FAQ: Shouldn't practicing lawyers just hire programmers?

FAQ: Rather than teach lawyers to write programs themselves, why not encourage them to hire professional programmers?

The benefits of programming for legal practice I am touting could probably also be realized by lawyers and programmers working together. As such, some people have asked me, isn’t it more realistic and more productive to encourage lawyers to hire programmers? I don’t think so, for many reasons:

First, trained programmers command very high pay for their work, even more than starting lawyers in many cases. It might simply be cost effective to have this kind of work done by junior lawyers rather than a full-time programmer. Also, hiring a full-time programmer is probably cost-prohibitive for all but the wealthiest of law firms. Teaching lawyers to code, then, serves access to justice goals, by making the efficiencies of coding available to small firms, non-profits, and solo practioners, the kind of people who disadvantaged clients tend to hire.

Second, having lawyers write the efficiency enhancing code themselves erases the costs of translation inherent when lawyers and techies work together. Many lawyers have experienced the slow, iterative, back-and-forth process that often results when lawyers work with techies. It can look like a cycle of instruction, presentation, clarification, modification, etc, etc, etc. Each step might take a day or two, as the techie works on other projects, causing even simple work to stretch out over weeks or more.

Third, even when lawyers have techies on retainer and are willing to put up with the costs of translation, it might be useful for the lawyer to build a “proof of concept” to suggest that the code is likely to bear fruit. If the proof of concept fails, then maybe the idea wasn’t sound, and the translation cycle need not even begin. And if the proof of concept succeeds, the sample code helps the lawyer explain the goals to the techie much more concisely and accurately.