A group of Kansas City lawyers with an interest in “hacking” the law has worked in the past year to connect lawyers to legal tech education and to each other.
The Kansas City chapter of Legal Hackers is not a new group — it was founded in 2014 by Bryan Wilson during his time as a law student at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. In the past year, however, the group has become reinvigorated as it has hosted regular happy hours and its first-ever CLE.
In May, the group held its first Law & Technology Conference at UMKC’s law school. CLE speakers included Jameson Dempsey, who helped to start the global Legal Hackers movement; and Kristin Kenny, corporate counsel for Google.
Chris Brown, who has helped to facilitate the group’s work alongside Wilson, said the CLE was a success.
“It was really great,” he said. “I think we had about 75 people there, plus industry experts from across the country.”
Brown said the group heard feedback from attendees that the CLE’s high-quality speakers attracted them to the event. He added the group is hoping to bring back the CLE in March for its second year.
Looking ahead to 2020, Brown said the group is working to establish a regular legal-tech speaker series. The chapter is hoping to partner with Kansas City law firms to sponsor and host three to four events during the course of the year in which they’d bring in a legal-tech expert to talk about timely issues such as data privacy.
In an interview earlier this year, Wilson said he was inspired to start the chapter after meeting the founders of the global Legal Hackers movement, which aims to bring together lawyers, policymakers, designers, tech experts and academics to find solutions to the problems at the intersection of law and technology.
“Basically it’s a grassroots, decentralized movement,” Wilson said. “[It’s] different people in various communities who want to use some combination of law, design and technology to make processes for the practice of law a lot more efficient, more auditable, more transparent and increase access to justice.”
The group started with a few attorneys meeting weekly to learn how to code. Brown joined Wilson in that effort. He said the group fizzled out after those initial sessions, but in 2018, Wilson and Brown redoubled their efforts to build a larger community by hosting regular happy hours.
In the interview with Wilson, Brown also said he had a personal interest in planning a tech-focused CLE. He said it’s hard to find CLEs in Kansas City on subjects he cares about.
Brown is a part-time lawyer at his firm, Venture Legal, and a full-time entrepreneur at his start-up company, Contract Canvas.
Wilson is now editor-in-chief of the MIT Computational Law Report in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He previously was a policy analyst at RiskGenius, an Overland Park, Kansas company that examines data from insurance policies to help insurers find vulnerabilities in them.
Wilson said technology, when used as a tool, can improve legal work and make lawyers’ jobs easier.
“Hacking the law is a way to allow lawyers to do more of the legal work instead of the tedious, routine, mundane tasks that people associate with timekeeping and billing and things like that,” he said.