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Has the time arrived for lawyers to learn how to code?

24 November 2021

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Anna Lozynski

Freelance General Counsel and Legal influencer.

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The movie “Arrival” tells the story of two scientists attempting to communicate with alien beings who arrive in massive stone spaceships at twelve locations around the globe.

It takes a linguist [played by Amy Adams] to finally be able to interpret the language of black ink circles of the aliens, and what the circles mean when they are full or broken up. The protagonists eventually create an index of these inky words, so they can write messages to the aliens.

When the first breakthrough occurs between Adams’ character and the aliens because a basic commonality and connection is established, it is both magical and beautiful.

Essentially, it’s a movie about cracking a code.

Speaking of code, you may have seen these words in your news feed recently:

No Code.

Low Code.

Traditional Code.

Code is Law.

These black ink words may seem alien to you, or you may be across them.

I am regularly asked about whether law students and lawyers should know how to code.

In classic lawyer style I’d often respond with, “it depends”, but I think you as a reader deserve an updated and more definitive view.

Several years ago, I attended an evening coding 101 course on HTML and CSS because I wanted to better understand the digitisation of marketing. In my role as General Counsel, I knew it would assist me with my ability to support my marketing colleagues. It gave me a new appreciation for what happens “behind the scenes” for product campaigns, for example.

It also gave me an appreciation for our legal tech developers. What lawyers and IT professionals have in common is that both can have little patience if misunderstood. We do not speak the same language and can have differing agendas. But when the connection and commonality is established, watch out world.

This year, I felt called to learn more about Python - one of the most powerful and popular coding languages for writing system scripts (automation). As someone who describes herself as a new age lawyer, this four-hour online course definitely took me out of my comfort zone.

And on the topic of comfort zones, most legal tech vendors cater for all levels of coding expertise - from the coding frightened (no code is your friend) to the coding enlightened (low code and even traditional code may suit you).

In the case of Plexus Gateway, the platform allows a master user to make certain changes in the back end - without having to code per se - in order to ensure that apps and processes can adapt to changing business conditions. Of course, if you’re not into code, you can pay for that to be done for you. But because of the well thought out interface, it’s far less daunting to make changes within the platform than your coding hesitant mindset may have you believe. It’s also more efficient for in-house lawyers to learn and manage those changes.

As we move well into the 2020s, it’s highly probable that more legal professionals will be interacting with IT and digital professionals, as businesses (and also legal teams) embrace tech and automation at levels we’ve not experienced yet.

Low-code and no-code tools are feeding a business’ need for speed, including legal. Gartner predicts that by 2023, over 50% of medium to large enterprises will have adopted a low-code or no-code as one of their strategic application platforms and that low-code will be responsible for more than 65% of application development activity by 2024.

In time, will knowing some form of code be just like being able to navigate emails and the internet for lawyers? In other words, has the time arrived for lawyers to know some code?

It’s a yes from me.

That being said, whilst I don’t believe that knowledge needs to be at computer science degree level, a lawyer with a basic understanding of coding will hold a competitive advantage into the future.

But ask me the same question again in a few years, and I may hold a different view.

Because, the rise of legal tech and the ongoing pressure on legal functions to digitise.

Because, the inception of the Metaverse.

Because, web 3.0.

Because, the digital age.

Anna Lozynski is a freelance general counsel and legal influencer.

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