Lawyers and coding
I revealed in my recent post on ‘Hack the Past : How the Legal Profession knew nothing about Technology‘ that I taught myself some basic coding on a BBC Micro computer way back in the early 1980s. My need/desire to code since has been non existent although I experienced a little bit of it for fun at a Legal Hackers meet up in Glasgow last year.
My view is: if I need coding done I will hire in an expert to do it. I wouldn’t expect a lawyer to do it. Just like I wouldn’t expect a coder to represent me in a court of law.
I saw this tweet which sums it up nicely and which I can relate to in my crofting law world:-
“Lawyers should learn to code” is our century’s equivalent of “farmers should learn to build tractors.” Simultaneously wrong headed and underestimates how hard it is to build a good tractor. https://t.co/4Qjuae0hvI
— Eddie Hartman (@EddieRHartman) January 26, 2018
I hope at the Global Legal Hackathon (taking place this weekend) that real coders are doing the hacking with some input (but not coding) from the lawyers and their clients.
As Jordan Furlong said, in his opening talk to the Ottawa Legal Hackathon last night, it is this collaboration that is important:
You’ve got the entire orchestra coming together and saying “what are we going to play guys? What are we going to pull together tonight and tomorrow and the next day and next week and next year to make this work better?”
We can solve the legal profession’s problems if we work together. If we are building on what everyone brings to the table. We need everyone around the table because we need to learn from each other, we need to teach each other what we need to know.
We need to build something which is greater than the sum of its parts. Something that individually we can’t pull together but if we pull ourselves together in one place and talk and program and write things on these cool white boards then we will actually start making our way towards the solutions that we need.
Looking at the introductory slides by David Terrar for the London Legal Hackathon it looks like teams will be expected to be made up of:-
- Application developer, coder
- Graphics expert
- Marketing expert
- Business Person
So a good mix for the orchestra if indeed teams follow that mix. I hope that the Business Person also takes on the role of client in the team otherwise an important ingredient mentioned by Jordan Furlong may be missing.
Teams getting a stuck in defining the problem at #GLH2018 #GlobalLegalHack #london pic.twitter.com/YR4izOzBvC
— David Terrar (@DT) 23 February 2018
The Global Legal Hackathon “expect ideas using technologies like AI, Machine Learning, Chatbots, Blockchain, or the Internet of Things”.
I get that at a Hackathon, where coding is the thing, that is to be expected.
For your average law firm a design thinking day: avoiding building the technology but looking at process and incremental improvements is likely to prove more meaningful, long lasting and successful.
Reactions on LinkedIn:-
There has been a lot of debate in relation to this post on LinkedIn where I asked the question “should lawyers code?” To keep these together with the post itself I have copied the comments here:-
Arlene McDaid: Are you up for some more coding Brian? Philip can take the coding on your mobile session.
Philip Hannay: A BBC micro computer! Hah, come on Brian show your real age. It was an abacus…
Arlene McDaid: You sponsoring Philip?
Philip Hannay: Arlene what’s that all about?
Arlene McDaid: Humour 🙂
Brian Inkster: Arlene McDaid I think the little coding that Philip Hannay and I did last year was enough to reafirm to me that I can leave that to the experts.
Brian Inkster: Philip Hannay You will have to get a team of your Legal Engineer™s onto this. They will be well trained in abacus programming by Arlene McDaid and moving onto BBC Basic before you know it.
Brian Inkster: Philip Hannay Well when I started school there were no PCs and not even electronic calculators in use. I remember an older brother who was in secondary school when I was in primary school getting a very large electronic calculator – the first one I had ever seen. So yes I started life in the age of the abacus but as I highlighted in my earlier post http://thetimeblawg.com/2018/02/11/hack-the-past-how-the-legal-profession-knew-nothing-about-technology/ I (like other Gereration Xers and Baby Boomers) have seen many advances in technology and can appreciate what technology can do for us in a way that might be lost on millennials.
Yvonne Nath: I am sitting in Toronto at the #GlobalLegalHackathon right now and there is a trademark attorney who was a programmer in his past life. His ability to communicate ways for applying tech to legal to address business needs is wonderful.
Brian Inkster: Thanks Yvonne Nath. Lawyers who are also programmers may find a niche and a future in Legal Technology development. But do you think all lawyers should be able to code well? Also does it take a knowledge of coding (rather than an interest in and understanding of technology) to be able to communicate ways of applying tech to legal to address business needs?
Yvonne Nath: Programmers who understand legal, as well as lawyers who can program, can certainly specialize as Legal Technologists.
As for non-programmer lawyers, No, I do not believe lawyers need to be able to code, but perhaps if they can think like a coder when approaching challenges, that may help them come up with innovative approaches. They can at least be able to meet technologists in the middle to explain processes and goals in a way a technologist might see them. For example, building a risk analysis tree using conditional statements… or mapping a process to identify where technology can remove a bottleneck.
Perhaps we just need more legal hackathons!
Brian Inkster: Thanks again Yvonne Nath. I wonder whether coding is really a skill one needs to set out a risk analysis tree or to process map? These things can of course be done by non coders and then bring in the coders if need be. Although often process mapping is simply an important step to use existing technology that is at your fingertips more efficiently without any further coding input being required.
I am unsure whether more legal hackathons is the answer. There may be some overthinking going on at them with the emphasis on AI and blockchain. Simpler wins are possibly being overlooked as a result.
Yvonne Nath: Brian Inkster, thank you for leading this critical thinking…I would agree that coding is not needed for process mapping and risk analyses. I guess I was just trying to say that being able to think like a coder (if-then statements for risk analyses) allows one to communicate better with technologists (not coders, exclusively). Being able to think in different languages helps open up channels of creative thinking which, in turn, can lead to innovative approaches to solving problems.
Yvonne Nath: What are you thinking with respect to “simpler wins”?
Brian Inkster: Most lawyers Yvonne Nath have very analytical minds and are good at risk analysis (although maybe too risk averse). If they apply themselves to creative thinking (which they probably don’t do enough of) and there are ways to prod that out of them (e.g. design thinking) then that can lead to innovative approaches to solving problems without coding having to feature.
Brian Inkster: On ‘simpler wins’ Yvonne Nath I was thinking incremental improvements that don’t involve bells, whistles and the hype surrounding AI and blockchain e.g. http://thetimeblawg.com/2014/07/04/improving-for-reinvent-law-london-2014/
Yvonne Nath: Brian Inkster, right on w/r/t coding not being an essential capability of lawyers, but I would say that events such as hackathons are successful platforms for inspiring risk-taking and creative thinking!
Brian Inkster: Possibly Yvonne Nath. But often I see the wheel being reinvented. I might expand on that in a full blog post on The Time Blawg.
Yvonne Nath: I look forward to reading your blog, Brian Inkster, and hope Philipa Jane Farley elaborates on how her coding background has helped her in her law career. Here is an article from Robert Ambrogi today in which he reflects on hackathons: “Whatever the actual applications it bred, the Global Legal Hackathon created a kind of legal technology good karma, and that karma is likely to fuel even further cooperation and innovation in law on a global scale.”
Philipa Jane Farley: Yvonne Nath Thank you for the mention. Currently I’m working in the privacy law space and change within organisations (not just surface level compliance) and before that more in the compliance space where contract review was a large part of the job. My work invariably lands up in a space where I am an interpretor between board level or ‘the bosses’ and the IT department or between legal and IT. IT may need to say that they cannot do something but they can’t say it in a way that is understood and then again, they sometimes need to understand that something has to be done whether they are fully prepared for it or not so at that stage I can step in and help them adjust the way that they need to approach an issue. To explain, I don’t just have a coding background but it grew into IT management, too. Now, in the privacy law space when working with systems within organisations I have an intuitive (and well grounded) understanding of how things work so it cuts down audit times drastically and makes reporting richer. I also have a better understanding of how an organisation would be connected up in terms of external systems so when doing 3rd party discoveries, we manage in an audit to get it all out in the open.
Philipa Jane Farley: Yvonne Nath On the other side, coding is problem solving and simplyifying, making things better and teamwork all rolled into one. Bringing those values into the law space allows for a fresh approach and creativity in thinking. Privacy by design is a great little crossover niche for people who have law and coding.
Ann-Maree David: Great post Brian and thanks for sharing comments by Jordan Furlong as well. It takes a long time and a lot of effort to become a great lawyer. Better we hone our collaboration skills early on so we can work with the experts in so many other areas including coding and design and let everyone achieve their full potential.
Brian Inkster: Thanks Ann-Maree David. A good way of expressing it.
Cameron Hodgson: Interesting point. There seems to be increasing opportunities for learning anyway, eg on futurelearn.com; at least for some of the background to it. Best wishes
John O’Gorman: Should lawyers code? That’s what they do now, isn’t it? They just don’t do it for computers… they take a perfectly straight forward piece of content and transmogrify it into gobbledegook! 😀
I’m just not sure if that’s a transferable skill.
Bruce Laidlaw: To be serious: a well written contract or escrow agreement is very similar to coding. It is structured, references common sections where appropriate, etc. A badly written contract is just like bad code: repetitious, jumbled, hard to follow and even harder to change in one place without breaking it in another.
Thomas Lukasik: Bruce.. given your analogy, it would be great if they just had some good debugging tools 😉
Bruce Laidlaw: Thomas Lukasik, I don’t see any reason why they couldn’t have an analysis tool that would show references and links. In data management there used to be a tool that would read contracts, extracting the ‘will’, ‘shall’ and ‘must’ phrases for example.
Tara Taubman-Bassirian: You should be at the Global Hackatin
Brian Inkster: I could have been as I was in London all weekend! However, I had other fish to fry. I saw from Twitter that you Tara were there and thanks for keeping me up to date in tweets with what was happening on the ground as it happened.
Adam Manning: Always delighted to see a photo of a proper computer 🙂
Brian Inkster: They don’t make them like that anymore Adam Manning 🙂
Dominic Jaar: Lawyers, as most other professionals, should code. Coding is the literacy of the 21st century.
Decades ago, lawyers could read and write, while the majority could not… Now, the majority can leverage technology while most lawyers can’t.
Brian Inkster: Thanks Dominic Jaar. Reading and writing always was and remains an important part of being a lawyer. However, I find it difficult to see how coding now might be as important.
We all use technology every day without knowing or needing to know how it was coded. We are not about to re-engineer our smart phones, our PCs, laptops, tablets or the software that runs on them. Others make them to make our lives easier – we just need to know how to use them.
The same, as far as I can see it, is true of legal technology. Leveraging that has nothing to do with being able to code but is all about embracing and using.
Gordon Leigh: The first industrial revolution was about mechanisation. The business owners at that time didn’t need to become mechanical engineers to use this new technology. They just needed an understanding and an imagination to see how it could apply to their business.
I met a lawyer a while ago who told me “if you’re smart then you’re a doctor or a lawyer, so if anyone is going to build something it should be us.” Useful progress is made by collaboration and integration of different disciplines – not from self-idolisation.
Of course, I’m passionate about programming, and I think everyone (who is interested) should have a go. As Philipa Jane Farley has already said, it gives great transferable skills in engineering thinking and creativity – however playing around is not the same as building industry-ready software, and it would be a mistake to assume that people can successfully adopt a second profession simultaneously.
Dominic Jaar: Hi Brian Inkster,
Thanks for your reply.
My vision is that providing legal advices, drafting pleas and contracts, etc. is the historical way of providing legal services. Moving forward, as many have already recognized, such services will be delivered through physical and logical assets that ensure compliance by design.
If my prediction is accurate, given lawyers’ legal and ethical obligations, I’m suggesting they should be able to develop, or at least QC and audit, these assets to properly discharge of these obligations. In any case, I would not be comfortable as a mere end user relying on a third party black box.
Dominic Jasr: Hi Gordon Leigh,
Without repeating my comment to Brian Inkster, I would suggest that your answer, while appealing prima facie, is based on a premise that I do not support : programming is complex. Perhaps at some point it was true and in some areas it still is, but overall these pockets of complexities seem to be shrinking as programming is being simplified by the day. In fact, many programmers now rely on public libraries and are master copy-pasters. Furthermore, somehow supporting my theory that coding is the 21st century literacy, many schools now teach kids to code and will see them joining the work force with capabilities that will be stronger than that of digital immigrants who have learned later in their life.
That being said, I certainly understand that it may be scary to current programmers to see new entrants in their market.
Gordon Leigh: Thanks for replying Dominic Jaar. IT in general, and software development in particular, is an industry which seems to suffer disproportionately from the Dunning-Kruger effect. Although a lawyer can piece together a contract by copying and pasting clauses from online resources, I would assume that at some point the lawyer must have an actual understanding of what they are doing, not least because I don’t want to pay £200 per hour for someone whose skills amount to reading and writing.
A lot of the projects I have worked on have been to try to tidy up the mess created by people who think that programming is easy. You might have something that starts off looking like it works, but try maintaining a million lines of code a few years down the line when it was written by someone who didn’t understand how to write maintainable code. Although crap developers have created the impression that it is normal for applications to be flaky and throw up errors all the time, it causes significant harm to the businesses which are trying to rely on this software.
If you’ve got 5 mins, take a look at this interesting post about “the Expert Beginner”: https://www.daedtech.com/how-developers-stop-learning-rise-of-the-expert-beginner/
Dominic Jar: Thanks for the good laugh Gordon and the interesting post on the expert beginner!
I agree that we need to improve code quality, and would dare to suggest that, perhaps, lawyer (who are trained at over documenting and reviewing) coders could play a role to pursue this noble objective. In fact, if you look at different laws, you will see that their structure and documentation is akin to some code. Interestingly enough, some of these laws are embbeded in what is referred to as Codes…
Brian Inkster: Thanks Dominic Jaar and Gordon Leigh for your insights. Having weighed them up I’m with Gordon on this one. I’ll stick to legal codes and let the software coders do what they are expert in.
Allen Woods: Noooooooooo….. Burn the heretic.. Make them learn 8086 assembler first…
Brian Inkster: Allen Woods You must be older than Philip Hannay thinks I am!
Allen Woods: Ooh chasing 63 from the wrong side…. But seriously, There is a lot of stuff that is said in respect of the impact of GDPR that I find is astounding in terms of the level of technical ignorance it displays. It means that people really don’t understand what us geeks get up to.. And that is increasingly and untenable position. And I would suggest that learning to code is one of those things that an awful lot of lawyers would do well to learn about.. And it does not have to be that expensive to do either… Learning to write the odd word macro for example would be fine (and by that I do not mean using the recorder.. Because then people might just begin to get what a game changer the GDPR is….
Brian Inkster: I have difficulties with word macros but I have someone in the office who is a whiz with them 🙂
Allen Woods: Hee… Over the past 10 years I have had tto read and understand several US Acts of Congree,, four Acts of Parliament and the GDPR…. Revenge is sweet…..
Philipa Jane Farley: Allen Woods As long as you never have to wade through the UK’s IP law (in particular the Copyright Act….) There would be cause for payback if that was the case.
Allen Woods: Well now… That too is something I have had to dabble in and I have an atomised searchable copy of that in my library of atomised documents…. Soooo, get coding…. you too can do that…
Gordon Leigh: I agree with this. It takes a long time to become a competent programmer. Getting started is deceptively simple. Writing useful software is more advanced than “hello world”. Lawyers should learn about technology and how their business could evolve with this technology, but then entrust implementation to people who have spent years honing their skills. I can write something that looks like a contract, but no lawyer would advise me to do that. Why is this any different?
Ann-Maree David: Great post Gordon. The real skills we should all be honing are collaboration and communication so we can work in multidisciplinary teams.
Brian Inkster: Thanks Gordon Leigh. Well expressed. If it does take 10,000 hours to really master a skill as Malcolm Gladwell suggested in ‘Outliers’ you would be better mastering the one skill you are really going to need in your area of work. For a lawyer that will be the law (or more likely specific legal niches in the area that they practice in) : for a programmer that will be coding.
Isabelle Lajeunesse: I am personally between the two philosophies. I think today’s lawyers need to understand technology better. We can not represent our clients without a clear understanding of what they are doing. However, I’m not sure that all lawyers need to code unless you have real talent. To make an analogy with the medical world, my friend can read and know all the details of a surgery but if I need an operation, I want a real surgeon, not someone who reads on the subject or who practice medicine from time to time.
Brian Inkster: Thanks Isabelle Lajeunesse. And to continue that analogy you might not want the heart monitor you are attached to during the surgery to be a new one that your surgeon has decided to build because he can make a better one than the existing tried and tested expert systems.
Philipa Jane Farley: I was a coder in a life before law school. It is invaluable to me now.
Brian Inkster: Thanks Philipa Jane Farley. I would be interested to hear more about how coding has been invaluable to you as a lawyer. Can you eleborate? Whilst you came from a coding background before doing law do you think that all lawyers should or need to also be coders?
Philipa Jane Farley: Hi Brian Inkster thank you for the mention. I elaborated more above with Yvonne Nath. I don’t necessarily think that all lawyers should or need to also be coders as for some it doesn’t fit well. If you consider the values you can bring into the law space (creative collaboration whilst sticking to a set of acceptable standards, problem solving whilst simplyfing), then I see a better fit for what coding brings to law. With regards to having a more technical insight, it would help to have a basic understanding of systems but to acknowledge the fact that hiring in an expert who can translate would be best (as you mention in your article). I do love the correlation in the tweet you embedded. However, my father was a farmer who could build tractors so 🙂
Brian Inkster: Thanks Philipa Jane Farley for elaborating and clarifying your thoughts. There will always be niches that a coding lawyer like you will beneficially find themselves in. Just like a Chinese speaking English lawyer might find such a niche. Glad you agree that all lawyers do not need to be coders just like all lawyers don’t need to speak Chinese. You clearly take after your father! I knew a farmer who built planes and fish gutting machines. Also a baker who improvised with baking machines to make them better. These are special and unique people who liked to get their own hands dirty implementing their ideas. A lawyer can have ideas of how to improve things using tech but can always hire in the people whose hands will get dirty implementing it.
Philipa Jane Farley: Absolutely agree with that Brian Inkster
In response to an article by The Lawyer entitled ‘Coding – a skill all lawyers should have?‘, highlighted on LinkedIn on 3 August 2018 by Alex G Smith, I reposted on LinkedIn this blog post with the result of further interactions:-
Nir Golan: Wrote about this a couple of months ago also.. I tend to agree with Brian Inkster and Alex G Smith on this. I don’t think the future of lawyers is coding. They will need to be tech savvy and doing some coding for curiosity could be good for opening their minds and developing creativity skills but lawyers should leave coding to those that specialize in coding and focus on being open minded, collaborative, empathetic lawyers whom understand their clients and work closely with professionals from other disciplines (including coders) to create creative pragmatic solutions for their clients. Important to stay focused.
Jon Busby: I don’t see any mileage for the legal profession to generically learn to code. I wouldn’t take the time to go to law school if I wanted to know the legal implications of something. I’d go and ask (and pay) a lawyer to do that because that is what they do.
My other add is, do they actually need to be tech savvy? Maybe they just use stuff because it is easy to use and don’t use stuff because it’s a bit shit.
If that is pen and paper or a device so be it, what works for the individual user is key. I couldn’t live without post-it notes on my desk, (technically I could, it would be a bit sad if I couldn’t). Not exactly tech savvy. Or maybe they use stuff like an iPhone because the savvy bit has all been removed by good design.
Most stuff usually fails because it is crap design and most crap design is made by people who think they have the solution, obsess about it but fail to understand the granularity (often hidden) of the problem. Time and time again I see vendors try to map the client onto their solution rather than the other way round.
Alex G Smith: Been a while since the last Jon Busby bomb but that’s special … ‘solutions looking for problems’, too much of that in legaltech
Jon Busby: It’s dress down Friday Alex G Smith 😉 I remember this debate a few months back and I laughed then like I did when there was whole debate about which blinking hashtag to use for legaltech. I mean talk about a slow news day. Mind you still not the best. One ‘innovation guru’ spoke the other day about an idea to donate a $ to charity every time you open Instagram. That would probably wipe out IG overnight.
Nir Golan: Jon Busby re the tech savvy part, well if they want to be able to use the systems and tech and data that Alex is designing for them the lawyers would be need to be tech savvy. Also in my experience, it also depends on who your clients are and what industries they are from. If their biz involves any tech, you would need to be knowledgeable about their industry and biz and be tech savvy in order to provide the services and solutions they need. I see tech knowledge as a must in the future of lawyers working with tech based systems and clients.
Brian Inkster: I think Jon Busby that as an Innovation Manager in Shoreditch Alex G Smith can dress down daily rather than wait for Friday 😉
I don’t think Nir Golan that tech savvy is essential as long as they are simply trained well in the use of the system at hand. Perhaps with that training the savviness will come. Do we need to be tech savvy to use Microsoft Word, to use an iPhone or to operate a remote control for our TV? Sometimes the tech can be intuitive and need little training. Other times (and true of a lot of legal tech) training will be required. That training will vary from system to system and it annoys me when I hear about needing to start the legal tech training at law school. What system are they going to be trained on and to do what? Given that law school is far removed from the workings of a law firm I find it difficult to imagine how any real meaningful legal tech training could be given at that stage.
Alex G Smith: Brian Inkster today’s retro hipster t-shirt. I expect that the t-shirts we wear will soon be parts of press releases into the press
Nir Golan: Brian Inkster agree with you re the “legaltech” studies at law school. Don’t see the need for that at this point. Not sure what they teach there. .. Focus should be on other skills.
Nir Golan: Alex G Smith you should come to Israel. You’d feel right at home. Startup nation after all..:)
Brian Inkster: The Law Society of Scotland appear to believe that it is a good idea to run coding courses. I sincerely hope law firm’s are not sending their solicitors on these. https://www.lawscot.org.uk/news-and-events/events/?cat=23564
Joanna Goodman: Surely not all lawyers! Great if it helps some techie lawyers engage better with their technology clients and understand their products. And great if it means they can help build better tech/online resources for their firm and its stakeholders. But surely requiring ‘all’ lawyers to code would be moving away from the core purpose of a law firm. What’s the point of good lawyers who are not wired that way learning a technical skill they won’t use?
However, if a law firm wants to built its own technology, and that is a very big ‘if’, they need skilled coders to work with tech-savvy lawyers who understand what can and cannot be achieved – and product managers. It’s back to the Susskind argument about lawyers thinking that they can learn everyone else’s job as a sideline.
Brian Inkster: A big ‘if’ indeed Joanna Goodman. My view is that law firms shouldn’t be building their own legal tech for reasons given here: http://thetimeblawg.com/2014/06/07/did-the-cost-of-legal-it-kill-clearspire/
Alex G Smith: That’s exactly what Dave and I say … technology isn’t just the code, it’s the product, the user experience, the data model, governance, etc etc. Starting to see the agile thing poke through into daily interactions which pushes the cross functional approach … it’s all going in the right direction at last.
Joanna Goodman: Yes! technology isn’t the code, it’s the product! At last, from someone in a law firm!
Alex G Smith: Joanna Goodman from the weird product manager hanging out in a law firm! Spent the day writing product propositions that involve all the Lego blocks like people, process, value, technology, data.
Nir Golan: Alex G Smith if there is something that I think lawyers should take from products it’s not the coding part it’s the ability to first spend time listening to the client understanding the problem and finding the right human-centered solution. Emphasis on human. A solution that would serve/create value for the client and its biz not the lawyer. The PM mindset and applying this approach to legal. The coding part is marginal and irrelevant in my opinion.
Cindy Morgan-Olson (Head of Global Public Relations & Analyst Relations at NICE Actimize): Lawyers have enough to focus on and stay on top off..and technology is moving way too fast for them to manage.
Joanna Goodman: exactly!
Adrian Camara (CEO at Athennian): People that start with coding to build a product don’t know how to build a product.
Alex G Smith: Welcome to the start-up world.
Joanna Goodman: Have you ever worked in a start-up, Alex? genuinely interested as I have only known you at Lexis and Reed Smith
Alex G Smith: Joanna Goodman I’m spending a fair bit of time coaching product management at present with several curious and open start ups.
Joanna Goodman: Cool, but that isn’t skin in the game, Alex G Smith – they can be curious and open, but if the business isn’t viable, they will still go under when the incubation period/funding runs out.
Alex G Smith: Joanna Goodman that’s fine. If I was doing a start up I wouldn’t do it in legal. There are lots of questions around the model, I find it very bizarre esp around the incubation funding. It’s taken me a long time to get my head round it. The best start ups hire in product people asap which was the original point on the string. Many are getting in sales and marketing ahead of product. We’re in the middle of the storm now, we’ll should all sit down and decompress say this time next year on how to do it better in the next cycle.
Brian Inkster: Most surely do go under Joanna Goodman?
Joanna Goodman: I’m not sure I would choose legal either – I would certainly not choose contract automation or analysis as the marketplace is very crowded and I believe this will become ‘business as usual’. IMO, the best start-ups have an original idea + good management. There are some legal start-ups that are interesting, but are held back by their management – i.e. leadership that is better at presenting at conferences than strategic thinking
Brian Inkster: Many start ups don’t appear to realise that document automation has been around for 20+ years. This no doubt goes for other existing legal tech also. They are not going to be able to teach their grannies to suck eggs.
Tom Glod (Founder and CEO at MakeShyft R.D.A): I think sometimes that can be the right move….but since 99% of founders don’t have such unique ideas that its hard to do it wrong ….. startups have to build the business surrounding the product at least simultaneously. But also its easier to get others on board if you have something to show them ….. if u have only an idea and nothing tangible….. its so much harder to influence others to join. just my 2 cents…i don’t disagree or agree per se.
Graham Digby (Senior Product Development Lead at LexisNexis):
Jeremy Hopkins: Er, no.
Alex G Smith: Yep. So no plans at BM for a learn to code course … I know an agency with a cookie cutter programme that will cost you the earth! (edited)
Jeremy Hopkins: Actually, I haven’t checked. Either way, what nonsense.
Alex G Smith: I know … the funniest thing is CodeAcademy has been free for years and is fun so JFDI if you have any interest… one “consultant” I heard put something together on something already free and easy to do! https://www.codecademy.com
Jeremy Hopkins: Ah thanks. My kids will be interested, if they’ve not done it already…
Alex G Smith: they’ll be all over Scratch at school … https://scratch.mit.edu/projects/237703434/
Jonathan Maskew: Alex, to code must be the way 👍👍
Alex G Smith: 20 year career in tech, can’t code. I’ve done some code academy and I can read xml … but tech is more than code … it’s just problem solving and logic!
Brian Inkster: Jonathan Maskew Did the Barristers at Clerksroom code Billy Bot? 😉
Ben Wightwick: I don’t know how to code and I am responsible for building products lawyers and law firms use……. I can however talk ‘tech’ and know how to speak in the right terms to the right audience.
Nilema Bhakta-Jones: (Chief Executive Officer at Alacrity Law): There are numerous products in the legal sector built with little or no client involvement. So many products don’t need lawyers to know how to code but they do require the simple skill of actually listening to the problem. Of the 50+ GCs and in–house teams we have spoken with this summer so many indicated they had no engagement in the design of a product, were not asked to be involved in user testing and subsequently asked to use the product they did not ask for and which fails to resolve fundamental problems. No wonder there are so many ‘zombie’ and redundant tech products sitting on the balance sheet of firms and companies being written off by FDs.
Dr William Higgs (Legal Practitioner (Barrister-at-Law) | Forensic Engineer PhD | Structured Finance consultant | University Lecturer): Its a no brainer. YES. If only to understand Smart Cx and for credibility.
Brian Inkster: Credibility in whose eyes?
Dr William Higgs: Credibility of the actual ‘real’ software engineers who will develop the software to drive advances in this area. I think we are fooling ourselves if we think, even for one moment, that lawyers will actually code software products that will be ultimately used in practice. For instance, would we let a lawyer near the flight control software of an Airbus or a medical device? I have coded flight control systems as part of my undergraduate training as an aerospace engineer and its difficult, even for those who are 10-15 year programmers (read: proper computer science trained grads with industry experience under their belt).
Dr William Higgs: Now, as a barrister, I am baffled by talk around town, mostly non-technically trained lawyers and ex-lawyers, touting propositions about lawyers coding products. Please, enough with the hype, lets leave that task to those who actually know what they are doing – if only as a liability mitigant for lawyers and law firms alike. I am staggered by the number of law firms in Sydney who are all fooled by artificial intelligence and seem to think that they need to invest millions in training lawyers to code or even develop software to doing something radically new. This is better left to Universities and is free. Its a distraction. I once overheard a partner of one of the big firms say that lawyers should be fee earners, not fee burners; that about sums up the sentiment.
Gordon Cassie (CTO at Closing Folders): It would beneficial for all kinds professionals to have some basic experience coding, just like most professionals have basic experience with algebra, physics, chemistry, etc. from mandatory school curricula. Lawyers should have enough basic understanding of programming to understand high level discussions about how computer systems work (e.g. not “the internet is a series of tubes”) and identify circumstances where computers can provide an immense amount of value (e.g. not manually drafting hundreds of nearly identical documents).
Brian Inkster: I think that immense amount of value can be identified without any knowledge of coding. Just show a lawyer the output of a well set up and functioning case management system and it will quickly become apparent to them.
Irfaan Premji (Technologist): So, wait. Tubes or no tubes?
Brian Inkster: I think the tubes part can be covered without being a coder too. High level discussions about how computer systems work are not essential. The important thing for the lawyer at the end of the day is that they have a tool that helps them do the work they need to do for their client and they know how to use it. How it was created is irrelevant if they are trained how to use it properly. Use doesn’t involve coding knowledge.
Gordon Cassie: A better example is encryption. The average discussion around encryption is woefully uninformed about what it is and how it actually works. If everyone learned in school how to work with basic encryption primitives the discourse around regulation of encryption would be so much more sophisticated. Perhaps more importantly, lawyers might use encryption in more comprehensive ways to protect their clients’ private communications.
Alex Heshmaty: The idea that lawyers should learn to code seems to be part of the hype and noise around legal tech, similar to the constant talk of AI transforming legal process. We may get lawyer-coder hybrids, but increased generalisation usually reduces specialisation, so I doubt this will catch on, unless the theory is that everyone will need to learn to code at school, just as they need to learn how to read and write in non-tech code…
Eddie McAvinchey (Lawyer • Financier • Risk Manager • Strategic Enabler): There just isn’t a need for lawyers to have coding skills. By all means, if they wish to change career and become an IT professional then yes it will be pretty important. But it is not all that different an argument than saying that someone who wants to work in the car industry doesn’t need to be able to build a car.
More important are:
– understanding the issues that clients are facing in their legal budgets and the speed/efficiency that they need to see more of in the delivery of services (not coding related)
– understanding where the law firm operating processes can be streamlined through adopting technology or other process improvements/enhancements (not coding related)
– understanding the competitive landscape to know how to stay ahead of or in step with the competition (not coding related)
If the innovation team in a law firm is going to produce new technology and is staffed with lawyers then coding is very important there, but for a typical lawyer – the key is still legal knowledge, being as commercial as possible and having an understanding of the existing available technology.
Mark Lassiter (Attorney/Arbitrator/Mediator/Resolutionary at The Lassiter Law Firm): Coding deals with LANGUAGE. When two people of different cultures meet and don’t speak the same language they need a TRANSLATOR- one who can speak both languages. Law is at the crossroads where two cultures now intersect: the traditional, “guild” practice of law, and the emergent automated legal services delivery systems wrought by IT. If the two are to “blend” or form a new synthesis to bring Value to society, then we must have translators with “one foot in each” such culture. Not everyone is (nor should they be) a translator, but we must have some. Further, the future practice of law will need fewer ASSOCIATE ATTORNEYS, but more ALGORITHMS – better yet, both. LegalZoom just got $500,000,000 in new funding. I imagine if it could find a 1,000 competent computer programmers with law degrees it would love to hire them. Even if lawyers don’t become coders, they must still appreciate the IF, THEN, ELSE way that coders think so they can grasp the kind of “design thinking” required to communicate client needs to the programmers. A course in coding in law school would have been more helpful to me than most of the law school courses I took…
Alex G Smith: Technology is just principles and even at present these principles are changing with the large scale move to agile and service design (user centric design –> design thinking –> service design –> systems design). Remember in most industry there is also a large divide between the business people/management and IT/technology/’coders’ – my entire career and that of good product managers. Maybe the issue is/was that lawyers see themselves serving the business people (with the cheque book, the coders usually don’t have the cheque book) and not having to interact with the coders. the good news is that business structures are changing and therefore the good lawyers will be the ones that realises this and become more translators and the ones that get that agile is cross functional skills based. This is way more important a change than code class to their function function. as i said you can do code academy for free on the internet, c 10 hours a course.
Martyn Wells (IT Director): There is too much bad code already in Legal IT with most firms still trading on legacy PMS platforms created using pre social media technology. Why teach a grown up to be a toddler again?
We need some proper, contemporary and fit for purpose products in the legal IT space first! I think this is a decade relevant question, and 2030 the time to action it.
Right now, I’d rather not see utilisation rates get smashed whilst Senior Associates are googling Code Project to solve a tricky binding dilemma in their shiny UI tool.
How long before it goes the other way, and coders are more qualified than lawyers to give clients advice?
I wouldn’t hire a greengrocer to fix my boiler, would you?
Joanna Goodman: yes, exactly
Paul Ryan (Director at Focis): I think answer on this may be to move devs one step further back to coding tools that allow lawyers to implement process and automation and remove a layer of analysts. Similar to providing a data model for non tech business users to derive what they need providing workflow and document compilation tools that those closest to process can continually evolve would be huge step forward. Ironically it was the dream of many case management tools around late 90s. Any interested solicitor or paralegal could create a working solution after a weeks training (and some time set aside afterwards). Then the tools got more complicated again.
Matt Fiske-Jackson (Business Development Manager at Practice Evolve): There has always been a close correlation between Law and IT, some universities even offer a dual Law and IT degree and in 20 years in the sector, I’ve lost count of the number of experienced lawyers who have transitioned into the IT sector very successfully allying knowledge of what law firms actually do, with the technical expertise to implement systems to support and enhance this work.
Today we would call that the perfect business analyst and while high value fee earning lawyers within firms should not be burning the midnight oil coding systems, it is without any doubt of value that they have a close understanding of what their chosen technology can bring to the firm and assist with leveraging this to their best advantage and return on IT investment.
Certainly throughout the implementation phase of a new technology it is critical that this investment from both legal and IT resource is harnessed to ensure that real and tangible gains are made from the change in technology.
When fee earners see Practice Evolve for example, the excitement at the possibilities for improvement and the ease of achieving it, is obvious and carrying that enthusiasm and involvement through into Projects is essential.
Lahcene Guerrouj (Manager, Content Marketing Strategy EMEA at Salesforce): Coding imply maintenance, support and update + deep expertise. Naaaah, too much of an effort unless coding is your true love.
There are many solutions out there that are customizable, well maintained which get all the update needed included in the package. I’d go with the one that offer the biggest potential for growth, the one that if my plan work would not require a painful migration.
Clare Brown (Topic Specialist (Law) at Vable): When a lawyer can do a nice Boolean search, I’ll recommend a coding MOOC 🙂
Nilema Bhakta-Jones (Chief Executive Officer at Alacrity Law, Lawyer, Mom, Mentor, Speaker, Philanthropist and Panellist): There are numerous products in the legal sector built with little or no client involvement. So many products don’t need lawyers to know how to code but they do require the simple skill of actually listening to the problem. Of the 50+ GCs and in–house teams we have spoken with this summer so many indicated they had no engagement in the design of a product, were not asked to be involved in user testing and subsequently asked to use the product they did not ask for and which fails to resolve fundamental problems. No wonder there are so many ‘zombie’ and redundant tech products sitting on the balance sheet of firms and companies being written off by FDs.
Paul Ward (Chief Innovator at Innovation Playbook and Growth Marketer): lawyers should DEF. code because they are so good at DIY when it comes to business management, marketing, HR and marketing. They should also do brain surgery and be astronauts.