coding skills for lawyers

In this blog post, Pratyusha Kar, pursuing a Diploma in Entrepreneurship Administration and Business Laws from NUJS, Kolkata, describes why should lawyers learn coding.

Apple luminary- Steve Jobs, former American President- Barack Obama, eminent scientist-Stephen Hawking , all are in the same view, everyone should learn to programme. But should lawyers also learn to program or learn to code?

The Opinion is different from different people.

  • Some say that learning codes do not fall under the duties and obligations of the lawyers[1] and instead of reading a Python Documentation a lawyer’s priority is to serve his or client.[2]
  • In view of the others, as technology is controlling every industry in the present day world, learning of codes by the lawyers is of utmost importance.[3]

This article will try to explain about the code and its relation with the lawyers, benefits of learning code by a lawyer and its application and present status of ‘basic coding principles’ education in law schools.

Code and Its Relation with the Lawyers

A Code is basically written computer instructions. The code written by a programmer is the source code and after compilation of the source codes, we get object codes to run in the machine after transforming the object codes into machine language which is machine code.

The human-readable statement of computer software written in a particular programming language is termed as the code. The languages may be C, Ruby, Python, JavaScript etc. These languages are highly structured logical frameworks based on mathematical principles.

  • The luxurious loops of logic, the target of getting the maximum out of the minimum number of lines, while concentrating on all fine points, the feeling of getting success out of few nebulous and hypothetical ideas, makes the challenge of coding much more interesting to a lawyer as it teaches to internalize new ways of logical thinking.
  • Coding teaches us the lessons of patience and persistence which in turn helps to improve a lawyer’s problem-solving potentiality.

Steve Jobs had rightly said, “Everybody in this country should learn how to program a computer because it makes you how to think….Like the law school that teaches you to think in a certain way[4]”.

 

  • Learning to code presents lawyers the benefits of learning to think. Whether lawyers should learn to code or not, it will be discussed in the due course of time but it is true that for a legal community, it is easier to learn code than for developers and technologists in the world of code to learn law.[5]

There are great similarities between coding and written contract in law, between schedules and libraries, between defined terms and variables, between clause construction and program logic, inputs and outputs and courts as the compilers[6]. Great coders know how to develop their systems and workflows whereas law students learn how to think like lawyers.

 

Both the lawyers and the coders do have a common ground of thinking and by learning “to think like a coder” will definitely improve the professional ability of a lawyer.

 

Benefits of Learning Code by a Lawyer and Its Application

Benefits:

By learning to code, lawyers or law students are benefitted in a variety of ways. Coding acts as a force multiplier and makes the lawyers better, sharper and faster.

  • To Compete with the Information Technology (IT) Dominated World

Information Technology is presently dictating every sphere of life and with a view to remain updated, to stay cogent, to understand clients’ language and to talk in their language, it is essential to learn how to code. In fact, it upgrades communication between lawyers and non-lawyers.[7]

In today’s world, techno-savvy lawyers are in great command.[8] It is not possible for a lawyer to provide proper legal advice in technology related issues unless he or she does not have the basic knowledge. With more and more companies having technology at its core, there is a demand for more and more lawyers to be well trained both in law and technology.

Having only strong academic background may not always hone skills for victory and coding can give us a leg up on competition from other opponents.

  • It is Brainstorming with End Result

Coding may be challenging, disappointing and tiresome but it is always with an end result. Lawyers work on court cases for month after month and even for years without getting final verdict but coding promises closure or end result.

Jigsaw puzzle” is also brainstorming with end results so, Why coding?

Coding because of the analytical mind required for writing a valid code, suits effectively with the logical mind of a law graduate or a lawyer solving a legal problem.

  • Innovative Outlet

Coding helps an innovative lawyer to create things. One can even set up his or her own website in a creative way leading to mental break and fun. Most lawyers put in their careers bogged down in words and coding can be a refreshing innovative outlet for them. The more you learn, the more it becomes entertaining.

Some pundits express that reading fictions[9] or fishing[10] are also innovative and refreshing outlets for the lawyers. But the way coding can directly contribute in career building of a lawyer could not be compared at all and it is evident from the application part of this article.

  • Supplementary Skill

Lawyers should upgrade themselves, develop themselves by learning new skills which complement their logical thinking and improve their legal skills. Coding can drive a lawyer to the next higher level.

It provides faster solutions and automates diligence tasks by using a different language. Although some critics state that computers cannot solve complicated problems[11] but for repetitive works the ability of coding is unparalleled.

  • Coding Can be Fun

In “the Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering” Fred Brooks recorded reasons why coding can be  fun.[12]

He stated that coding is fun for the simple pleasure of making things, for the joy of continuous learning, the satisfaction of helping others, the thrill of designing complicated puzzle-like objects and the pleasure of remaining absorbed in a tractable medium.

Apart from all these general factors, the lawyers may additionally consider coding as a fun for the delight of working in a team, earning to have fun, making the machine to do anything one wants and almost immediate gratification.

Must Read: 5 reasons why lawyers should learn to code.

Applications:

  • Code Created Contracts

Contracts are primarily the representation of coordinated logic between two or more people based on ‘if x, then y’[13]. More specifically, if ‘x’ occurs then only ‘y’ occurs.

For Example: If I get the money, I will give you the car.

Similarly, computer coding depends on a series of one and zero or two states of ‘On andOff’. Therefore, it is logical that the concept of computer coding is equally suited for the drafting of legal contracts. Contract codes extracted from a traditional contract are integrated by using block-chain technology.

The benefits of code based contracts are manifold. It improves transactional efficiency, curtails drafting time and negotiation, has the ability to debug automatically, has the ability to classify similar contracts, and has the ability to recognize human corrections followed by automated changes[14]. Electronic contracts lead to easy tracking of the document by the enterprise from the database.

  • In Criminal Justice

Before the advancement of computer programming, information written on paper was difficult to exchange between different states and countries. But recent developments in robotic technology, GPS & GIS systems, database for DNA profiling, automatic license plate recognition system, use of flying drones, gunshot detection system etc. have upgraded investigation, surveillance, inquiry and analysis procedures. This, in turn, has made the criminal justice jobs more competent.

Criminals also use these technologies and therefore, industry people should also have the insight to stand one step ahead to fight illegal use of these technologies.

  •  Legal Citation

Legal citation is the references cited by the lawyers in support of their legal arguments and authorities cited by the judges during writing of their opinions with an aim to justify “how law is applicable to a given situation”.

They refer primary sources like statutes, regulations, case laws etc. and also secondary sources like journal articles, treatises, restatements etc. As a result, it is necessary to learn ‘legal citation’ for those who read legal writings and to carry out law writings.

In earlier times, legal materials were written manually but in present time as digital distribution of legal materials are replacing print material so, knowledge of computer coding is absolutely necessary. A law student or a legal practitioner can use his coding talents to extract legal citations with auto-generated summaries by uploading the bunch of cases names with outlines.[15]

  • To Understand Technical Complexities

Internet governance, cloud computing liability, algorithm marketing, intellectual property rights and network neutrality related cases has made knowledge of coding essential for surviving in law schools, in the bars, and in the practice of law. A marriage between law and software is very much needed. Future lawyers should be “T-shaped”[16]; they should have legal expertise paired with other applicable skills like programming.

In several cases like Bernstein v. United States Dept. of Justice (1999)[17], Universal City Studios, Inc. v. Corley (2001)[18], Cartoon Network, LP v. CSC Holdings, Inc. (2008)[19], Oracle Corp. v. Google (2012)[20]and Apple v. FBI (2016)[21] it is difficult to approach a lawyer without proper exposure to the computing technology.

Status of Computer Coding Education in Law Schools

There is probably no Law School in the world where compulsory courses on computer coding have been inducted at the undergraduate level. However, there is a number of Law Universities like Cornell Law School, Georgetown Law College, Kings College, Queen Mary – the University of London, Michigan State University College of Law etc. where technology-focused post-graduate law courses can be pursued to encounter the real-world situation in today’s digital marketplace.

But the need of the hour is to include some practical concepts on coding in the undergraduate syllabus(maybe along with 1st-year contracts classes and/or with criminal laws in subsequent years of Five-year Law Courses) to develop the graduates in a better way for practicing in the digital environment.

Conclusion

Computer based business is gaining momentum day-by-day. The territory of computer law is growing significantly. The demand for lawyers having coding talent is all-time high. Understanding of fundamental concepts of machine learning by the lawyers has become very much essential.

Engagement of computer professionals in the law firms will not solve the problem as it is difficult for the programmers with non-law background to gain empathy for legal fundamentals whereas it is easier for the law students or lawyers to understand coding fundamentals. Under these circumstances, in order to get the synergistic effect, not only the lawyers should learn to code but also greater importance should be given to include basic programming courses in undergraduate law education.

Do you think knowledge in programming can influence lawyers efficiency? Drop your comments below & share the articles with those you care.

 

References –

[1] American Bar Association, Model Rules of Professional Conduct, available athttp://http://www.americanbar.org/groups/professional_responsibility/publications/model_rules_of_professional_conduct/model_rules_of_professional_conduct_preamble   _scope.html(last visited Nov. 27, 2016).
[2]V.David Zvenyach, Should Lawyers Learn to Code? (Aug. 14, 2016),https://esq.io/blog/posts/should-lawyers-learn-to-code/(last visited Nov. 27, 2016).
[3]Why All Employees Must Learn to Code? The Wall Street Journal (Oct. 27, 2014), http://blogs.wsj.com/experts/2014/10/27/why-all-employees-must-learn-to-code/(last visited Nov. 27, 2016).
[4]Steve Jobs on Programming. (Oct. 18, 2013), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Z1gfgM7kzo(last visited Nov. 27, 2016).
[5]Edward Hartman https://twitter.com/EddieRHartman/status/764292230580310016(last visited Nov. 27, 2016).
[6]John McKinlay, Coding for Lawyers (Oct. 5, 2016), http://www.scl.org/site.aspx?i=ed49068(last visited Nov. 27, 2016).
[7]5 Reasons Lawyers Should Learn To Code, Disrupt Legal (Oct. 9, 2015), https://disrupt.legal/2015/10/09/5-reasons-lawyers-should-learn-to-code/(last visited Nov. 27, 2016).
[8]Joanna Hughes,Five Reasons Lawyers Should Answer the Call to Code. (Apr. 27, 2016), http://www.lawstudies.com/article/Five-Reasons-Lawyers-Should-Answer-the-Call-to-Code/(last visited Nov. 27, 2016).
[9]See Supra Note 2.
[10]Technologists on Whether Lawyers Should Code.EverLaw. (June 21, 2016), http://blog.everlaw.com/2016/06/21/technologists-on-whether-lawyers-should-code/(last visited Nov. 27, 2016).
[11]11 reasons computers can’t understand or solve our problems without human judgement. The Urban Technologist. (Sep. 7, 2014),https://theurbantechnologist.com/2014/09/07/11-reasons-computers-cant-understand-or-solve-our-problems-without-human-judgement/(last visited Nov. 27, 2016).
[12]Frederick P. Brooks Jr., The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering, (Aug. 2, 1995),https://is.muni.cz/www/208322/The.Mythical.Man.Month.F.Brooks.pdf(last visited Nov. 27, 2016).
[13]See supranote 6.
[14]Joe Dewey, What if we developed legal contracts like we developed software applications. (Arr. 3, 2016), available at https://medium.com/@jndewey/what-if-we-developed-legal-contracts-like-we-developed-software-applications-6f8305256c5c#.es19mcnj4(last visited Nov. 27, 2016).
[15]Jason Krause, Does learning to code make you a better lawyer? ABA Journal (Sep. 1, 2016),http://www.abajournal.com/magazine/article/lawyer_learning_code_zvenyach_ohm(last visited Nov. 27, 2016).
[16]Patience Haggin, Lawyers Who Code Hack New Career Path. Law.com. (Nov. 13, 2015),http://www.law.com/sites/articles/2015/11/13/lawyers-who-code-hack-new-career-path/?slreturn=20161027091154(last visited Nov. 27, 2016).
[17]Bernstein v. U.S. Dept. of Justice, 176 F.3d 1132 (9th Cir.1999).
[18]Universal City Studios, Inc. v. Eric Corley. 273 F.3d 429 (2d Cir. 2001).
[19]Cartoon Network, LP v. CSC Holdings, Inc., 536 F.3d 121 (2d Cir. 2008).
[20]Oracle. Am., Inc. v. Google Inc., No. C 10-3561,  U.S. Dist. LEXIS 66417 (2012).
[21]Burgess, Matt. “Govtos: Why Apple Won’t Bow To FBI Iphone Demand (Wired UK)”. Wired UK. N.p., 2016. Web. 14 May 2016.

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