Legal tech: upskilling for the 21st century
by Joanna Goodman
The traditional start of the school year has got commentators thinking about legal IT education.
Do lawyers need to learn to code? Should firms start including technology competencies in role profiling and assessment, or should it be down to individual lawyers to make sure they are up to speed with the latest software tools? Opinions are divided, ranging from suggestions that all lawyers should learn to code to the opinion that beyond the basic IT competence that is expected in any workplace, fee-earners should focus their efforts on – fee-earning.
Coding is often presented as an essential 21st century skill, and earlier this year, Australian law firm Gilbert + Tobin organised a week of coding workshops for their lawyers and clients. The rationale was that this would enable lawyers to design apps and smart contracts. However, it is generally agreed that coding is not directly relevant to most legal work – at least not yet. Furthermore, artificial intelligence platforms like Neota Logic enable firms like Taylor Wessing to build apps without the need for coding.
‘Would learning to code make you a better lawyer, or would it qualify you to be a software developer for legal technology products?’ asks Andrew Joint, commercial and technology partner at Kemp Little. Joint believes that his work requires him to understand coding and technical matters rather than become competent at them. ‘Because my work covers software development, I need to know what source code is, for example, because it is relevant to clauses covering intellectual property, data transfer and liability,’ he explains. ‘But whether I can write code is irrelevant because that doesn’t impact on how well I do my job. However, it would be relevant if I wanted to design software that delivered legal services,’ he says, adding that one Kemp Little fee-earner who can code is creating a bespoke solution for the firm.