Should law students learn to code?
Ondrej - 05/05/2017
Photo of a desk with a laptop displaying code and notebooks

Law students and junior lawyers who come to Legal Geek events often ask if they need to learn to code. Technology is undoubtedly changing the legal profession and it is encouraging to see lawyers of the future engaging with the question of how the profession is going to change.

Recent years have seen law schools organising hackathons and launching new courses which embrace technology and law tech. I was interested to see what professionals think about the question. I asked Oliver Yaros, a partner at the international law firm Mayer Brown, whether he thinks that lawyers of the future will need to know how to code:

“I doubt that lawyers of the future will be required to code themselves, in the sense of having to learn and write computer code. Instead, I suspect that firms and startups will create programmes that allow lawyers to assemble smart contracts without needing to know any code. So I don’t think that learning computer programming will be necessary, but obviously it might be helpful to know it.”

Why can it be helpful, you ask? Coding is a way to differentiate yourself – whether it is at a job interview or when you talk to a tech client. Everybody knows that education doesn’t end at law school and coding can be a useful new skill that can complement one’s legal skills and thinking.

Julia Salasky, a lawyer and a founder of the law tech startup CrowdJustice, told us:

“The more lawyers can engage with technology, the better for them and the better for their clients. Whether you can code or not, there are definitely advantages to being able to engage with technology and to speak on a somewhat technical plane – it opens up enormous opportunities for collaboration with technologists in a world where every discipline, including law, is becoming increasingly integrated into the digital space.”

 

Like law, coding is based on logic and reasoning, and is about finding solutions to practical problems. Srin Madipalli, an ex-Herbert Smith Freehills lawyer and a CEO and Co-founder of Accomable, explains that law and coding are a natural fit:

“I think everyone should learn to code! It’s a fantastically valuable skill that’s also a lot of fun. It’s something that can be both really intellectually interesting and creative at the same time. I think lawyers make naturally good coders. Fundamentally, code is just a set of objective instructions to a machine. A contract is not that different in that you’re trying to craft a set of instructions to be as objective as possible. Lawyers have to think in a very structured, granular and detailed orientated way; and need to be comfortable breaking a problem down to it’s core. Such abilities are central to coding.”

So if you want to develop a new skill and think that you’d enjoy learning to code, here are a few suggestions how to start.

Online courses

There are thousands of online courses through which you can learn to code. Some of them are of a very good quality and often for free. The most popular examples are Codecademy, and courses offered on Coursera and edX.

I have a personal experience with CS50. It’s a free online course that provides introduction to computer science. It started as an undergraduate course at Harvard University and quickly became the most popular first year class at Harvard. Rather than teaching any programming language in depth, it shows students (with or without prior programming experience) how to think algorithmically and solve problems efficiently. Languages include C, Python, SQL, and JavaScript plus CSS and HTML. Problem sets are inspired by real-world domains of biology, cryptography, finance, forensics, and gaming. Students can enrol for free, anytime during the year, and submit the problem sets in their own time.

Code First: Girls

A fantastic organisation called Code First: Girls tackles the issue of gender inequality in the tech industry and inspires women to pursue a career in tech and entrepreneurship. They run free part-time coding courses for young women/university students across the UK and Ireland. I asked them how they can help law students who want to learn to code:

“Firstly, at Code First: Girls we support young adults and working age women to develop further personal and professional skills. This includes technical skills in coding and programming as well as personal skills. Secondly, by connecting women to a community of other talented and like minded women and companies who can support and accompany them through their professional development. Finally, we help companies train their people, recruit new people, and develop their talent management policies and processes so they don’t miss out on amazing female tech talent.”

Caroline Omotayo, one of Legal Geek members and a future trainee solicitor at Latham & Watkins LLP, took part in an 8-week Python course at Twitter organised by Code First: Girls. She praised her experience:

“The Code First: Girls course showed me that coding is not just for computer scientists. The women on the course were all from a variety of industries and from different backgrounds. The classes took place once a week in the evening, which made it easier to balance them with law school. The instructors were also very supportive and it provided a community environment to meet like minded women. It definitely solidified my interest in continuing to develop my coding skills.”

Other avenues

Still at university? Take advantage of the resources on offer there. Join the Computer Science Society or the Tech Society, and ask your lecturers if there is somebody in the faculty who researches the impact of technology on law.

If you decide to learn to code, keep in touch. Sign up for the Legal Geek mailing list and follow us on Twitter (@wearelegalgeek) so you don’t miss our next Lawyers of the Future event. We started this meetup to bring together law school students and junior lawyers with an interest in new opportunities created by advancements in law tech.

This blog post was written by Ondrej Hajda (@ohajda), a law school student and member of the Legal Geek team.

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