Should lawyers learn to code?

Lawyers ask themselves if they should learn to code. My experience is that you do not have to code to create solutions that solve your clients’ problems. Your best bet is to work with low code or no code solutions that are commercially available. However, if you want to move beyond those solutions or offer a comprehensive digital experience for your clients today, you will need to either code or hire the expertise to do it for you. In this article, I’ll focus on no code and low code solutions that can help you deliver your legal services with software today. I’ll give an illustration of a no code solution and then discuss how I expect legal services to develop as software continues to integrate with no code solutions.

Low code vs no code

Most of the software available today has an interface that is low code or no code. Generally, low code is more customizable than no code, because no code relies on the features built out by a developer. For the basic delivery of legal services with software, no code usually works just fine, although you do need to be careful to choose software that is rich enough in features, that isn’t restrictive in terms of what you can develop with it, and whose developer team is support-friendly and ready to help troubleshoot your issues when they arise. There are plenty of examples of no code software that are limited in scope. For those ones, you’ll probably find yourself doing some developing that you didn’t expect after you’ve exhausted their limited feature set.

In terms of no code software, there are many developers offering solutions for lawyers. I have experience building apps with Community.LawyerDocumate, and Formstack (so you know, I have no affiliation with any of them). These solutions help lawyers with little to no coding experience develop software solutions for their unique problems and at a fraction of the time. They differ in scope, but all have basic functions that can be put to use immediately.

Building no code solutions

With no code solutions, the developer has built a user interface so users do not need to code. In this section, we’ll show how that works as a practical matter.

Let us imagine we want to automate a standard Power of Attorney. With no code software, we can create an app that takes in our client’s information which is then used to generate a standard Power of Attorney. See the screenshots below from a Power of Attorney app built using Community Lawyer, a no code solution.

1. The image below is the first step in building a new app on Community Lawyer. Blocks are discrete pieces of code that perform tasks in your app:

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2. We then choose the task that we want a block to address. Each block houses code to address a specific issue. Page blocks will be visible to our client, while logic blocks and repeating blocks define our client’s experience. In the image below, we want a block to display info: 

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3. Each block includes sub-tasks that need to be addressed. In the image below, we add text in the block and click on “element” to add an explanatory note, additional collapsible section, image or button as highlighted below:

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4. This block creates a question as part of a questionnaire. 

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5. As part of the question in the questionnaire, we will have our client choose their name from a list of our clients in a spreadsheet. Community Lawyer links to Google Sheets or Clio as a data source to make that process easier and keep our data well organized. In this case, we pull data from a google sheets spreadsheet called client data and name the result client. As it is here, the result of that spreadsheet search is called a variable in most software environments. The variable can be defined through a search, which in this case we’ve done and shown here as the name McGee.

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6. In this block, we create checkboxes that define the grantee’s powers in the power of attorney. It is up to the end user – in this case our client—to select one or all of the powers. For the buttons the client only has one choice. In this case, we want our client to clarify whether the powers shall continue to vest in the grantee once our client becomes incapacitated.

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7. With a few more steps not detailed here, we have now created an interview template that generates a power of attorney. It does not rely on Microsoft Word, but the power of attorney can be downloaded as a Word doc. This is an example of how the end-user sees a block:

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8. An example of the Power of Attorney generated by our app is below.

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The power of attorney app has just a few variables, but as an app covers more variables, the time savings increase quickly, particularly as the app covers repetitive tasks that are prone to error like inserting party names or changing defined terms. 

The benefits of a no code software environment are clear. Lawyers can focus on what they do best, and leave the coding to those with expertise. The result is a document assembly app made from a no code tool at a fraction of the time it would take for a lawyer to learn code from scratch. The above example is from Community.lawyer, in which we created logic blocks wrapped around rules which our client followed to execute tasks. Other no-code legal tech providers specialize in decision trees such as Neota Logic or StructureFlow, which is a different interface that works better for issue navigators than the generation of legal documents. For most low code solutions, there are developers available who can help you build apps for your practice.

The future of software for legal services

In today’s environment, a law firm managing a diverse practice still needs to stitch together different solutions to provide service to their clients. There is not yet an integrated solution that does not include building something to a lawyer or law firm’s specifications—and learning how the software works to some extent. For the next few years, lawyers or those responsible for technology and innovation within a law firm will need to understand a few coding principles like Hyper Text Markup Language (HTML) to customize the interfaces of the apps they build, or even languages like Python, Java or C++ if the goal is to develop more complex integrations.

How those integrations are built is of fundamental importance to lawyers and the legal profession. The economics of software are critically important to the legal profession: software transfers value from legal practitioners to those that own the software. As a result, lawyers need to be careful about the tech providers they support. Tech providers like Thomson Reuters are building solutions for lawyers and competing with them in the provision of legal information. As Thomson Reuters continues to invest in moving up the value chain with their legal solutions, their provision of legal information is increasingly encroaching on the provision of legal advice. Other even-larger tech companies are also pursuing this integrated environment. Amazon launched a marketplace for legal services last year, which will likely result in a situation where Amazon sets the prices of the services that law firms provide on its platform, and Microsoft just recently announced the launch of Modern Legal, which will build process solutions for lawyers and scale them within the Microsoft platform. Amazon is so far focused on a services platform; Microsoft has built its own beta version of a low-code/no-code platform to automate processes. Lawyers should endorse the new low-code/no-code solutions, and choose their partners wisely.

About the author

Victor Mwago is a PartnerVine Fellow and the founder of LegalForms, a legal tech company that (1) provides a portal of standard apps for lawyers to use in high volume parts of a practice, (2) builds custom legal tech apps on request and (3) consults on legal technology. Based in Nairobi, Kenya, LegalForms is the market leader in Eastern Africa.

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