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A Start-Up Nation Embracing Legal Innovation: an Interview with Ms. Esther Dediashvili

Recent developments in the legal sector in Israel, a country famous throughout the world as the ‘Start-up Nation’ having the world's record of lawyers per-capita, show promising prospects for the future of the local legaltech industry and legal innovation in Israel. Israel's legaltech pioneer, Adv. Esther Dediashvili, the initiator and organizer of Israel Legal Hackathon as part of the Global Legal Hackathon initiative,  who is also a Legal Knowledge Manager and Head of Legal Technology Implementation at FBC & Co, one of the largest law firms in Israel,  discusses championing innovation in Israel's legal sector, hosting Israel Legal Hackathon for the second year in Tel Aviv and empowering women in legaltech around the world as Israel's ambassador for the GROWL initiative. 

 

In recent years, Israel has emerged as a global influencer in legal innovation world-wide. What professional role do you play in Israel's legal industry?

 

I'm a Legal Knowledge Manager and Head of Legal Technology Implementation at Fischer Behar Chen Well Orion & Co (FBC & Co), one of the largest law firms in Israel, which has been at the forefront of legal innovation in Israel and is regarded pioneer in the field of legal knowledge management and innovative legal technology in the Israeli legal arena. As part of my role at FBC & Co I'm responsible for the firm’s collective knowledge and professional expertise management, as well as legal technology implementation. Prior to this, I practiced securities and corporate law for seven years in two leading law firms in Israel.

 

Legal knowledge management as a concrete discipline is hardly existent in Israel, and the mere existence of a Legal Knowledge Manager's position in a major Israeli law firm, combining both legal and technological aspects, embodies innovation in and of itself in the local legal market. Not everyone understands that technology is an integral part of knowledge management in an organization. In fact, technological solutions serve as knowledge management enablers in general, and in the context of legal knowledge management in particular, technology can allow lawyers to concentrate more on what is important to the clients and to deliver better service. Fortunately, I work at a law firm that not only understands this, but is leading fundamental transformation in the local legal industry, with myself being the only legal professional in Israel whose role is entirely dedicated to the integration of knowledge management and technology in the Israeli legal practice.

 

I'm also the initiator and organizer of Israel Legal Hackathon hosted for the second consecutive year by our firm FBC & Co in collaboration with Tech&Law Israel as part of the Global Legal Hackathon (GLH), which has grown to become one of the largest legal innovation initiatives around the world, reaching over 6,000 participants across 46 cities in 24 countries, with the aim of improving the business of law and facilitating access to justice by leveraging technology.

 

Hosting Israel Legal Hackathon as part of GLH2018 and GLH2019, as well as joining the Global Legal Blockchain Consortium as the first law firm representing Israel, is a true testament to FBC & Co’s continued commitment to bringing innovation into Israel’s legal industry.

 

Once again Israel was the first country to kick off the Global Legal Hackathon in February 2019. I'm thrilled that Israel known throughout the world as both the 'Start-up Nation' and the 'Land of Lawyers' thanks to its vibrant and innovative technological ecosystem and the highest number of lawyers per-capita in the world, has participated in a global legal innovation initiative of this magnitude for a second year in a row. 

 

It’s safe to say that Israel Legal Hackathon remained the main legal innovation event in Israel in 2019, and created a one-of-a-kind opportunity to combine the tremendous experience and entrepreneurship of the local hi-tech community and the leading legal minds in the country, thereby enabling the development of innovative legal solutions to further improve the legal service delivery in Israel.

 

 

You've been actively engaged in the development of the legaltech ecosystem in Israel. How has the legal industry in Israel evolved since you have been involved? 

 

I'm an experienced attorney who feels very passionate about the immense positive impact that the integration of the law and technology can generate. This is why after having practiced securities and corporate law for seven years in two leading law firms in Israel, I became a Legal Knowledge Manager and Head of Legal Technology Implementation at FBC & Co which has been leading the way for the future of legal innovation in Israel. 

 

The legal industry is in many ways a backward-looking profession primarily built on past precedents, which doesn't necessarily encourage innovation in general, let alone adoption of disruptive technology. In fact, for a profession that is traditionally risk averse, 

innovation naturally pushes lawyers out of their comfort zones. In my opinion, in a world where a pace of change is so fast, innovation should be viewed as an opportunity rather than a threat and the legal industry should be more open to experimenting with innovative initiatives, including new technologies, and adopt a mindset that supports an innovation-friendly environment. 

 

I believe that incorporation of knowledge management and technology within the legal practice will undoubtedly accelerate the pace of legal innovation and the transformation of the global legal industry towards a more efficient and improved legal service delivery, and I've been actively working towards raising awareness in the Israeli legal industry about the importance and the potential benefits of integrating legal knowledge management and technology within the local legal sector.

 

As a leading legal technology professional in Israel, I regularly write and speak on the subject of the fundamental transformation the global legal industry is undergoing because of innovative methods for legal service delivery, including technology and knowledge management, and how these shifts will shape the future of the legal profession.

 

While the Israeli legaltech industry is still in its relative infancy, it seems that the realization that change is inevitable and will happen faster than expected is starting to penetrate the Israeli legal scene. A rising awareness has recently emerged in the local legal sphere as to the benefits of technology assistance in legal practice. For instance, three years ago, the first legaltech community gathering in Israel took place in Tel Aviv, and a year after that I appeared as a keynote speaker at Israel’s second legaltech meet-up which has attracted more than 300 participants. 

 

Two years ago, I attended a legal innovation conference in Europe, where I heard an interesting expression that ‘Change has never happened this fast before, and will never happen this slowly again.’ It made me think about the local legal industry in Israel, which has traditionally been slow to adopt technological advances compared to other countries worldwide where legaltech is progressing at an accelerated pace. This phrase inspired me to get involved in the Global Legal Hackathon initiative and organize the first legal hackathon in the country. So with the hopes of boosting the local legaltech ecosystem I initiated and organized Israel Legal Hackathon, first a year ago in February 2018 and a year later in February 2019, hosted for the second consecutive year by our firm FBC & Co in collaboration with Tech&Law Israel as part of the Global Legal Hackathon, the largest legal hackathon in history that took place in cities and countries all over the world, bringing the legal industry together with tech and innovation, world-wide, with one purpose: rapid development of solutions for improving the legal industry world-wide.

 

By doing so I strived to bring about change in the local legal sphere on several levels – a) adoption of technology by law firms to enhance legal service delivery; b) incorporation of technology into the education of future lawyers to equip law students with skills needed to be successful in the 21st century; c) leveraging technology to facilitate public access to justice; and d) empower women in the legaltech industry. The solutions that were created as a result of Israel Legal Hackathon during both years generated great projects with public, private, academic and social legal benefits. 

 

When I initiated Israel Legal Hackathon last year, I was hoping to encourage the development of the legaltech ecosystem in Israel, and the results were beyond my wildest expectations! Israel Legal Hackathon has become the main legal innovation initiative in Israel; it has certainly spurred interest in the legaltech field within the local legal scene in Israel and marked a new chapter in its development. To me this is a personal highlight of my professional accomplishments. I hope that the innovative solutions generated by Israel Legal Hackathon will help shape the future of Israel’s legal industry. 

 

Since last year I've received numerous requests to advise and mentor teams and start-ups in the legaltech space from all around the world – from Singapore, to Australia and the United States and of course in Israel. I'm honored to be able to help with my vast experience as a lawyer as well as expertise in the legaltech field and assist these teams on their path to changing the global legal industry.

 

As the organizer of Israel's 1st Legal Hackathon and a judge in the first round of GLH2018, last year I've had the honor of being selected to serve as a judge on the final Global Judging Panel at the GLH2018 finals in New York alongside world-renowned legal and technology experts, and I've been granted with the honor of announcing the top six runner-up teams of GLH2018 Finals.

 

I'm proud to represent 'Start-up Nation' in a remarkable global legal innovation initiative such as Global Legal Hackathon, and I'm honored to have been selected as Israel's ambassador for the Global Rise Of Women in LegalTech (GROWL) initiative aimed to support up-and-coming women leaders in legal innovation around the world. In this capacity, I've established the first GROWL award to the best women-led team at Israel Legal Hackathon 2019 and served as a GROWL mentor to international women-led teams participating in GLH2019. 

 

I'm humbled to have been selected to serve as a GROWL judge alongside a distinguished group of leading women in the global legal technology industry entrusted with the important task of determining which of the 22 international women-led teams will have a chance to compete at the GLH2019 finals in New York.

 

The Global Legal Hackathon had a tremendous influence on Israel's legal scene, and has helped in positioning Israel on the global legal innovation map, and I hope this initiative will continue to open doors for Israel's legaltech sector. 

 

Two years ago I was the first representative from Israel who was interviewed by LegalBusinessWorld, and when asked what's on the horizon for the legal technology sector in 'Start-up Nation', I predicted that it is simply a matter of time until the local legaltech market catches up. Given the huge success of Israel Legal Hackathon in the past two years, I'm glad to say that I wasn't wrong and Israeli legaltech sector is indeed making progress. In a country where innovation and entrepreneurship are native languages, coupled with the fact that Israel is also a world leader in the number of lawyers per-capita, it is only natural that the Israeli legaltech market will start living up to its 'Start-up Nation' legacy. There's a feeling that the wind of change has come and that's very exciting, and I envision positive prospects for the further development in this area in the future. 

 

You brought the Global Legal Hackathon to Israel, how did the second year go compared to the first year?

 

Last year, the worldwide hackathon kicked off with Israel’s 1st Legal Hackathon in Tel Aviv, and has signaled a new chapter in Israel’s legaltech sector. The hackathon was the first legal hackathon in Israel, emphasizing the historical significance of this event. So far, several teams that participated in the local hackathon last year have already launched their projects, while others have reached considerable progress and started gaining traction. I couldn't be happier that some of the teams are already paving their way outside of Israel! 

 

I was fortunate to organize Israel Legal Hackathon for the second year in a row and this year it was even bigger and better – its attendance has doubled since last year with many innovative ideas coming to the competition. Nearly 150 people participated in Israel Legal Hackathon in February 2019 and it's been an amazing experience of incredible teamwork, creative ideas and solutions with potential impact on the global legal industry. Over 100 contestants from all over the country took part in the event, including start-ups, entrepreneurs, technologists, legal professionals, academics and students, as well as mentors and judges comprising of leading legal, technology and academic experts. Thanks to our contestants, mentors, judges, technology partners and supporting organizations Israel Legal Hackathon was a great success and has become the main legal innovation event in Israel!

 

I still find it hard to hide the tremendous excitement when I think about the unique phenomenon I've experienced during the two days of the hackathon: in less than 48 hours I was privileged to wear quite a few hats at the hackathon – I was the organizer and the host of the event, a mentor, and a judge. While this is quite a challenge, preceded by weeks of feverish preparations with quite a few all-nighters, I do it gladly and with genuine care. The connection between law and technology is very dear to me and when I initiated the hackathon a year ago I wanted to stimulate the development of this field in Israel. Fortunately, our firm supports the initiative of building a local legaltech community and this is the second year that we're hosting the hackathon at FBC & Co offices in Tel Aviv. 

 

With a multitude of enhancements being introduced at Israel Legal Hackathon this year I had many surprises in store for our hackathon participants and added innovative tracks: we had something for everyone – private, public, academic and women empowerment challenges in the legal industry, so that each participant would be able to identify with and choose to focus on the fields of personal interest. 

 

We were fortunate to have supporting organizations comprising of major local and international, legal, technology and financial organizations, including Israel's Ministry of Justice, Microsoft, LawGeex, iManage, PwC, KPMG and others. Some of the leading technology and legal experts were part of our esteemed group of mentors providing professional assistance to Israel Legal Hackathon participants. We had an all-star panel of judges and I believe this year we broke the world record for the number of judges with 15(!) judges from diverse backgrounds representing the main judges panel, and designated public benefit, academic and women in legaltech judges panels.

 

Israel Legal Hackathon is gaining huge momentum on both international and local levels, and it has been featured on some of the main legal and technology news sources in Israel and beyond, prompting subsequent discussions on the subject of legal technology showcasing the local hackathon. I was also excited about the fact that Israel's reputation as a world-renowned hub of innovation attracted much interest in the local hackathon on a global level, and we were fortunate to have Global Legal Hackathon representative from the United States visit us in Tel Aviv for the local pitching session and award ceremony to witness firsthand legal innovation in the 'Start-up Nation'. 

 

The legal industry is in the midst of profound transformation, and Israel Legal Hackathon has been an opportunity for everybody in the local industry, no matter how seasoned or junior, tech-savvy or novice, to roll up their sleeves and join with co-workers, clients, law firms, technology companies, start-up entrepreneurs and academics to fully immerse themselves in the cutting edge of legal technology innovation. As last year, Israel Legal Hackathon was the main legal innovation event in Israel, with many of the country's legal and technology professionals coming together to collaborate on creating innovative solutions to overcome legal challenges by leveraging technology.

 

Right after the overview I gave at the beginning of the hackathon about the latest developments in the legaltech field around the world, I noticed the inspired faces of those present in the room that I believe I was able to infect with my enthusiasm. I saw that the applications of advanced technologies I mentioned, such as artificial intelligence, automation and blockchain, ignited the imagination of the participants and already at the preliminary stage of short pitches when most people are usually hesitant to appear on the stage, dozens of contestants approached willingly and presented their ideas to the audience in an attempt to attract additional team members. I couldn't believe it was happening, it was truly inspiring! The contestants were motivated and really embraced the hackathon, and it was clear that they enjoyed the process. 

 

It was inspiring to observe the electrifying atmosphere of innovation and cooperation that prevailed at the hackathon. As Steve Jobs put it, 'Great things in business are never done by one person. They're done by a team of people', and this was evident at the hackathon, with competing teams helping each other along the process. The level of involvement of the firm's personnel was also no less than impressive, starting with the partners and lawyers from FBC & Co's various departments who served as mentors and contributed their extensive experience to many hackathon participants, also supported by the many interns and members of the administrative staff.

 

Over the course of the hackathon, it was fascinating to witness how collaboration among technologists and legal professionals around a common social and business objective can fuel real innovation within a short period of time, and produce working solutions to real problems within the legal sector. It was a learning experience of teamwork and cooperation and that is, in my opinion, the secret of the hackathon's success.

 

The results of this year's hackathon exceeded all of my expectations and we had a 'celebration of legal innovation' that included impressive solutions from a wide range of different sectors.  It's incredible to see what creative solutions the collaboration among lawyers and technologists can generate and I can't wait to see them come to fruition. I believe that it is this collaborative effort of all participants that makes GLH a true celebration of global legal innovation.

 

And on a more personal level – Global Legal Hackathon had such an immense impact on me, it is my honor to be GLH partner and friend, and I remained committed to making this year's Israel Legal Hackathon an incredible legal innovation experience, and to top it all – this extraordinary event took place on my birthday for the second year in a row – I couldn't have asked for a better present! 

 

Can you tell us about the applications that were presented this year by the participants in Israel Legal Hackathon and who are the winners?

 

Eight groups of lawyers and technologists presented their innovative solutions at Israel Legal Hackathon 2019, with the aim to overcome private, public, academic and women empowerment challenges in the legal industry.

 

The winner of the 1st place and of the Best Public Benefit Solution Award on behalf of the Israeli Ministry of Justice is team 'Legal Force', which developed an improved contract drafting and internal negotiation system for in-house lawyers. 2nd place and winner of the Best Academic Solution Award is team 'Litvisor', which created a legal research and academic marketplace for legal aid. 3rd place was awarded to team 'QnA', which came up with a virtual classroom app helping lecturers manage students' questions.  Team 'Weaid!' received the Best Women-led Team Solution Award for an AI and ML based application empowering underrepresented consumers to assert their legal rights.  

 

The winners of Israel Legal Hackathon 2019 and the Best Women-led Team will receive an opportunity to participate in the global winners awards Gala and Finals in New York City on May 4, 2019, and additional special prizes, besides the newly made friends, boost of energy and the beautiful memories.

 

Other groups participating in the hackathon demonstrated mature thinking and a deep understanding of the needs of the legal market, and attempted to implement advanced technological tools ranging from big data analytics and entity extraction from text, a system making public information in the capital market more accessible, an online dispute resolution platform handling cases that generally don't reach conventional courts, to electronic bills of exchange in the form of smart contracts based on the blockchain technology.

 

Beyond the fascinating process of creating innovation, participants at Israel Legal Hackathon had plenty of opportunities of quality networking with legaltech enthusiasts and leading experts and potential investors, and were globally publicized about their innovative solutions for the legal industry.

 

I'm proud of the movement that was started with Israel Legal Hackathon, and hope that the developed solutions will continue their paths toward implementing successful legal innovations in Israel and beyond. I can't wait to see what the next year's hackathon has in store.

 

We look forward to collaborating with GLH on this one-of-a-kind global legal innovation endeavor next year and expect the next Israel Legal Hackathon to attract even more people from diverse backgrounds. 

 

You've been actively supporting diversity in the global legaltech industry. Tell us about your involvement in the Global Rise of Women in LegalTech (GROWL) initiative, and what role do you think the initiative will play in getting more Israeli women involved in legaltech?

 

As a leading female legal technology professional in Israel, with numerous international publications and appearances on the global and Israeli legaltech markets, and experience in serving on judges' panels of diverse start-up competitions, including the Global Legal Hackathon and MassChallenge (the most globally-connected accelerator in Israel), I'm honored to have been selected as Israel's ambassador for the GROWL Initiative dedicated to empowering women in legaltech world-wide and to serve as a judge at the GROWL panel of judges comprising of leading female legaltech experts from around the world determining the best international women-led teams who will have a chance to compete at GLH2019 finals in New York.

 

As the organizer and host of Israel Legal Hackathon it's been my honor to establish the first GROWL award to the best women-led team at Israel Legal Hackathon 2019, and serve as a GROWL mentor to international women-led teams participating in GLH2019. As GROWL's ambassador in Israel I've reached out to several prominent female professionals in the legal and technology space in Israel and encouraged them to serve as GROWL mentors.

 

Being the only female professional in the Israeli legal scene whose role is entirely dedicated to the integration of knowledge management and technology in the Israeli legal practice, I hope to encourage more women to get involved in the legaltech community world-wide, and I'm looking forward to working with GROWL on this important mission. We need more girl power in the global legal industry!

 

Coming from a firm with uniquely diverse personnel, with over 50% of lawyers at FBC & Co being females – an unusual percentage in the legal world, in most Israeli law firms women are still underrepresented in leadership roles. The legal and technology worlds have traditionally been dominated by men, and this recent example illustrates the problem in a staggering manner. When German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently visited Israel she probably didn’t expect it to turn her into a feminist icon. But when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hosted her at a meeting with Israeli innovators last October, Merkel who was pictured surrounded by 30 men in suits, pointed out something that should have been obvious to everyone: that it would be better if next time there was a woman among all those hopeful pioneers of the future. This photo went viral in Israel and Germany. 

 

Israel is famous throughout the world as the 'Start-up Nation' for being the country with the highest concentration of start-ups, but has struggled with the same gender gap that has plagued other tech hubs such as Silicon Valley. Only 8% of technological ventures in Israel are led by women, similar to the situation in the world. Nevertheless, women are not invisible in Israel’s hi-tech industry. In fact, they represent a quarter of the country’s hi-tech workforce. 

 

Fortunately, times are changing in the local technology industry, and the all-male meeting combined with Merkel’s response sent a wakeup call to the Israeli government that they need to encourage women entrepreneurs of Israel to make themselves seen and heard more prominently. It was recently announced that Israel Innovation Authority is launching a special support track for start-ups established by women. Within the framework of the program, the Authority will provide an R&D grant to start-up enterprises owned by women entrepreneurs, with up to 75% financing in the R&D cost in the first two years, amounting to a budget of up to NIS 2.5-4.5 million per each project. Hopefully this new route will help increase the women-led entrepreneurship in Israel and double the number of initiatives supported by the Authority in the near future.

 

By being Israel's ambassador for the GROWL initiative aimed to support up-and-coming women leaders in legal innovation around the world, I hope to encourage women in general, and in the legal technology ecosystem in particular, to follow their dreams and do what they feel passionate about, and I'm confident that when you love what you do and put your heart and soul in it, it shows in your work and success will inevitably follow. Trust me – I'm a living proof of that!

 

I'm proud and humbled to be part of the biggest legal innovation endeavors in the world – Global Legal Hackathon and the GROWL initiative, and lead the way in Israeli legaltech. We are on the right track of changing the global legal industry for the better! 

 

To sum up, I will repeat the sentence with which I opened Israel Legal Hackathon this year – the global legal industry is undergoing a fundamental transformation by technological developments, and those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future. Israel Legal Hackathon demonstrated in a way that leaves no doubt that not only we don't intend to miss our future, but the opposite is true. Israel has all the conditions to succeed – we are the 'Start-up Nation' with a highly developed hi-tech ecosystem alongside our vast legal experience as a 'Land of Lawyers' with the highest ratio of lawyers per population in the world. The hackathon has proved once again that the connection between these two worlds creates innovative solutions that can lead the local legal sector forward. Israel's legal industry is ripe for change and as Theodor Herzl, a visionary of modern Zionism, proclaimed: 'If you will it, it is no dream.’ 

About the Author
Adv. Esther Dediashvili is a Legal Knowledge Manager and Head of Legal Technology Implementation at Fischer Behar Chen Well Orion & Co (FBC & Co), one of Israel’s premier full service law firms. Prior to this, she practiced securities and corporate law for seven years in two leading law firms in Israel. 

 

Esther is the organizer of Israel's 1st Legal Hackathon as part of the Global Legal Hackathon (GLH), the largest legal innovation initiative in history spanning over 40 cities around the world. She also served as a judge and mentor in the first round of GLH2018 and represented Israel as a judge on the final Global Judging Panel at the GLH2018 finals in New York. Esther organized and hosted Israel Legal Hackathon for the second consecutive year as part of GLH2019. As a leading female legal technology professional in Israel, Esther was selected to be Israel's ambassador for the Global Rise Of Women in LegalTech – the GROWL initiative aimed to support up-and-coming women leaders in legal innovation around the world, and to serve as a GROWL judge alongside a distinguished group of leading women in the global legal technology industry. Esther also served as a GROWL mentor to international women-led teams participating in GLH2019. 

 

Esther writes and speaks regularly on the subject of law and technology in various Israeli and international publications and venues. 

Esther can be contacted via email at estherd@fbclawyers.com and via LinkedIn or Twitter.

More on Esther Dediashvili, Adv.: http://www.fbclawyers.com/logistic/esther-dediashvili-adv/

More on FBC & Co: http://www.fbclawyers.com/

More on Israel Legal Hackathon: https://www.israellegalhackathon.co.il/

 

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