May the force be with them: the inaugural SCL Tech Law Challenge

February 6, 2018

I have to say I spent Sunday feeling inadequate.

In my (long gone, hazily remembered) student days Saturday mornings were for recovery from the night before. The thought of getting up early to spend the day being assessed and monitored by leading lights in my subject, and competing against other keen students, would have given me a cold sweat whether or not I had a hangover.

So I can only express the utmost respect and admiration for the 94 law students who gathered at the University of Law Moorgate campus last Saturday to undertake the inaugural SCL Student TechLaw Challenge. Instead of watching Football Focus, they opted to spend the whole day doing something that would widen both their knowledge of legal practice and their career opportunities.

The day was the brainchild of former SCL Junior Lawyer stalwarts, Michael Butterworth and Ryan Adams, who wanted to give something back to those coming up through the ranks. The aim was to give the students a taster of what’s involved when advising clients or renegotiating a failing tech project, all overseen by 30 or so volunteer mentors drawn from the SCL membership (hats off to them as well).

The advising bit was to give their clients, Jedi Digital, instant guidance on what to do following a data breach reported by one of Jedi’s prize clients, Hothland, a national chain of stores now demanding hourly updates. (The keen, and even not so keen, film watchers among you will have spotted a theme for the day by now). After some research and preparation time, each team presented their advice to a mentor, playing the role of worried Sam, CEO of Jedi Digital.

The other task was negotiation. Jedi’s project to provide a new e-commerce system to Empire Media (another clue for you) has not gone well and the teams had to act for one side or the other in a last-ditch attempt to prevent the project unravelling into litigation.

I listened into some of the teams advising on the data breach (thanks to the teams for not flinching when I asked if I could). What I heard was impressive with each team offering different approaches and ideas to their mentor client. While it was obvious that those studying at post graduate level had a head start, it was inspiring to see entrants from all levels of legal education engaging with the problem and trying to provide practical advice, not just legal bluster.

I did not gatecrash a negotiation, as I’m sure I would have been off-putting, but Laurence Akka QC, of 20 Essex Street, reported back on one of his own mentoring sessions. The teams had not come to a deal, because of last-minute perhaps excessive demands from the client advisers, but he felt that both teams involved had played their parts well and been responsive to the feedback. Other mentors I spoke to gave similar glowing feedback and one or two were even humble enough to say they had learnt from the experience, even if that was no more than a reminder of how difficult it can be to negotiate. 

All of the feedback reflected the tremendous effort put into the day by the students, audibly demonstrated by the studious hush that descended on the room after a brief post-lunch briefing. It was as though thoughts of the prize were crystallizing and efforts to win it were being cranked up.

So it was no surprise that the final winning score, for a team from QMU was an astounding 49/50 and that three joint runners up scored an excellent 44. One of the runners up teams also scooped a further prize for being the most risk averse entrants, while other prizes were awarded for the, perhaps tongue in cheek, best wheeler dealers, and the Jedi Mind Control award for persuasiveness: presumably that team knew they would win that one.

But whether a team won a prize or just competed for the experience, it was clear that the guidance and feedback they gained would help ‘the force be with’ all these students as they seek to enter the profession in the next few years.

Finally some thanks.

Such an event can only succeed with the goodwill of members and partners, so many thanks to all the mentors who came along and to the University of Law for hosting the event. We should also thank Browne Jacobson and JAG Shaw Baker for sponsoring the prizes of work placements for the winning team members.

However no words of gratitude can do justice to the efforts of Michael Butterworth who somehow managed to keep the teams, the mentors and the arcane scoring system on track single-handedly as Ryan could not make it on the day.

It was truly the work of a Jedi Knight. 


1st on 49 points out of 50: 

  • Matus Tutko and Ludwig Hastermann, QMUL

2nd= on 44 points: 

  • Ondrej Hajda and Jennifer O’Kane, BPP Waterloo; 
  • Xinya Tan and Kaveesha Thayalan, QMUL; 
  • Hamza Abib, Open University and Samira Ahmed, Birkbeck