What is a Hackathon?


Hackathons are events where people come together to collaboratively build and launch technology based solutions aimed at solving a particular problem. Participants usually work in small groups over a couple of days. The goal is to come up with a prototype or proposal at the end of the hackathon to present in front of a panel of judges. Hackathons are a great way to develop solutions that solve problems, rather than just talk about them.

Here's some other explanations, some fun, some serious: 

The Global Legal Hackathon is about finding solutions for the legal industry. Teams will compete against one another, where ultimately there will be a winner. Please see the rules section.

GLH Rules

Positive energy

Even though this is a competition, we want all attendees to have a great experience and create amazing solutions in the legal industry. Remember: 

  • Be welcoming to newcomers to the community.
  • Provide an opportunity for participants to learn something new.
  • Provide a space and a time for participants to make headway on problems they are interested in.

Not every team will have actually solved a problem by the end of the hackathon. Real life problems are hard, especially in the legal industry!  Many teams will create partial solutions to problems, and that is great!

Therefore, don’t put unrealistic (and unhealthy) pressure on your participants. Participants should come energized and be greeted with positive energy.

Welcome Newcomers

One of the important things about running or participating in a successful hackathon is being welcoming to newcomers and helping them get involved in an activity.

Newcomers can feel a case of “imposter syndrome”, the feeling that they don’t belong because they don’t have skills, aren’t smart enough, etc. They are wrong, of course, but until they feel like they belong they will not be able to have a fulfilling experience. It is the hackathon organizer’s job to help them realize they have something to contribute.

The role of organizers is to guide them to a project and through a process for them to realize how they can contribute. Mentors can provide advice and suggestions to motivate everyone attending the hackathon too. 


The hacking track is for participants to dive into problems. Groups of up to ten individuals form around a project, such as building a new data visualization, writing a document, or collaboratively investigating a problem. Participants take out their laptops, connect to power and wifi, and get working.

Hacking begins with project introductions. Participants that bring projects to the event have an opportunity to briefly (60 seconds or less) pitch what they are working on at the very start of the event so that other participants can join that project. Teams will form and the hacking begins!

On the last day, teams will present their projects to the panel of judges and a winner will be chosen. 

Cultivating Good Projects

Not every project makes a good hackathon project. It is extremely important to maximize the following qualities in the projects at your event:

  • Clearly articulated. Projects should have a clear question or problem they are trying to solve plus a reasonably specific proposed solution.
  • Attainable. Most projects will accomplish about 25% of what they think they can accomplish in the limited time they have. 
  • Led by a stakeholder. A stakeholder (or “subject matter expert”) guides a project to real-world relevance. Projects without a stakeholder might “solve” a problem that doesn’t exist. Ideally the leader (or one of the leaders) is a stakeholder, or a good proxy for a stakeholder. 
  • Organized. For projects with four or more members, especially newcomers, the project leader’s role should be to coordinate, ensuring each team member has something to work on and helping to welcome new team members.
  • Balanced Skills. The most successful teams will have a good variety of skills on their team: technical/developer talent, project management, legal industry knowledge, market research and business development capabilities and more. 
  • Project Roadmap. Whether you have a project manager on your team or not, you should take some time at the beginning to build out a project roadmap for the weekend. 
    • What is the problem?
    • What technology base or build might be a good solution?
    • What does the MVP look like?
    • Can we accomplish the MVP over the weekend? 
    • What can we realistically build over the course of the weekend? 
    • Who on our team will take care of what part of the project? 

Other Tips

Do not allow anyone to pitch an idea that they will not be working on at the event, unless there really are not enough ideas to go around. Otherwise, this is a waste of everyone’s valuable time.

Once hacking has begun, do not interrupt the hackers except to ensure that the hacking is going smoothly, and to keep people on the overall schedule. Mid-day activities such as lunch-time speakers and video calls with people off-site are incredibly distracting for participants who are now eager to get working on a problem.