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 firstname.lastname@example.org [yes it is .co]
Tom Quoroll is Partner in the Capital Markets practice at Linklaters and chair of its Innovation Hub – a collective group made up of representatives from the firm’s Practice Innovation and Efficiency teams.
How many years have you been able to code?
“It’s mainly been within the last two years that I really started to engage with coding. I dabbled a little while at school and university; but since the firm started to get more involved with innovative applications, especially machine learning technologies and how we might be able to use these within the practice, I thought it would be interesting to understand more about how programmers think so we could communicate with them more readily.”
What languages can you code in?
“I’ve mainly focused on Python – it’s a relatively simple language to learn. The syntax is straightforward to read, so you can learn from other people’s code and examples online quite easily. I also learned a bit of VBA (Visual Basic Applications) while at school too.”
What kick-started your interest in coding?
“My deeper interest in coding was sparked when the firm got more involved in machine learning technologies. Not only did I want to be able to communicate with coders and developers more readily, I also wanted a project that I could work on to teach myself how to code and enhance my skills. I undertook some free online courses and at the same time I started developing a tool to help me and my colleagues with our legal work – a platform that links into public registries to aggregate data for due diligence. Overall it was a great way to learn, as you feel like you’re actually doing something useful and worthwhile!”
What obstacles did you encounter when learning to code?
“In the beginning, I found choosing the language to be tricky because I didn’t know which language was the ‘right’ one for me. I didn’t really have the time to learn a whole host of different languages and it was difficult to find good material recommending one language over another. In the end I chose Python based on its popularity and the huge volume of resources available online.
“Once you mastered the basics of the language, it’s quite a challenge to work out where you then take it to get that more advanced learning. So, you really need to think about what you want to achieve before diving in. I spent time focusing on areas I was interested in to keep myself motivated and it really helped having an end goal (or in my case a working project) to steer my learning.”
From your experience, do you think lawyers gain an advantage by being able to code?
“For junior lawyers, learning to code helps your discipline, especially when drafting sections in a legal agreement where you want it to be very precise. It means you must think about every way a piece of text could be interpreted. And it’s the same with code – for it to work you need to close the loop and make sure you’ve dealt with every scenario, which is what we try to teach new lawyers to do.
“As mentioned earlier, I think it’s important for lawyers to be able to communicate with developers more readily. Lots of technologies, such as machine-learning, are impacting the way we work. As lawyers we need to be able to understand how these changes might occur, how to utilise these tools, and have those in-depth conversations with developers to identify the most efficient way to solve problems for our clients. This requires you to understand a bit about the languages they work in.”
Are there any specific examples you can provide?
“The project I worked on as part of my learning is a good example here – using Python I built a tool that links into public registries to aggregate data for due diligence. It automates the process of sourcing and extracting the data, saving me and my colleagues time, enabling us to be more efficient with our legal work. I’ve worked with our in-house developers to turn my prototype into a robust application that has now been deployed firmwide.”
What crossover skills are there between lawyering and coding?
“There are a surprising number of similarities between coding and legal drafting. Sometimes you’ll want to clearly define certain terms with a minimum margin for misunderstanding, just in the same way that code needs to be input correctly for it to work. In both disciplines, a key skill to develop is conciseness and efficiency of language – lawyers can learn a lot from the module-based object- oriented approach to coding to improve their drafting style.
“I think we as lawyers can also learn from the culture and agile methodologies of tech firms. Software developers are accustomed to putting a piece of tech together very quickly (i.e. a minimum viable product) and iterating over time, building in client feedback as they go. Learning to code is one way of exposing our lawyers to different approaches and different ways of solving problems. You don’t need to become a master programmer to add this valuable string to your bow.”