Lawyers Who Code: Nicholas Van Exan – Profile

Nicholas Van ExanNicholas Van Exan is a Toronto-based software developer and data protection lawyer working for ObjectSharp, a software design, creation and delivery agency. 

How does coding help you as a lawyer?

“Learning how to code in a particular language assists with many things in life. But I find it most useful in daily practice when having to interface with our various developers and engineering teams.

“Understanding code allows me to better understand certain constraints our teams may face, and prepare more practical legal advice that better anticipates questions our engineering teams may have with respect to a product or feature request coming from legal.

“Code, however, is so much more than just code. Coding an app is easy. Deploying it in scalable ways across the Internet so that the user experience is fast on all devices is difficult. Having built such applications using advanced technologies on the Microsoft Azure cloud stack for a number of companies, I have a better appreciation as well for how systems built on cloud-based infrastructure interrelate. This allows me to better understand important nuances in various agreements, including data protection agreements, that I wouldn’t otherwise fully appreciate. Finally, having spent a fair bit of time working on software development teams has helped me better organise my legal practice.

How does coding help you in your current role at ObjectSharp?

“In my current role, I’m advising companies on technical and design matters related to product innovation and data protection strategy, so having a solid working knowledge of how code is written, transpiled, and deployed to – and served from – the cloud is essential to my daily work. In the case of GDPR, for example, the security requirements in Article 32 go well beyond data protection and mandate that companies of a sufficient scale implement disaster recovery strategies to ensure the ongoing resilience of data when catastrophe strikes. Part of being a good advisor on these issues isn’t simply restating the statute but being able to have a meaningful conversation with clients about the design and merits of a follow-the-sun application architecture built on new tools like Azure Cosmos DB. So having a working knowledge of the technology involved in the delivery of software from end-to-end is crucial to my daily practice.”

“As most companies today are now becoming software companies, learning not just code, but the way code is built by teams, is just as important in my view as learning the foundations of contract formation.”

How many years have you been able to code?


What languages can you code in?

“I have extensive experience with JavaScript (React, Angular, Node, Vue), HTML, SCSS, Ruby, WebPack, automated e2e testing in the cloud, as well as build and deployment architecture in the Microsoft Azure stack.”

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