Github for Lawyers [Part 1]

Part 1: Introduction

I have always thought that a lot of the tools computer programmers use every day could be tremendously valuable to lawyers who draft contracts. This is why I was excited to see CooleyGo release their latest sample contracts on a platform coders use every day, Github. I know many programmers who use Github every day will have no problem getting going with these documents. But for lawyers who might be interested, there aren’t really any user friendly resources that explain how to get started.

So I thought I’d go through the basics of pulling down these contracts, making a few edits and rendering them out to pdf. Unfortunately, there is a lot to learn so I am going to break this down into a few parts so I can go into a good level of detail. In this part, we are going to go over pulling code down from Github and editing it. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me — I’m always happy to help!

So first off, what is Github? Github is a site that programmers use to collaborate on code. It helps track the latest version of all the code files and makes it easy for coders to contribute changes. Github is organized into repositories or “repos” for short. Cooley has made a repo and put all their sample contracts in it. You take a look at it right in your web browser by going here:

Clicking around on that page you can see it is organized in folders and files much like your computer.

To open these files and make changes to them, you need to pull them down onto your computer. The easiest way to do that is to download the Github Desktop Client. Go ahead and visit that link and follow the instructions to download and install it.

After that, go to the Cooley Github repo in your browser and click the green “Clone or Download” button and then click “Open in Desktop”.

Follow the prompts in the Github desktop client to choose a place on your hard drive to save the files. Once you are done, you should be able to open that location on your hard drive and see all the files in the Github repo just like you saw them when clicking around the repo in your browser.

Unlike typical contracts, the files here are not .doc or .docx. They are written in plain text, so we need to use a text editor to edit them. For our purposes, we are going to use a popular code editor called Atom. You can download and install it here:

Once you have atom installed, open it up. In the top menubar, click File -> Add Project Folder. Find the location of the Github repo on your hard drive and choose it.

You should now see the left sidebar of atom showing the files and folders in the repo.

Click on the equity folder and open up the term sheet. You should see the text of the term sheet. You will probably be able to read through the text without much difficulty, but will notice a lot of weird symbols. That is part of the Markdown language and we will go into detail on that in Part 2.

For now, just try making some changes to the contract like replacing the square bracket placeholder values with actual values. When you are done, go ahead and save the document by clicking File -> Save or using the keyboard shortcut you are used to in Word.

Now open up the Github Desktop Client we installed earlier. You should now see the changes you made highlighted for you like this:

Notice that whole lines are highlighted red and green, with the specific words you changed highlighted in a darker colour. Take a moment to review your changes and make sure there are no mistakes.

Now we are going “commit” these changes to our local copy of the repo. To do this, in the left sidebar at the bottom, type in a description of the changes you made like “Added company name” and then click “Commit to Master”.

This will take these changes you have made and package them up with this message. If at any time in the future you want to find out who made certain changes and why, you will be able to search through the history of commits and see every single change along with its commit message.

This becomes incredibly useful when working on a big team or a complicated project. Try going back to the Cooley repo in your web browser and looking at the commits located under the title and above the list of files.

You can then see who made every change and the messages they recorded when they made them!

Hopefully this helps you get started with Github and the CooleyGo series seed sample documents. If you found this useful, please let me know — your feedback is greatly appreciated. Until next time!