There is a debate—at least in theory—breaking out in the legal industry as to whether lawyers should learn to code technology in today’s era of innovation.
David Colarusso, Director of Suffolk University Law School’s Legal Innovation and Technology (LIT) Lab, importantly concluded in a recent article that the question at the root of the debate depends on the definition of “attorney,” “code” and “should.” In reality, “Configure, don’t code” should be a mantra that can guide lawyers in their quest to scale productivity.
The truth is that lawyers want to be more productive and leverage their expertise, and they find that technology enables them to do both.
Lawyers can only work a certain number of hours before they run out of minutes in the day, but if they have the power of computer code behind them, they can work while sleeping. This enables a lawyer to scale to meet demand and not be limited by human capacity.
Whether lawyers need to be able to code, in the sense of mastering one or more computer languages, is less important. The first step to solving the scaling problem is to admit one exists.
The next step is to look for help. This is where two paths emerge. One path leads to coding, mastering the domain of computer languages, platforms, IDEs, regression test cases, session variables and GitHub. The other path leads to thinking in new ways, designing a business solution that can scale and finding a suitable technology that supports it.
For many, the point of being a lawyer is to solve problems for people (a common cause with computer programmers). Code is just a tool — a means to an end.
Great software engineers have spent years mastering their discipline, as have lawyers. To become a master in both would be difficult, especially if the same outcomes can be delivered in other (easier, more cost-effective) ways.
High-level programming languages
At each step, programming a computer to act has become less about the physical movement of electricity in a circuit toward high-level concepts such as “next week” or “new document.” Programming in a low-level language such as machine code was powerful yet very difficult, so it took a long time to build even a simple business program.
High-level programming languages hide many details of computer operations so that useful functions are more easily created—such as “save file”—without much knowledge of the underlying system.
For lawyers who want to be more productive, scale and create something repeatable or unique, the time and effort required to create the business logic in computer code is time taken away from solving problems for people.
What you need is a programming language or toolkit that takes a more intuitive approach. One that offers easy-to-use, point-and-click business solution building tools and a supportive ecosystem of fellow innovators.
Who needs code anyway?
Clients in need of legal service—a top executive looking for an international relocation package, a company needing a new nondisclosure agreement or a firm with a huge demand for the same basic lease renegotiation document package—are not interested in the computer code. They are looking for a risk-free, successful outcome at a price that represents value.
If that can be provided using logical building blocks within a trusted environment, with security, reporting, and auditing built in, then the role of the innovative lawyer becomes one of transferring knowledge into the platform, not learning code or configuring computer environments.
If, with a few clicks of a touchpad or mouse, a lawyer can create an online form and a database to collect information for their clients and suggest what steps they might take, this empowers them to take the more important steps: market the service, listen to clients, adapt based on feedback and drive innovation.
Building a business is a high-level endeavor, and neither black-letter law nor raw computer code should be the aim.
The latest generation of code-free, solution-development platforms offer drag-and-drop form creation, sophisticated business logic, email alerts, automated document generation, dashboards with data visualization, touches of robotic intelligence and more. They help the analytical, logical, entrepreneurial lawyers to capture their expertise in a process and replicate their ability to deliver services in ways that they’ve never been capable of before.
With the right approach, the right tools and the right group of supportive partners and collaborators, the lawyer of the future can build a whole business on top of repeatable, scalable, indefatigable automated agents and secure data stores. Having the knowledge, intellectual property, repeatable client book, and data to demonstrate that it all works, means that a lawyer can punch far above their weight in the legal market.
The future of the industry looks bright for lawyers who think like software engineers but execute in the most efficient way possible. Those who click to configure, not code to deliver, will outpace their peers in agility and effectiveness.
Clients will benefit, and lawyers can build something that lasts. Finally, capital investment worth making.