An interview with Karol Kłaczyński, Agnieszka Poteralska, Artur Tanona and Maciej Zalewski, members of the team that won first place in the Polish phase of the Global Legal Hackathon.
You won the Polish phase of the Global Legal Hackathon with a solution that you yourselves describe as “a plug-in to Word,” but which has the chance to truly expedite the work of lawyers. What is your concept all about?
Karol Kłaczyński: InteliLex provides quick access to the document database created at the given organisation. In our discussions with lawyers this problem often comes up. The knowledge exists, it has been developed, but searching for it is time-consuming and inefficient. InteliLex helps improve the efficiency of the search.
Agnieszka Poteralska: As lawyers we work on a large number of documents. We have huge quantities of contracts and pleadings in our databases. Finding a passage that would be useful in a new document is laborious. We decided to automate this.
While we type, InteliLex suggests passages—points, paragraphs or sections—that we can paste into our text with a single click. We don’t have to transcribe it or paste it from an existing document that would first have to located.
You might say it’s enough to have patterns or templates. But in the case of complicated contracts running to dozens of pages, we cannot work on readymade templates, but it sometimes happens that certain provisions are repeated or similar. InteliLex facilitates their reuse while making it possible to edit them to reflect the needs of the specific matter.
Is your product to be supplied with an existing base of clauses, or is it supposed to learn from what the client has?
Karol: For now we want to use the existing database of the given organisation. External knowledge bases are a possible idea for the future. Before that, we want to solve the problem of a dispersed and disordered internal knowledge base which is difficult and time-consuming to access.
Agnieszka: Moreover, our solution should support the style of the given law firm. We are not proposing unverified templates from the internet, only better use of what the firm’s lawyers have already created, backed by their own name and authority.
Artur Tanona: InteliLex can maintain the uniqueness of the work of each lawyer and firm. It won’t come to a situation where all the construction contracts in Poland look the same. Users will primarily resort to the know-how gathered by themselves and their own law firm.
But a keyword like “plaintiff” or “defendant” might appear in thousands of different paragraphs drafted by the given firm.
Karol: Yes, of course, but when entering the following words, we narrow the results to those most useful in the given context.
One thing I like about your concept is the potential for readers of legal texts. If a lawyer is going to draw from a set of texts, the texts can be edited to make them concise and understandable.
Maciej Zalewski: Our product could no doubt also be applied to this end. Our solution may be expanded in many different ways. We just need a little time to examine that.
When I hear it, the concept sounds obvious. But how do you hit on something like that?
Agnieszka: One of the inspirations was observing programmers at work. Programmers have auto-completion of commands, because writing out all the code by hand would take a lot of time. And I thought that I’d like to work the same way, because it would really speed up the work of lawyers, to the benefit of the firm and its clients.
Maciej: I had a very similar thought. For the last three years I have worked as a lawyer, and for nearly two years I have also been learning to program. I missed that functionality for example when drafting a contract.
Agnieszka: We have also received that kind of feedback. Anyone who saw our solution said, “If I had that, it would make things so much easier.” So we are all probably struggling with a similar problem.
That would suggest that such ideas are discovered by people on the borderline, familiar with two worlds.
Karol: That’s exactly why events like this hackathon are needed, where two worlds meet and begin to talk to each other. Then it turns out that the tools used by one world can also be applied in the other world.
Agnieszka: This is an excellent platform for exchange of knowledge. Programmers, lawyers, and people from other industries meet and test their assumptions. For examples, lawyers saying they need a certain tool must verify whether it is possible to create it.
Did you arrive at the hackathon with a ready concept and team?
Karol: It was one of several ideas. From the pool of ideas we chose the one we want to realise, the one that seemed to us the best and most needed. And we arrived with the germ of a team. Aga, Tomek (one of our programmers) and I knew one another before, and at the stage of forming teams we were joined by four other people.
Agnieszka: A great interdisciplinary team was formed, which really helped us build the product as well as the presentation and the sales strategy. Each person contributed their own perspective. I’m a lawyer, and we had two lawyer/programmers, combining legal and IT skills, two people who are strictly programmers, and two people with business, product and marketing skills.
What has to be presented at the hackathon?
Maciej: Ideally, a complete business proposal. Not just functioning software, but a product that can be offered on the market.
Karol: Some solutions should be proposed, and it’s best if it is actually developed during the hackathon. Some teams presented more of a concept than a functioning prototype, because they didn’t have programmers on their team and it was hard for them to create anything.
Agnieszka: It should also be pointed out that there were two main categories of projects that were developed: commercial and social.
So you agree on a concept, the hackathon starts, and then what? How does the work proceed?
Agnieszka: It was a really interesting experience. How to divide up tasks in a team who practically don’t know one another? How to manage the group? But we did it quite effectively. It turned out that we were quite a smoothly working team. Each person had a task and did it, and there were no conflicts. We did a lot of work on the first two days, so on Sunday we could prepare for the presentation.
Karol: We succeeded in creating the prototype during the event itself. A big bow here to our colleagues who handled the programming—Tomek, Ignacy, Artur and Maciek—who coordinated the work very well. They were from various tech fields, which on one hand was a hindrance, but on the other hand meant that they had different perspectives and different skills. Everyone chose what they felt most comfortable with, and worked on their part. There was a lot of communication—how it is going for someone, whether they need any help. Thanks to this the work was very efficient.
Did you work intuitively, or did you apply some fashionable “agile” methodology?
Agnieszka: It was “improvised agility.” Our work was by definition agile.
Karol: In such a short time it was not necessary to apply any frameworks or methodologies. It was enough to take the approach “Let’s divide up the work and get started.” It all went very naturally. Each person best exploited their own skills. We were an interdisciplinary team, so everyone did what they do best.
Maciej: We complemented each other perfectly. We weren’t missing anyone and no one was unnecessary.
Karol: Even when there was a moment of downtime, everyone found a task. For example, discussing the concept with our mentor and finding that something should be changed. The mentors helped us a lot, by asking tough questions or trying to understand what our business value was. For example, it turned out that our product solves another problem, much more important than the one we perceived at the start.
I was surprised there was so little time between concept and realisation.
Maciej: A small group of motivated people has much less inertia than a big corporation.
Agnieszka: Besides, we understood the problem.
Karol: Agnieszka, who is a lawyer, as well as Maciej and Artur, who have experience in both law and programming, perceived the need to introduce this solution in the everyday work of lawyers. In turn, Tomek and Ignacy, who are programmers, saw the potential that this could actually be done. Jarek identified the huge business value. All of this strongly motivated us.
Did you manage to maintain the pace of work?
Maciej: We maybe even sped up.
Karol: Every small success drove us even more. We were surprised ourselves how quickly we managed to achieve the first results.
Agnieszka: The feedback also contributed a lot. We have a profile on LinkedIn and Facebook, and people from the legal profession commented that this solution would be useful to them. So we felt that we were doing something that is actually needed. We took so much energy from the hackathon that we are not stopping.
Would you recommend the hackathon to others?
Agnieszka: Of course. Things happen there that in the future will become natural. That makes it worthwhile to observe and take part. Lots of concepts that arose at hackathons around the world have now been implemented. We are heading toward automation, digitalisation and optimisation, and the hackathon is a good place to experience this.
Karol: Beyond that, the hackathon brings together people vitally interested in the whole spectrum of legal tech. In discussions of concepts and problems, the participants and mentors present questions to each other that direct the course of thinking. It’s a great place to get to know such people and their way of thinking and their experiences, and even to form business contacts.
Agnieszka: The mentors supported the teams in the process from concept to presentation. To think of something is one thing, but to present it to a jury is something else. We also encountered this problem. We thought we had a great idea for presenting our solution, but it turned out that we had to take a different tack.
Karol: They shared lots of knowledge with us. For people who work on projects or products in IT, certain things are obvious, but it’s great to get a refresher. On the other hand, people who have no contact with this gained lots of useful knowledge: how to create a product, how to apply “lean canvas” or “design thinking.” The presentations were truly interesting.
Maciej: It was also great to see that lawyers are open to change. They are interested in what they can improve, what changes to introduce, and what of value can arise from the use of new technologies.
Did you conclude from your observations that anyone was missing from the hackathon?
Karol: Definitely. In our case we had enough of them, but some teams had no programmers at all. Those teams could present only a concept, not a product.
Agnieszka: Then the intersection of two worlds was missing. There were also teams made up of only programmers, and there they had a problem with business and sales aspects. To create a product requires an interdisciplinary approach.
Artur: The method of presenting what InteliLex is and what it can change in the work of lawyers was also incredibly important. Before we were not aware of how scrupulously you must plan the information campaign for a product (even a two-day campaign). Without the support from Karol and Jarek, who handled that, we would undoubtedly have written some good code, but we would not have gotten where we are now.
Do you think this is the future: lawyers cooperating with programmers, or lawyers who are also programmers?
Maciej: I think so. I see primarily three areas impacting the work of lawyers: automation, artificial intelligence, and blockchain. It seems to me that to manoeuvre effectively in these areas, cooperation with programmers is essential. I can’t say whether lawyers will have to program, but I am convinced that lawyers who do so will find a place on the market.
Karol: I’d also like to address what Krzysztof Wojdyło said during the hackathon: the law is now becoming ever more extensive. Enforcement of the law is increasingly costly and prolonged, and sometimes impossible for technical reasons. Either the courts cannot reach certain decisions, or reaching them takes so long that people abandon the enforcement of their rights. Therefore the law itself must undergo automation, and then a lawyer will also be a programmer, for example to draft smart contracts and understand how they function. Generally there are fewer and fewer spheres of life where it’s possible to escape programming and digitalisation. The law also cannot escape this.
Maciej: Krzysztof also said that the law is exceeding the perceptual capabilities of humans. Individuals are no longer capable of grasping the scope of the law with their intellect. Thus we hope that with the help of technology we can help lawyers to better grasp the law perceptually. And thanks to technology, the law itself can become more user-friendly, accessible and open.
Artur: When we think of digitalisation, we typically picture super-algorithms that will pursue legal disputes between themselves on behalf of clients. But it seems to me that there is also a much more down-to-earth perspective. Now, when I see as a programmer that something is repetitive, I simply record the sequences in the form of a script that will execute these actions for me. That means I can devote my time to more creative and demanding activities.
The use of tools of this type is not common in the legal industry. When I had to record the contact details for a thousand companies, the data was scattered across various websites and in various formats. It seemed like a rote task, but it was very time-consuming. Fortunately, I was already learning to program and could use just a few commands on the console to collate and structure that data. The fewer such tasks that have to be done by hand, the better.
And now, as I understand, you are preparing for the finals in New York?
Karol: Yes, now that is our priority. We have just filmed a brief promotional spot that we will submit for the elimination round. We spent the whole day on the set and had a great time. We hope that our work is appreciated, because we are at an advanced stage. It’s not just an idea, but a functioning tool.
Maciej: We are counting on the opportunity to present it in May in New York.
Agnieszka: We would also like to use this opportunity to thank the organisers of the hackathon, the mentors, the participants who supported us, the Tribekk film team, and Sollers Consulting, whose office we used as the film set, and everyone who supports us every day, including on social media. And we thank the jurors who believed in our concept.
We’ll keep our fingers crossed.
Interview conducted by Justyna Zandberg-Malec