From 2013-2020, alongside Jameson Dempsey, Alan deLevie, Wendy Knox Everette, and John Chadwell, I co-organized a meetup called DC Legal Hackers in Washington D.C. When Jameson and I (both New York City ex-pats) met up in D.C. to discuss recreating the NYC Legal Hackers meetup community I don’t either of us anticipated how big the community would get or what it would mean to our lives. (There are now chapters in over 200 cities on 6 continents). We just didn’t want the fun Brooklyn Law had created to stop for us.

In true analytic fashion, when I started reflecting on what DC Legal Hackers had done over the last 7 years I ran the numbers. We hosted:

  • 1 Drone BBQ,
  • 2 Digital Security Trainings,
  • 5 CopyNights with Ali Sternburg,
  • 5 Legal Tech Demo Nights,
  • 6 Hackathons,
  • 6 Awards Parties featuring 78 Le Hackie winners,
  • 10 Partner Events, and
  • 33 Panels, with
  • 1770 Members.

We covered any topic that touched law and technology, so any topic. Specifically, we hosted events on access to justice, accessibility, artificial intelligence (AI), bodyworn cameras, broadband infrastructure, bug bounties, Census 2020, Congress’ Office of Technology Assessment, data mining, deep fakes, elections, emojis, facial recognition technology, FBI v. Apple, forms, gerrymandering, government APIs, immigration, IoT and privacy, law school, legal citations, net neutrality (twice), online dispute resolution, online harassment & moderation, open educational resources, PACER, patent reform, privacy tools, and legislation, re-entry, scooters, the Serial podcast (and cell phone data evidence), smart contracts and ethereum law, standards organizations, telecom data, the Library of Congress, the sharing economy, the surveillance state, trademarks, and Uber.

While I, and my co-organizers, had law/tech jobs by day as well, we learned so much gathering speakers from DC’s robust law school and tech policy organizations and from our expert membership.

We hosted speakers from: 18f, AccessNow, ACLU-DC, ACT | The App Association, American University Washington College of Law, Americans for Tax Reform & Digital Liberty Project, Association for Conflict Resolution, The Atlantic, Blank Rome LLP, Bread for the City, Center for Democracy & Technology, Cherry Biometrics, Color of Change, Consumer Electronics Association, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Creative Commons US, DARPA Information Innovation Office, Demand Progress, Department of Justice, DC Council, DC Legal Hackers, DC Mayor’s Office on Returning Citizen Affairs, DC Public Defender Service, Digital Sisters, Fastcase, Federal Communications Commission, Five Thirty-Eight, Fragomen, Frontline SMS, Fundrise, General Services Administration, Georgetown Iron Tech Lawyer, Georgetown Law Technology Review, Google, HackerOne, Huffington Post, Institute for Technology Law & Policy at Georgetown Law, Internet Association, Intellectual Ventures, iSIGHT Partners, ITSP Magazine, Kelley Drye & Warren LLP, Lawyer Moms, Legal Services Corporation, Library of Congress Congressional Data Challenge & Labs, Lincoln Network, Mapbox, MapStory, Mercatus Center, Montagut & Sobral Law Office, National Democratic Institute, National Federation of the Blind, National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Office of Policy Analysis and Development, Network Advertising Initiative, Neustar, New America, New York City Economic Development Corporation, OpenGov Foundation, Open Technology Institute, Pubic Knowledge, RECAP The Law, R St. Institute, Security Positive, Social Security Administration, Sunlight Foundation, Tech Congress, TechFreedom, The Lab @ DC, Towson University, Uber Wars, UDC David A. Clarke School of Law, Unicode Consortium, Upturn, U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Department of Labor, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. Open Data Institute, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, Wikimedia Foundation, Workplace Fairness, WordPress.com, and Zwillgen.

And we partnered with like-minded organizations for the Computers, Freedom & Privacy Conference (2014), Washington Council of Lawyers DC Pro Bono Week’s Coding Justice (2018 & 2019), a Digital Security Training with ACLU-DC & Georgetown Law’s Tech Institute, and another with The Boardroom, and with OpenGovHub for Participatory Organizing: From Co-op to Network to Mass Movement.

Thank you to everyone who participated in this community, it was you, and wouldn’t have been the same without you.

We learned so much from each other and there is still so much “hacking” to do to unpack law and technology issues.

Like many meetup organizations, we discontinued meetings during the pandemic. Since then, I and other organizers, have moved on from DC. DC Legal Hackers will need new organizers to continue its community-building and learning. If you are a DC law student, lawyer, technologist, or just someone interested in law and technology studies that would be interested in leading virtual or in-person events for DC Legal Hackers in the future please apply below.

Apply to Organize DC Legal Hackers

Le Hackies 6 (2019) Winners

Le Hackie Company of the Year: Community.Lawyer

Le Hackie Organization of the Year: Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress

Legal Hacker of the Year: Jonathan Pyle

Legal Hacks of the Year:

Le Hackies 5 (2018) Winners

Le Hackie Company of the Year: Impowerus.com

Le Hackie Organization of the Year: Center for Democracy and Technology

Legal Hacker of the Year: Carl Malamud

Legal Hacks of the Year:

Le Hackies 4 (2017) Winners

Le Hackie Company of the Year: Mozilla

Le Hackie Organization of the Year: Georgetown University Law Center

Legal Hacker of the Year: Brad Heath

Legal Hacks of the Year:

You should research current digital security best practices based on your individual threat model. But for posterity (and insight into organizing training sessions), check out our materials from our Digital Security Training with ACLU DC and Georgetown Law’s Institute for Technology Law & Policy in August 2017.

See also Georgetown Law’s Institute for Technology Law & Policy’s blog post. These materials serve as learning aids only and are not legal advice. Please note some of these instructions and recommendations may be out of date.

Digital Security Training Handouts

Digital Security Training Presentations

Le Hackies 3 (2016) Winners

Le Hackie Company of the Year: Upturn

Le Hackie Organization of the Year: TechCongress

Legal Hacker of the Year: Kat Duffy & Bill Hunt

Legal Hacks of the Year:

Le Hackies 3 Press

Le Hackie 2 (2015) Winners

Le Hackie Company of the Year: YouTube (Google) for its Fair Use Protection Program

Le Hackie Organization of the Year: Open Technology Institute

Legal Hacker of the Year: Kirsten Gullickson

Legal Hacks of the Year:

Le Hackies 2 Press

Le Hackies 1 (2014) Winners

Le Hackie Company of the Year: Fastcase

Le Hackie Organization of the Year: Free Law Founders

Legal Hacker of the Year: Dave Zvenyach

Legal Hacks of the Year:

Le Hackies 1 Press

In April 2012, Phil Weiss and Warren Allen hosted the BLIP Legal Hackathon, an event that would prove foundational for the Legal Hackers community. At the event, the organizers defined a powerful mission statement:

“The goal is to morph and evolve the law on one hand to better serve technologists, enterprises and society, but also harness technology so that lawyers can better service their clients.”

Understood in this way, “Legal Hackers” is about more than simply using computers to improve the law; it is also about fundamentally shifting what it means to “think like a lawyer.” This mission has remained a guiding light for the growing Legal Hackers community from that moment through today.

Over the last two and half years, those who attended the 2012 BLIP Legal Hackathon have gone on to organize large thriving community groups of Legal Hackers. Since 2012, NY Legal Hackers has built a community of over 1,100 members, officially incorporated, and created an advisory board made up of, amongst others, the general counsels of Meetup and Etsy, who are no strangers to community building. In 2013, when two active NY Legal Hackers members (Jameson Dempsey and Rebecca Williams) found themselves relocating to DC, they were inspired to organize a new Legal Hackers community in their new home. Today, DC Legal Hackers has over 450 community members, including long-established DC legal informatics leaders and energetic newcomers.

The DC Legal Hackers believe that as more lawyers, policy makers, and technologists come together routinely to explore and develop creative solutions to issues at the intersection of technology and law, it will have a positive and transformative impact on our legal industry, our government, and our society. At the same time, we recognize that the Legal Hackers community is still in its early days, and that the risk of cooptation by those who do not share our nonpartisan, noncommercial, and inclusive mission — who would seek to turn “Legal Hackers” into another consulting buzzword, or worse — is real. When DC Legal Hackers organizers met with the organizers of NY Legal Hackers and the Seattle Legal Innovation & Technology meetup at the 2014 Data Privacy Legal Hackathon, we discussed broader community organizing tools, including a trademark and mission statement. We supported these efforts to broaden and build a cohesive community.

Over the past week, the DC Legal Hackers organizers have engaged with our local community, examined how other well-respected community-organizing corporations have handled trademark issues, and gut-checked our views on supporting a cohesive community that is also inclusive and committed to openness. We have discussed these issues with members of our community and with Legal Hackers LLC. We also found that a number of similar organizations — including Code for AmericaOccupy Wall Streetthe Wikimedia Foundation, and Startup Weekend — have sought trademarks in order to maintain a coherent vision, but have utilized licensing schemes with very limited conditions in order to promote and encourage widespread adoption. (For additional examples of collaborative communities that have registered trademarks, please see this draft of a new article from attorneys at the Wikimedia Foundation.)

After this review, the DC Legal Hackers organizers believe that Legal Hackers LLC has the best interests of our growing community at heart with their application for a “Legal Hackers” trademark. However, we would be remiss not to recognize the concerns of many members of our local community who would prefer that the mark “Legal Hackers” remain free and open. We stand for a unified and inclusive Legal Hackers community. The DC Legal Hackers organizers believe that a trademark is an appropriate way of reinforcing the nonpartisan, noncommercial, inclusive values of the movement. At the same time, we oppose any outcome that would impose overly restrictive, top-down conditions on local hubs or individuals. For these reasons, we believe that the ultimate solution should involve collaborative input from the entire community — not a debate, but a process. In this way, we believe that the Legal Hackers community can maintain its place as a beacon for innovation and exploration in the legal industry and civil society at large.

Since we began DC Legal Hackers, we have been happy and proud organizers, and we’re excited to see the community grow and evolve in an open and inclusive way. Law and technology are fundamentally iterative and evolving industries, and like them, we will continue to listen to our community and revisit how legal policies, like this one, support or detract from the goals and mission of DC Legal Hackers.

– The DC Legal Hackers Organizers

 

Comments? Ideas? Find DC Legal Hackers on Twitter: @DCLegalHackers