The Women In Law Hackathon, which in 2016 spawned a version of the Rooney Rule for law firms, will be back in 2018 with two shark-tank style competitions designed to generate new ideas for legal industry diversity.

Originally designed to address the gender gap in Big Law, the hackathon will now also tackle broader topics of diversity and inclusion, including the expansion ofa diverse workforce, pay disparities, unconscious biases, and lawyer satisfaction and retention.

In the spring hackathon to be hosted by Harvard Law, eight teams of eight individuals will be tasked with developing concrete ideas to improve diversity within law firms. After a two-day kickoff event at Harvard in February, the teams will spend four months working together virtually to workshop and refine their proposals before before pitching them to a panel of judges in June.

The second hackathon, hosted by Northwestern and UC Hastings, will kick off in July and last through November. Teams in that round will have the option to either develop their own idea or “hack” an existing idea from the spring.

“One of the downsides from the first hackathon was that the teams spent a good amount of time issue spotting and had limited time to really plan out their solutions,” said Caren Ulrich Stacy, founder of Diversity Lab, an organization dedicated to improving diversity at corporations and law firms. Diversity Lab is organizing the hackathon in partnership with Bloomberg Law.

Hosted by Stanford in 2016, theinaugural Diversity Lab hackathonincluded nine teams of nine individuals who developed ideas for solving the gender gap in Big Law before pitching them to a panel of judges. Thefive winning ideashave since been developed by Diversity Lab and are currently being rolled out through pilot programs at 44 law firms, according to Stacy.  

One of the initiatives, the so-called Mansfield Rule, took inspiration from the NFL’s Rooney Rule and requires law firms to consider atleast 30 percent women and minority lawyers for significant leadership roles.

Teams in the 2018 hackathon will each consist offour law firm partners, two legal department leaders, one expert advisor, and one law student from the hosting university. A total of 56 law firms and 32 legal departments will be participating, according to Stacy, who said only a handful of law firm and legal department spots remain available.

Stacy said Diversity Lab has made a deliberate effort to include an equal number of men and women on the teams.

“In 2016, we had many more women than we did men,” she told Big Law Business. “But this is a talent issue, not just a women or minorities issue, and we want male allies to be involved as much as possible.”

Stacy said expanding the 2018 hackathon beyond gender to target other areas of diversity, like race and ethnicity, was “the next natural step.”

Following the 2018 hackathons, Diversity Lab will spend one year developing the winning ideas for a second round of pilot programs, according to Stacy. If needed, a third round of hackathons would take place in 2020.

“If in a perfect world, the ideas that come from the 2018 hackathon move the needle and we start to see greater percentages of women and minorities advancing and staying in the law, then we may just continue to focus on those things and not run more hackathons,” she said.


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