Teaching Law Students to Program?

6129855841_c07f308947_oOne of the more controversial suggestions in legal education reform is the idea that law students should learn computer programming.  Critics wonder what possible use this could have.  Are future lawyers going to have to build their own tools?  Is it only useful for students preparing for a career with a legal product developer?

Surprisingly, given my position at CALI® and our work with A2J Author® and law school clinics, I’ve been a bit skeptical of teaching law students to actually code.  This is not to say that I think law students should stick to the basics of books and case law…   I’ve long been a proponent of basic technological education for law students.  To my mind, as a future consumer of legal technology – which all lawyers will be, regardless of area or size of the practice – it would be useful to have a basic understanding of the underlying components of the tools they use.  An analogy I’m fond of is that while you don’t need to know how your car runs, it’s helpful to understand what it means when a red liquid is running out of the bottom so you don’t get taken by a mechanic.

My opinion and way of thinking about law students learning programming has been recently changed by Andew Baker of SeyfarthShaw, an AmLaw200 firm.  He’s the Global Director of their Legal Technology Solutions Office and works with attorneys and clients to streamline the work SeyfarthShaw does in order to provide a better value to the client Not all of the work his office does is technological – much is just organization of process and knowledge.  He said that he likes hires with experience in programming or using tools such as CALI’s A2J Author® because it teaches students to look at a problem broadly and systematically instead of the separation of issues that a traditional legal education provides.

That was a light bulb moment for me.  I finally got it: Programming is not about learning a particular service or tool or language.  It’s about teaching a student to alter the way they approach a problem and view it before solving it.  Again, another skill that every attorney could use, regardless of how or what they practice.

As a reminder, CALI® is in the middle of a pilot project with law school clinics and courses using our A2J Author(R) tool.  Course kits and instruction on how to adapt these courses for use in your school will soon be available for free.   The A2J Author software is already available for download and is also free for educational and non-profit use.

Image from CALI’s Flickr Collection of CC licensed images, all free for you to use!

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