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Legal Practice

Programming 101 for Lawyers

The turn of this century has witnessed great developments in the field of technology. We have reinforced law as a profession with legal tech and are pursuing it with renewed vigor. The latest debate is, however, regarding a lawyer’s need to code, and honestly, it is tough to pick sides. Let’s explore Programming 101 for Lawyers.

Though “Programming for lawyers” seems to be a fool’s errand, we should not dismiss the idea completely. Truly, the critical skills for an advocate are his drafting and argumentative competence. The art of coding does not feature anywhere, and yet we should not be too quick to dismiss it. For, as the legal sector becomes increasingly data-driven, it would not hurt to embrace programming and coding.

While programming knowledge is clearly not an absolute necessity, lawyers can approach coding with the intention of becoming “coding literate”. This means advocates and legal professionals should strive to know enough, to understand the rudimentary concepts of programming. It is a great asset to have, provided you have the right temperament.

Incidentally, the understanding of technology will allow lawyers to embrace technological trends better and apply them to their law practice. Besides, the art of lawyering may be hardwired to suit the art of programming or coding. Nonetheless, you should realise that programming is an extensive sea. As a lawyer, you need only know enough to assist your practice.  

Need of Programming for lawyers:

As the industry currently stands, a legal professional has no fundamental use for coding. A lawyer should invest his professional time in developing legal-specific skills. Furthermore, you cannot code and extend lawyerly functions simultaneously.

Alternatively, the knowledge of programming will help you appreciate what is “under the bonnet”, and provide legal counsel in tech-related matters.  Thus, the essence of studying coding is in its understanding. Yet, before you foray into the world of coding and programming, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Why do you want to learn to code?
  • How will it assist you?
  • Will it help your career in law?
  • How do you plan on pursuing the knowledge of programming?
  • Will you be able to devote appropriate time to coding?

You must be very clear about the “Why” aspect of coding. As a legal professional, coding will certainly not be within your job profile or default skill-set. Yet, before you decide to move forward, ensure that you are clear about your motivation. Honestly, you will not have enough time to pursue both, advocacy and coding, professionally and parallelly.

Besides, different coding languages require varying levels of understanding of maths and statistical analysis. Incidentally, many advocates hail from a non-science background. Consequently, they can face serious difficulty in learning how to code due to their stuttering understanding of algebra or statistics. This does not imply that programming for lawyers is impossible, rather, it may be impractical.

Compatibility of coding and lawyering  

The processes of lawyering and coding or programming share some similarities. That is why many opine that perhaps lawyers can be bred to be competent coders as well. Let us look at the similarities.

Drafting and Code-creation

Proper legal drafting must follow a proper structure. It is all about communicating the essence of the document in an orderly and methodical fashion. Similarly, writing a good code requires order and method. Coders and programmers must adhere to a proper structure. Moreover, a good draft or code is one which serves its purpose without being unnecessarily long-drawn or repetitive.

Problem Solving

Both programmers and lawyers are essentially problem-solvers. They process information, to:

  • Identify issues;
  • Locate the reasons behind such issues;
  • Research plausible solutions to tackle those issues;
  • Ideate, design, and apply effective solutions to solve the issues.

Additionally, a critical aspect of good lawyering is foreseeing potential problems. Advocates and legal professionals try to come up with solutions which settle a problem completely and effectively. Thus, they use predictive tools and other strategies to identify and solve problems. Incidentally, good programmers too must create codes which solve present problems while also being secure from future threats.

Logical Reasoning

Both programmers and lawyers ought to have an analytical bent of mind. The logical reasoning capability of these professionals matters to a great extent. Interestingly, the law is nothing save a ‘codified’ set of rules. In this context, it is perhaps more than just a mere coincidence. A lawyer’s arguments ought to follow a trail of logic, just as a programmer’s code. Moreover, lawyers are experts of the language and so are coders.

Resultantly, the similarities between lawyering and coding theoretically allow the idea of programming for lawyers. Nonetheless, it is but true that comparing programming and lawyering is like comparing apples and oranges. Though both the latter are connected as fruits, they have a vividly different taste, smell, texture, and growing conditions. Similarly, there are stark differences between both the former.  

Why Apples and Oranges?

Incidentally, there are multiple reasons why lawyering and programming are not complementary to one another.

Separate language

Programming has its very own language. Yes, the code may be written using the letters from regular language scripts, yet programming language is different from normal. One would have to invest time and continued effort to master it.

Furthermore, coding requires a solid grasp of intermediate mathematics and statistics. ‘Intermediate’ denotes the level of knowledge about the subject and not about the educational qualification. In fact, coding is more about implementing mathematics in computer science. Consequently, this is not something that you will be able to focus on as a serious lawyer.

Becoming code-ready is tough

Programming is no child’s play. Though many courses teach the basics of coding, such knowledge is too minuscule for lawyers to apply. It would take great pains to be ready to apply all the programming skill-sets into producing applicable codes and programmes.

Legal problems still require legal solutions

At the end of the day, the role of a lawyer is the provide legal solutions to legal problems. No amount of automation can completely do away with the requirement for a legal professional.

The Way Forward

It is safe to say that a lawyer’s need to code, borders on the improbable. One expects a lawyer to be a person proficient in the laws of man. Incidentally, programming is not a primary function for a law professional. Furthermore, there are various legal technology solutions available for the legal sector at present. Law professionals can explore these legal tech solutions and make their profession smarter.

Moreover, specific problems deserve specific professionals looking at the same. Just as IP professionals handle IPR related issues, and tax consultants advise in taxation matters, technologists should prescribe tech solutions. Yes, lawyers can perhaps master programming 101, with dedication and a positive spirit, but that seems like an oversimplification.

This is because you cannot do justice to programming on a part-time basis; whereas law is a full-time profession. Thus, rather than programming, lawyers should focus on being ‘tech-literate’, to understand the applications of such legal tech. Incidentally, there is an argument that some legal software are unable to grasp a lawyer’s needs. However, that does not imply that lawyers should begin coding.

There is a big difference in learning rudimentary programming and launching scalable applications. An individual’s temperament plays a huge role when trying to master something new, and programming for lawyers is as novel as it can get. Rather than trying to be the jack of all trades, it would suit the lawyers to master just one (advocacy).

by Biswaroop Mukherjee

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