Hackathon shows law and technology go hand in hand | Law

Hackathon shows law and technology go hand in hand

UNSW Law students pushed the boundaries of innovative thinking, using technology-based solutions to help local community centre, Refugee Advice and Casework Service (RACS), better advocate for its refugee clients at the UNSW Law Hackathon held on 18-20 July 2016.

Hackathons are a powerful catalyst for change in the legal sector, especially when exploring the potential of technology to improve the ways in which the industry operates, says UNSW Law student Adrian Agius, organiser of the Hackathon.

The Hackathon was shaped around the Law Faculty’s motto – where law meets justice - and challenged student teams to improve the pre-application processes of asylum seekers’ claims by delivering a solution to RACS’ time-ridden paper-based barrister referral system for assessing merit prospects and assigning cases. The teams were given two days to think of accessible and cost effective technology-based ideas and develop their proposals for a 3 minute pitch elimination round. The top ten teams then delivered comprehensive pitches, fielded questions and demonstrated their prototypes before a judging panel.

The winning team developed a proposal to digitise RACS’ current system with an app to assist case workers in filling in and submitting their application for referral. They further proposed to integrate the system with pin-codes for barristers to access claim material and a scheduling tool that would automatically assign the initially briefed barrister if available. They are now hoping to develop their concept into a reality for RACS.

RACS is the state’s longest-running community legal centre with a focus on refugee law. Following an 85% cut to the centre’s funding, it now operates out of University-owned premises on High St in Randwick, where it continues to offer full-time casework, face-to-face clinics and outreach services. According to Tanya Jackson-Vaughan, Executive Director of RACS, funding is a key challenge for the centre, where 50% of its operating budget needs to be raised in order to provide legal assistance to over 7,000 people.

“We currently have a 6 to 8 month waitlist for people who have no other legal assistance option and without RACS, 90% of people seeking asylum in New South Wales would not have legal assistance,” she says.

UNSW Law Dean, Professor George Williams AO, says the work of RACS, and many other community legal centres, is enormously important, as is the Law School’s ability to provide assistance to these centres in facing some significant challenges.

“I am delighted to see the student-led UNSW Law Hackathon being used to bring new technology and ideas to benefit community legal centres. It has showcased how innovative, adaptive and forward-looking our students are and their strong commitment to UNSW Law’s foundational principles for social justice,” he says.

The three day event was supported by industry leaders including Gilbert + Tobin and icourts’ Executive Director Rebecca Grant, and featured guest speakers including former Judge of the High Court of Australia the Hon. Michael Kirby AC CMG, Professor Williams, and barrister, Mr Phillip Doyle-Gray.

Due to the event’s positive reception on social media, Agius expects the UNSW Law Hackathon to become an annual event and in future will “look to encourage other law schools to engage with the concept”.

For more information, visit the HackJustice website: hackjustice.com or Facebook page: facebook.com/hackjustice/