Coding for Lawyers

We had a great turnout at our Coding for Lawyers session at this year’s Innovation in Technology Conference (ITC) held in New Orleans.

Taught by A2J Lab researcher Matthew Stubenberg and Harvard Law School’s Access to Justice/Technology Fellow William Palin, the session went into the details of what’s inside the software and platforms that lawyers now encounter in their work. Many attorneys and legal professionals have no idea how software works or is built, and the ever-evolving platforms can be hard to navigate. As technology becomes more and more integrated into legal practice, however, lawyers will be best poised to succeed if they have a grasp of the fundamentals. Many attorneys don’t know where to begin. This session was designed to be a starting point for absolute beginners to help demystify how software actually works.

During the session, Matthew and Bill converted a traffic statute, which designates how many points a driver receives on their license based on how fast they were driving, into a program that could be added to law firm’s website. The instructors wrote out the code using an online interpreter called repl.it while everyone coded along. This format allowed users to do the actual coding and experiment with how changing the code affected the program. The coding language chosen for this session was Python, a common and versatile coding language, perfect for beginners.

We don’t expect all legal professionals to become software engineers. Our goal is to show people that technology is not magic—everyone can understand it. As policymakers invoke the potential of new legal tech as a solution to access-to-justice challenges, it’s more important than ever for us to understand what the technology actually does so that we can evaluate whether or not it makes a difference.

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