Again, Peter is a busy in-house solicitor, every day he has to prepare important and valuable contracts and issues for his company, but he also has to answer every single legal question any employee has in his company. Thus, every day someone comes to Peter and asks him questions similar to “I am negotiating a contract with a supplier, but they want to remove the data protection clause from the NDA, can I accept that”, to which Peter always replies the same thing: “Are they handling data? If not, then yes you can remove it”. Obviously, Peter gets quickly fed up with these small repetitive questions that are relatively unimportant, because they concern low value, risk-free agreements. So how could we remove the burden of answering these questions? That’s what we set ourselves on doing, and we started the process again of interviewing professionals and built up a solution to this problem. The more you work on your project, the more you fall in love with it. It’s with this energy that you create a solution, a business plan, and of course, a pitch. The end goal of LWOW is to pitch your idea at ConPosium, as if you were trying to sell it to everyone in the room.
We called our solution Satori. Satori is a Buddhist concept: there cannot be Zen without Satori. That is what we aimed to bring to Peter’s life, zen. But there is no better way to explain what Satori is than by showing you our pitch, you can watch it here.
To make sure our project would stand out, I decided to use my tech skills to build a prototype of Satori, our pitch features a demo of the prototype. It is important to note that no particular tech skills are required to make a great pitch at LWOW, however, it also is a great opportunity to learn! Wavelength.law, an innovative law firm that specializes in Legal Engineering (you should check them out) sponsors LWOW by sending Felix Schulte-Strathaus, the legal tech officer of the program. He is there to help you map out your project, as well as potentially pointing you in the right direction to make a prototype of your project.
ConPonsium: LWOW Vice
ConPosium is it. It is the moment you have been working so hard for. Plus, it takes places in Miami. Yea, you get to go to Miami for “business”. As you have seen in our pitch, every team gets to present its project during the two days of the event, and in the end, the best projects are given an award.
The room to which you pitch is filled with brilliant people, from everywhere around the world, and with many different backgrounds. It truly is the people that make LWOW an amazing experience. You will meet dynamic like-minded students, who will become your friends, as well as enthusiastic professionals working everywhere from small legal practices to massive companies such as Deloitte or Microsoft. The connections you make there are invaluable, and the experience itself beyond enriching.
It’s hard to properly describe the LWOW experience, so I will leave you with this. If you are interested in legal technology, if want to know how the legal profession will work tomorrow, or if you are a repressed entrepreneur doing a law degree, then LWOW is for you. I must thank everyone at LWOW, and in particular, Erika Pagano, Michelle DeStefano, Catalina Goanta and Felix Schulte-Strathaus, as well as our team Sponsors Pinsent Masons LLP and Royal London Insurance for giving our team this amazing opportunity, which I hope you will enjoy one day as well.