Should Lawyers Learn to Code?

There have been many articles written suggesting that lawyers should learn how to code software. This Wolfram Alpha article is a good one, although many of the articles are far more adamant that every lawyer needs to learn how to code. The rationale is that because software will have an increasing effect on how lawyers practice, and who will be competing with us to provide our services, we should learn to code.

So should we learn how to code? For most lawyers, probably not.

I knew how to code before law school, and for me it has been very useful. Since my practice is largely around IT issues, it has helped me understand those issues and discuss them with clients. It has also influenced my drafting style for both contract drafting and the way I communicate with clients.

But the thought that learning how to code will give us a leg up against competitors who are developing or adopting intelligent solutions to replace our services, or will help us develop our own systems to compete or make us more efficient, is flawed. The systems that are going to have the biggest impact are based on artificial intelligence. That is very sophisticated, cutting edge stuff, and learning how to code is not going to help with that. It is something that we need to leave to the experts, or hire experts to do.

Lawyers interested in this can find resources discussing artificial intelligence and where it is headed (such as the artificial lawyer site and twitter feed that posted the Wolfram Alpha article). Looking at where this is headed, and how it might effect the practice of law would be more productive than learning how to code.


  1. This is a comment coming from the library and electronic records management world where those of us formally trained in university programs but not in IT pure world, but have hands-on experience with some coding, applications design including report and screen user designs from systems perspective:

    It helps at times to know technically how to do stuff earlier in one’s career/coursework in systems design and testing for these reasons:

    *Negotiate with IT dept. and software vendors by asking hard, strategic questions that cut through vendor’s marketing-speak, to ensure software /technology claims truly do function to meet business needs.

    *Support our organizations in more efficient use of technology without being forced to buy multiple module add-ons without sufficient product analysis: a perpetual desire by vendors to slice and dice their product to force corporate clients to spend more money …for features sometimes that should have been in the core product.

  2. David Collier-Brown

    I think lawyers should have had the experience of writing code, preferably in some very-high-level language like R or Wolfram Alpha that doesn’t require them to learn tons of prerequisite detail.

    It’s the experience of thinking logically about an illogical world that’s valuable, IMHO, along with the irreducable minimum of prerequisites you have to do to get the results out in some intelligible form.

    To borrow a line from the ancient greeks, one needs to be able to think about both form and substance (;-))

  3. I do think though, that computer science, as it concerns the management of informational complexity, has a lot to offer law in so many ways.
    So whereas Law has leapfrogged science itself in the application of the scientific method
    (at least it seems to me), computer science has gone in other profitable directions.
    Data abstraction goes to the root of how we think about problems, and you don’t
    need coding experience to understand it.