Should lawyers learn to code? The question that has launched a thousand conversations at legal tech events, with the answer usually being: no. But, maybe something has changed now with the arrival of a more focused approach and some real use cases for those potential coding skills.
Firelex provides lawyers with two main things: templates of standard commercial legal documents – nothing especially new there; and – a platform that allows for relatively straightforward coding to create your own bespoke automated contract templates. And arguably that may not be totally new either (see below re. what do we even mean by ‘coding’ *). But, their approach is very much on you taking control of the process yourself, right down to the coding, rather than needing a third party to create your templates for you.
How does it work? Check out the video below for starters, but, here are the key steps:
- If you can’t find the template you need in the Firelex library, you can create a new one.
- You can lay out the fields for populating the template in a variety of ways to make it easy for users to complete their documents.
- You can add a header, a boilerplate, headings and paragraphs; and retrieve data from the form submission for dynamic content.
You could say it’s a sort of DIY HTML-style approach to document automation, where you use Firelex to create an online interface using their simplified coding language. The interface you create and structure can have boxes and menus that help later users of the template to quickly complete the document you’ve designed.
What this does is allow lawyers to build their own self-service automated template documents without needing to get someone else to do it for you. Once made the automated document works like many others.
Is this of any use?
Well, if you accept that document automation is useful in terms of efficiency gains and that self-service interfaces are a benefit especially for more routine documents, then the answer has to be: yes.
Is the coding bit complex?
Artificial Lawyer has seen a demo and it looked like with the level of coding needed, that if you really wanted to learn it, then you probably could get the basics quite quickly without any prior knowledge. This is because the range of things you’re likely do with it are quite narrow and highly structured, so it’s not like learning everything possible, just the few bits you need, and that – in theory – should make it ‘easy to learn’.
Does this change the response to the old adage ‘should lawyers learn to code?’
Yes and no. Should…or must…lawyers learn to code because they now work in a world of more software tools..? Nope. Of course not. You don’t need to know how to code all the software you use in your life.
But should lawyers who actively want to create their own bespoke templates in this way learn to code? Now, that’s a different proposition. And the answer has to be: if there’s actual value in you doing it yourself, so you get the template you want in rapid time and don’t need to outsource it to consultants or your already busy tech team….then it seems like a good idea.
Does this mean all lawyers need to learn to code now…? Nope. Little has changed there. It’s still going to be a very niche thing, namely for those lawyers who fancy being able to do this coding work themselves. And that is never going to be everyone. It might just be three or four lawyers in each firm, or one person in an inhouse legal team. But, this would still be quite a sizeable population when spread across the entire legal market.
If learning how to do this sounds interesting, the company behind the platform, Firelex, is holding what it’s calling a hackathon later this year to help people to learn how to use its system.
From September 1 to September 30, their coding experts will come to your offices once a week for training and to answer your questions.
Then, all participants in the hackathon will be invited to an event in London in October, where they will present their projects to a jury of lawyers and coders, who will pick the Firelex lawyer of the year.
If you’d like to know more, you can check it out here: https://firelex.com/hackathon2019/
And here’s a short video on how the system works.
The reality is that with the general way we talk about ‘coding’, the term refers to all of the above. It’s become a kind of shorthand to mean ‘anything that is not natural language’. It feels like we may need to differentiate things now, especially given the proliferation in ‘coding’ models and approaches, from very basic, to super complex. For now, it looks like we are stuck with the umbrella term, but AL would be interested to hear if anyone has a user-friendly taxonomy that can divide up the various uses. ]