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Should Law Students Learn to Code?


In the past 20 years, technology has had an unprecedented impact on the legal industry. Today, lawyers and law students alike look to the next 20 years and consider how technology will continue to have an impact. Questions like 'will computers replace lawyers?' and 'will lawyers need to know how to code in the future?' are often raised. This article looks to answer a question that is on many student's minds: should law students learn to code?


Authors:

Nathan Corr - President at the University of Aberdeen Legal Tech Society (LinkedIn)

Sam Moore - Lawyer and Innovation Manager at Burness Paull (LinkedIn)

Sam Spivack - Managing Director at BRYTER (LinkedIn)



A Student’s Perspective


Nathan Corr, President at the University of Aberdeen Legal Tech Society

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As a law student, soon to enter the now tech-filled legal profession, I often wonder if the lawyer of the future will need to know how to code to remain competitive - and if so, should I learn to code? Many of my fellow law students will have also noticed the numerous LegalTech-focused questions in summer placement and training contract applications. Increasingly, firms are expecting their new intake to have an understanding of the technologies that are driving change and innovation in the legal industry. But does this mean we as law students need to learn how to code?


The implication with lawyers who know how to code, is that they would spend their time coding. The way the profession is going, indicates that this would not be the case. Many law firms, especially the larger ones, are now hiring their own programmers, data scientists and legal technologists to build legal tech systems in-house. If firms wanted their lawyers to spend their time coding, they would be training them to do so. Instead, firms are focusing on attracting the best legal talent and best technological talent, and training them to work better together. This seems to be where the real value in lawyers who know how to code lies, not spending their time coding, but spending their time working better with programmers who do. Therefore, as students we should be focusing our time on becoming the best lawyers we can be, whilst developing our understanding of technology on the side. This way, the legal profession will benefit from having expert lawyers who know how to work hand-in-hand with developers to build the legal industry of the future. So, does this mean we as students should learn how to code to develop our technological skills, or is our time better spent developing our technological knowledge in other ways?


To get a more definitive answer, I asked Sam Moore - Lawyer and Innovation Manager at Burness Paull; and Sam Spivack - Managing Director of leading no-code technology provider BRYTER.


A Lawyer’s Perspective


Sam Moore, Lawyer and Innovation Manager at Burness Paull

I came from a coding background before going into law, and I do think having those skills has made me a better lawyer, to an extent. However, when I reflect on my 11 years since qualification I don’t think it was my ability to write in Java or SQL which made the difference specifically. Rather, it was an understanding of the principles which underlie most programming languages.


Some of these principles are absolutely worth studying. For example, many procedural languages can help a student understand concepts like logical progression and exception handling, both of which are essential elements of good code. You may not realise it, but when you’re drafting an agreement you’re actually using very similar skills and concepts.

Having said that however I generally don’t recommend that law students worry too much about learning to code, or at least not any specific language. I have two main reasons for saying this: 1) compared with a lawyer who codes, a dedicated programmer will likely complete any given programming requirement faster, more affordably, and likely to a higher standard. The profession is better served by engaging that existing talent, rather than trying to replicate it ourselves; and 2) the rise of ‘low code’ and ‘no code’ platforms such as Mendix, Autto or Bryter have largely made the issue moot for most lawyers. Through these kinds of platforms lawyers and legal technologists can now build, test and deploy workflows using a visual interface which requires little-to-no coding experience. Whilst this kind of rapid development environment tends to be less customisable than an entirely self-coded solution, the functionality available is usually more than enough for our purposes.


On the whole, I think it’s worth law students studying some of the fundamental basics of programming, such as an understanding of pseudo-code, however I argue that most would benefit far more from focusing on other skills such as project management, and more robust IT fundamentals.


A 'No-Code’ Supplier’s Perspective


Sam Spivack, Managing Director at BRYTER

The short answer is no – technologies like BRYTER mean they won’t have to.


Lawyers of the future will first and foremost practice law. Whilst some may choose to learn to code, this will not be necessary to be a ‘great lawyer’. Instead, lawyers will increasingly work with new technologies. Much like architects today will use AutoCAD rather than have to learn the programming language that underpins that application, law students should have an understanding of how to use technology to fulfil their future role as lawyers.


At the same time, the technology they work with must be intuitive and relevant enough to what lawyers do. It must be user-friendly. As genuine no-code technologies, such as BRYTER, are more widely adopted across the legal sector, the need to learn to code becomes less important. BRYTER offers a toolset in a graphic user interface which converts programming language into visual building blocks. This fits perfectly with the needs of lawyers allowing them to build complex legal reasoning into scenario-based content. This means that, without any prior coding skills, lawyers today are already building digital solutions for their clients. They are effectively coding without knowing how to.


But why should law students even think about this? One of the biggest transformations ongoing in the legal sector is in the way legal services are delivered. As competition rises, there is greater bifurcation in what clients expect and are prepared to pay for. From a pure cost perspective, this necessitates the need to streamline the delivery of legal services which can primarily be scaled through the use of technology. Law students using no-code technologies are best placed to succeed in their future legal careers by knowing the law and understanding how to disseminate that knowledge through digital solutions that deliver their expertise to more clients 24/7 in a consistent and cost-effective manner.


Summary


Coding is NOT essential for law students to learn - while it can be beneficial, you can get more value for your time focusing on your legal studies, while supplementing them with:

  1. Studying the fundamental basics of programming (e.g. an understanding of pseudo-code).

  2. Developing project management skills (e.g. leading projects at university).

  3. Developing robust fundamental IT skills (e.g. Word, Excel, Outlook).

  4. Learning how to use no-code technologies like BRYTER.



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