Lawyers Who Code: Youri Cousineau

YouriYouri Cousineau works as legal counsel in a large Canadian financial group, covering investment products and securities regulation. He is also the founder of Ako Technologies, a startup building blockchain applications for banks to legally issue financial products via blockchain.

What kick-started your interest in coding?

I was inspired by my brother, who’s a professional developer, and motivated by Bloomberg’s “What is Code?” article (I highly recommend reading it) and the advice given by the author of Learn Ruby the Hard Way.

I believe that, although learning to code by itself will land you a good career as a developer, learning to code as a secondary skill to another profession will unlock anyone’s potential to do amazing things in their respective field. Coding is a very powerful tool no matter what your main profession is.

What languages can you code in?

I code in Ruby (using Rails for web apps), Solidity (for Ethereum blockchain applications), and some JavaScript and Swift. I started coding about 4 years ago.

What obstacles did you encounter when learning to code?

None really, but it does require a lot of motivation. Having a real-world coding project to work on while learning is a must to stay motivated.

From your experience, do you think lawyers gain an advantage by being able to code?

Absolutely! Once you know how to code, you constantly have new ideas on how you can change your profession or industry using technology. You must have an intimate understanding of your profession to know what problems need solving, and you must know how to code to have an idea on how to solve them. I think that many problems remain unsolved because of the knowledge and conceptual barriers between developers and lawyers or other professionals. Learning to code lifts that barrier and unlocks infinite possibilities.

Learning to code also helps to conceptualise your legal work in a new light, especially when it comes to contracts. If you think about it, many contracts can be conceptualised as software. For instance, I often deal with investment product contracts that will be issued to many investors, each having different specifications that will impact how the contract is executed. Couldn’t we say that the contract template is a ‘class’ and each contract signed by clients are instances of this class? Contract clauses can be ‘functions’. Client specifications and real-world events are variables or parameters passed to the clauses’ functions.

When you conceptualise contracts this way, you start noticing ‘bugs’ and can improve the contracts dramatically by fixing them. It is amazing how many errors you can find in commonly used contracts, such as self-referencing objects, undefined variables and infinite loops!

Are there any specific examples you can provide?

The company I created, Ako Technologies, is a good example. Creating blockchain investment products is a legal challenge, as much as a technological challenge. Being able to see both sides at the same time is a strong advantage.

Legal Geek is compiling a ‘hack-book’ of lawyers and legaltechies who code. If you code, or are learning to code, we would love to include you in our ‘hack-book’. Drop us a line via [email protected] [yes it is .co].