Wednesday, October 10, 2012

CodeHS and Code is Law

Yesterday, we went to the second instalment of Code Is Law* which is sort of an informal crash course on programming for beginners put on by Pieter Gunst, one of the co-founders of LawGives and a Fellow at CodeX. The last time I coded anything that wasn't a website was probably a decade ago when we learned Visual Basic in high school. I'm fairly certain VB became obsolete around the same time we gave up floppy disks. This time around, I'm going to be learning Javascript with the help of CodeHS, a StartX company.

*Aptly named after Lawrence Lessig's dictum in his book Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace.

Jeremy does a pretty good job explaining how CodeHS works in the video above but the basic idea is that the website teaches programming with instructional videos followed by little exercises. CodeHS is great because not only does it teach you how to code, it teaches you how to think like a programmer (so you can pick up other languages), and how to code with style. I think if any professional ever looks at the backend of my websites, they'd be pretty horrified because my coding is all over the place so even if I forget all the javascript and just retain some good coding practices, I'll be very pleased.

Why is programming relevant to law students/lawyers?

1. Programming is about problem solving and using logic - two areas that all legal minds ought to be familiar with. Conditional if/else statements are essential both in law and in coding (and on the LSAT for those of us that still remember that small nightmare). Programming is good exercise for your brain.

2. As we move increasingly into a digital space, understanding the basics of software engineering is an asset in any field. People tend to think that law is an archaic discipline where men in suits sit behind large mahogany desks poring over stacks of documents. While the legal field hasn't been as technology-savvy as say, medicine, legal informatics is a rapidly growing area and chances are that lawyers can't avoid software engineers in the workplace for much longer. For more on this topic, see Richard Susskind's The End of Lawyers.

3. Software and information industries are rapidly expanding making intellectual property law the fastest growing area of legal specialization. I'm perhaps a little biased here but I think intellectual property and technology law is an exciting and flourishing field and this will continue to be true for a long time to come. Having a good grasp on the building blocks of technology i.e. code will thus no doubt be advantageous to a career in technology law.

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