Should lawyers learn how to code?
If you’re a lawyer then you probably don’t need to learn how to code. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. You may be surprised to learn that developers and lawyers actually have quite a lot of skills in common.
Why learning some code is a good idea
Computers are everywhere these days, but if you’re in your mid-twenties or older you might well have absolutely no idea how they work. For that reason alone, learning to code at least a little bit is probably worth your while irrespective of whether you’re a lawyer or not.
Looking at the law more specifically — the legal tech sector is booming. Technology is likely to radically change (and improve) the way lawyers work in the next few decades. If you want to be a successful lawyer in this changing environment, it’s a good idea to be tech-savvy. Even if you don’t use it directly, learning how to code is a great way to nurture an interest in tech products and innovation.
And then there is also the chance that you might one day leave the law. If you’re considering entering the legal tech space, technical nous will give you an edge. Lawyers who code are still understandably few and far between, but having that skillset makes you uniquely valuable to companies seeking to develop legal-facing products and services.
Plus it’s fun and easy to start, so you really have nothing to lose.
Why you’ll probably be quite good at it
Attention to detail: As lawyers, we are programmed to feel borderline outrage at such minor offences as missing full-stops in emails and inconsistent formatting of bullet points. This niche skill is actually very transferrable to programming, where a small syntactical error or missing ‘,’ can break everything you’ve been working on.
Logical structures: Lawyers tend to be good at putting together complicated and well-structured arguments. Code often requires a similar application of creativity within the bounds of conventions and rules. Programmers work with an interconnected web of concepts and building blocks which need to be applied and structured in certain ways.
Cross-referencing: Legal documents often contain extensive references — e.g. internal references to the same document, references to other related legal documents in the same pack, external references to laws, regulations and texts. Coding projects are similar. Working out how bits of code relate to and interact with each other (and external third parties) can be one of the most challenging and interesting parts of being a junior developer.
Appreciation for language: Many people become lawyers because they love language. Learning to code isn’t exactly the same as learning a human language, but it can be enjoyable in a similar way. Programmers usually end up learning many different languages, which have many things in common but their own quirks, benefits and shortcomings.
Where to start
- CodeAcademy: a great place to start with free courses (https://www.codecademy.com/)
- Udemy: a good alternative if you’re not a fan of CodeAcademy
- edX: offers more formal and professional courses provided open-source by top tier universities
- The Odin Project: another resource specifically focused on training people in web development
- CodeWars: a fun tool once you know what you’re doing a bit more, a website which gamifies code problem solving.
And then if you’re really interested you might consider a coding bootcamp. Le Wagon, FlatIron and General Assembly all get good reviews (I studied at Le Wagon and thought the quality of their staff and the course in general was excellent). Bootcamps are a big commitment and expensive, but they’re also awesome if you’re serious about code and want to move into a development or development-adjacent role.