August 5, 2019 by Ed Kennedy
What Must Programmers and Lawyers Learn from Each Other?
When it comes to professional combinations, a programmer and a lawyer are a rare pairing. This writer understands this well, as someone who holds a background in both tech and law. In years ahead a greater convergence between these fields is unavoidable. In future it’s expected professionals who’ve walked both paths will become more common.
But right now there remains a large gulf between the two fields. In no small part owing to the different mindset required for working well and pursuing a successful career in each. Sure there are some who’ve pursued careers in both. Yet even so, this can’t overlook the fact our rapid economic digitisation and globalisation is totally rewriting the rules of engagement once again.
So what should programmers and lawyers understand about each other’s work? And where may they find closer ties going forward?
A Thinking Exercise
The future will demand programming and law intersect in a variety of ways. Growing a closer association by virtue of market opportunity and business necessity. But this doesn’t mean by default professionals will be able to successfully navigate work in both.
By virtue of the job, programmers need to be in the business of innovation. For the digital world is one of rapid and ongoing evolution. Looking to push the envelope in this environment isn’t optional – it’s essential. The speed and diversity of growth means capacity can outpace clear conformance with existing law. Just ask any programmer who has looked to work with cryptocurrency in recent years.
Legal professionals must approach their core work in a different way. In observance of tradition, in recognition of precedent, and with caution to guard against adverse outcomes. For this reason, law will never acquire a reputation for its speed of change. Individuals and the wider community rely on its stability, continuity, and cautious approach to change. This ethos underwrites the outlook of all who work in law day by day.
Certainly innovation occurs in law, and programmers must guard against mistakes – nobody wants to pull an all-nighter scrawling for a bug fix because another programmer was careless – but the mindset and approach to work day by day is different. So it’s not impossible for programmers and lawyers to find common ground in business, but it must be done with the recognition of the different perspectives as a starting point.
Holding Court with Coders
It’s no secret the legal industry locally and globally was hit hard in the post-GFC landscape. Many roles and areas of the industry that once upon a time would have required human beings to complete now are automated. Many current and aspiring legal professionals may lament this.
But the rise of the tech industry also offers unparalleled opportunity to those who know how to pursue it. It’s one thing for a law firm to take programmers as clients. It’s another thing to actively reach out for them. To be able to speak the language of a digital professional. To bring to their legal needs a sound working knowledge of the environment they operate in.
A law firm may enjoy a strong reputation for the legal expertise it holds today. But what about tomorrow? Yes there are some legal professionals who may be planning a retirement or career change in the next couple of years. Able to look to a future elsewhere without any major concern for what disruption will mean to law in 5 years time. But for anyone who imagines they could be working in the field in 2024? An individual must also begin to imagine today what a more digital economy will mean for day by day legal practice.
As opposed to issues in this space being ‘kick the can down the road’ scenarios, already the controversies of scandals seen by major organisations like Facebook, Airbnb, and Apple Pay that impacted consumers at the grassroots level show where new business awaits in the future.
At a more elemental level, the value of programmers to legal business today has never been higher. Sure a lawyer may have 10, 20, or even 30 or more years experience in practice. But if someone has just started a new law firm and given no thought to having a good website, SEO, or social media? Don’t expect many cold calls in today’s age where a front page ranking is vital.
Similarly, if someone was looking to drum up new business in an existing firm? Someone could get it by making calls and doing the rounds on the cocktail circuit – but they would get it with a strong content plan and online marketing campaign.
Future partnerships between programming and the legal industry will see the global tech industry’s estimated $5 trillion value in 2019 mutual benefit growth in the global legal services market. A market projected to be worth $1 trillion by 2021, and set to grow strong beyond it.
But day to day, for programmers the same skill set they have in innovation can also create risks. Sometimes – thanks in no small part to a good lawyer(s) – damage can be undone before it becomes fatal. Yet even so, a good lawyer will always approach their work by the old adage ‘measure twice, and cut once’.
Programmers that have a great new business or product in-hand could find major headaches are avoided by consulting with a lawyer before officially kicking off. Also by consulting once more before a major new step is taken. Like opening up a new location in another state, or beginning to offer their product to an overseas audience.
To lawyers taking such precautions sound obvious. But to programmers a lot of these procedures sound like frustrating red tape. Afterthoughts that may not be essential now in the early days of a business. Yet modern history is littered with examples of otherwise brilliant entrepreneurs and startups who failed to ‘tick the boxes’ legally and suffered for it.
Having legal counsel in place isn’t just about risk mitigation either. It also becomes a cornerstone of a businesses growth. Establishing at the outset a digital business is on a strong footing can inject confidence into the venture. This means the capacity to build closer relations with investors, to build a customer base faster, and grow their industry presence stronger.
Partnerships Beyond Business
As this writer has learned and spent time at a desk working in both programming and law, there’s the recognition invaluable work can be done by shared contributions. Beyond the profitability and shared need law and programming has for one another – and will have in future – there’s also common ground that can be found in broader pursuits.
It won’t surprise many a not-for-profit family violence prevention center has its fair share of idealists floating around. Dedicated professionals who’ve elected to take a harder road than they would otherwise need to in getting a regular pay packet. Doing so with the desire to work in service of members of others most in need of help. Nobody could critique such an ethos.
But the work of legal professionals in these spaces can often be let down by digital infrastructure. Antiquated filing systems, unreliable operating systems, and other tech woes. The outcomes here of a file lost or a system crash that results in a missed appointment can be harrowing for someone in a vulnerable situation.
Any programmers who seek to make a contribution in this space but aren’t interested in spending 3 years in a law school could find an abundance of projects that would relish their support. For aspiring legal professionals, building partnerships with willing programmers could be among their best career decisions.
After all, idealism is abundant throughout programming, though this something that’s often overlooked by those who don’t code. Programming may not have the tradition of a public service ethos fields like politics, journalism, and law do. But many begin or discover while programming their desire to change the world.
Usually this may be in very modest measures. With small and local contributions to their community. Yet it can’t go overlooked that humanitarian Bill Gates founded Microsoft as a programmer, and Tesla CEO and green energy pioneer Elon Musk began coding at just 12 years old.
Any legal professional looking to build a new platform for positive social change may find the most effective avenue for growth isn’t in the legal community but within the tech community.
A New Law in Code
Certainly lawyers in future will find opportunities to drive new business. But building partnerships with programmers this growth could be supercharged. For programmers the evolving digital landscape makes having strong legal foundations more valuable than ever for any venture pursued.
The intersection of these two fields is still growing. It also has a long way to go. But that’s why it’s such an exciting time, as the formative years of a new convergence so often lay the strongest foundations for enduring success. This 2020s may just provide this, for business between the two professions, and the wider community as a whole.
Ed Kennedy is a journalist and ghostwriter from Melbourne, Australia. Contact Ed via firstname.lastname@example.org on Skype or LinkedIn.