New Job De-/script/-ions for Attorneys with Coding and Tech Business Skills

"CODE_n SPACES Pattern", Image by CODE_n

“CODE_n SPACES Pattern”, Image by CODE_n

The conventional wisdom among lawyers and legal educators has long been that having a second related degree or skill from another field can be helpful in finding an appropriate career path. That is, a law degree plus, among others, an MBA, engineering or nursing degree can be quite helpful in finding an area of specialization that leverages both fields. There are synergies and advantages to be shared by both the lawyers and their clients in these circumstances.

Recently, this something extra has expanded to include very timely applied tech and tech business skills. Two recently reported developments highlight this important emerging trend. One involves a new generation of attorneys who have a depth of coding skills and the other is an advanced law degree to prepare them for positions in the tech and entrepreneurial marketplaces. Let’s have a look at them individually and then what they might means together for legal professionals in a rapidly changing world. I will summarize and annotate both of them, and compile a few plain text questions of my own.

(These 26 other Subway Fold posts in the category of Law Practice and Legal Education have tracked many related developments.)

Legal Codes and Lawyers Who Code

1.  Associates

The first article features four young lawyers who have found productive ways to apply their coding skills at their law offices. This story appeared in the November 13, 2015 edition of The Recorder (subscription required) entitled Lawyers Who Code Hack New Career Path by Patience Haggin. I highly recommend reading it in its entirely.

During an interview at Apple for a secondment (a form of temporary arrangement where a lawyer from a firm will join the in-house legal department of a client)¹, a first-year lawyer named Canek Acosta was asked where he knew how to use Excel. He “laughed – and got the job” at Apple. In addition to his law degree, he had majored in computer science and math as an undergraduate.

Next, as a law student at Michigan State University College of Law, he participated in the LegalRnD – The Center for Legal Services Innovation, a program that teaches students to identify and solve “legal industry process bottlenecks”.  The Legal RnD website lists and describes all eight courses in their curriculum. It has also sent out teams to legal hackathons. (See the March 24, 2015 Subway Fold post entitled “Hackcess to Justice” Legal Hackathons in 2014 and 2015 for details on these events.)

Using his combination of skills, Acosta wrote scripts that automated certain tasks, including budget spreadsheets, for Apple’s legal department. As a result, some new efficiencies were achieved. Acosta believes that his experience at Apple was helpful in subsequently getting hired at the law firm of O’Melvany & Myers as an associate.

While his experience is currently uncommon, law firms are expected to increasingly recruit law students to become associates who have such contemporary skills in addition to their legal education. Furthermore, some of these students are sidestepping traditional roles in law practice and finding opportunities in law practice management and other non-legal staff roles that require a conflation of “legal analysis and hacking skills”.

Acosta further believes that a “hybrid lawyer-programmer” can locate the issues in law office operational workflows and then resolve them. Now at O’Melvany, in addition to his regular responsibilities as a litigation associate, he is also being asked to use his programming ability to “automate tasks for the firm or a client matter”.

At the San Francisco office of Winston & Strawn, first-year associate Joseph Mornin has also made good use of his programming skills. While attending UC-Berkeley School of Law, he wrote a program to assist legal scholars in generating “permanent links when citing online sources”. He also authored a browser extension called Bestlaw that “adds features to Westlaw“, a major provider of online legal research services.

2.  Consultants and Project Managers

In Chicago, the law firm Seyfarth Shaw has a legal industry consulting subsidiary called SeyfarthLean. One of their associate legal solutions architects is Amani Smathers.  She believes that lawyers will have to be “T-shaped” whereby they will need to combine their “legal expertise” with other skills including “programming, or marketing, or project management“.² Although she is also a graduate of Michigan State University College of Law, instead of practicing law, she is on a team that provides consulting for clients on, among other things, data analytics. She believes that “legal hacking jobs” may provide alternatives to other attorneys not fully interested in more traditional forms of law practices.

Yet another Michigan State law graduate, Patrick Ellis, is working as a legal project manager at the Michigan law firm Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn. In this capacity, he uses his background in statistics to “develop estimates and pricing arrangements”. (Mr. Ellis was previously mentioned in a Subway Fold post on March 15, 2015, entitled Does Being on Law Review or Effective Blogging and Networking Provide Law Students with Better Employment Prospects?.)

A New and Unique LLM to be Offered Jointly by Cornell Law School and Cornell Tech

The second article concerned the announcement of a new 1-year, full-time Master of Laws program (which confers an “LLM” degree), to be offered jointly by Cornell Law School and Cornell Tech (a technology-focused graduate and research campus of Cornell in New York City). This LLM is intended to provide practicing attorneys and other graduates with specialized skills needed to support and to lead tech companies. In effect, the program combines elements of law, technology and entrepreneurship. This news was carried in a post on October 29, 2015 on The Cornell Daily Sun entitled Cornell Tech, Law School Launch New Degree Program by Annie Bui.

According to Cornell’s October 27, 2015 press release , students in this new program will be engaged in “developing products and other solutions to challenges posed by companies”. They will encounter real-world circumstances facings businesses and startups in today’s digital marketplace. This will further include studying the accompanying societal and policy implications.

The program is expected to launch in 2016. It will be relocated from a temporary site and then moved to the Cornell Tech campus on Roosevelt Island in NYC in 2017.

My Questions

  • What other types of changes, degrees and initiatives are needed for law schools to better prepare their graduates for practicing in the digital economy? For example, should basic coding principles be introduced in some classes such as first-year contracts to enable students to better handle matters involving Bitcoin and the blockchain when they graduate? (See these four Subway Fold posts on this rapidly expanding technology.)
  • Should Cornell Law School, as well as other law schools interested in instituting similar courses and degrees, consider offering them online? If not for full degree statuses, should these courses alternatively be accredited for Continuing Legal Education requirements?
  • Will or should the Cornell Law/Cornell Tech LLM syllabus offer the types of tech and tech business skills taught by the Michigan State’s LegalRnD program? What do each of these law schools’ programs discussed here possibly have to offer to each other? What unique advantage(s) might an attorney with an LLM also have if he or she can do some coding?
  • Are there any law offices out there that are starting to add an attorney’s tech skills and coding capabilities to their evaluation of potential job candidates? Are legal recruiters adding these criteria to job descriptions for searching they are conducting?
  • Are there law offices out there that are beginning to take an attorney’s tech skills and/or coding contributions into account during annual performance reviews? If not, should they now considering adding them and how should they be evaluated?

May 3, 2017 Update:  For a timely report on the evolution of new careers emerging in law practice for people with legal and technical training and experience, I highly recommend a new article publish in the ABA Journal entitled  Law Architects: New Legal Jobs Make Technology Part of the Career Path, by Jason Tashea, dated, May 1, 2017.


1.  Here is an informative opinion about the ethical issues involved secondment arrangements issued by the Association of the Bar of the City of New York Committee on Professional and Judicial Ethics.

2.  I had an opportunity to hear Ms. Smathers give a very informative presentation about “T-shaped skills” at the Reinvent Law presentation held in New York in February 2014.

Does Being on Law Review or Effective Blogging and Networking Provide Law Students with Better Employment Prospects?

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Image by Marcela Palma

[This post was originally uploaded on November 12, 2014. It has been updated below with new information on March 5, 2015.]

Oceans of ink and an unlimited quantum of bits have been expended in the past several years reporting, analyzing and commenting upon the fundamental changes to the legal profession in the US following the recent Great Recession. Among many other things, there has been a significant drop in the number of applicants to many law schools and a declining number of available jobs law students upon their graduation. This is a very complex situation with no easy answers for the law schools and their students.

It is traditional practice at most US law schools for students who finish in the top 10% of their class rankings based upon their grades, to be invited to join the school’s law review. This is always considered to be a significant accomplishment and an academic honor. The member of the law review (also called the “law journal”), write in-depth and heavily annotated legal analyses about developments in the law and concerning specific decisions.

Despite the “New Normal” ¹ in today’s legal marketplace, any law student who is on the law review and/or in the top 10% of their class, will find themselves in a buyer’s market for their academic and writing distinctions. Nonetheless, what can – – what we used to be called the “top 90%” when I went to law school – – do to improve their marketability in such a difficult market?

They can blog, network and build their online presence according to a most interesting post by attorney, legal marketing expert, and renowned legal blogger Kevin O’Keefe in a post entitled Law Blog More Valuable Than Law Review in Landing Job on November 5, 2014 on his blog Real Lawyers Have Blogs. To briefly recap, he describes how Patrick Ellis (@pmellis), while attending Michigan State University College of Law, used his blog and networking skills to eventually land a job as an associate attorney with a top law firm in Detroit. I highly recommend clicking through and reading O’Keefe’s informative and inspiring story about Mr. Ellis.

This post also asserts that such blogging presented opportunities that would have otherwise been foreclosed to Mr. Ellis. Moreover, that the traditional entre afforded by law review as well as moot court participation and “who you know”, have now been surpassed by the effective of using blogs and networking to find jobs in today’s challenging environment. Indeed, as O’Keefe so concisely states “… networking online requires law students to listen, engage, curate and create content with their own point of view.” Bravo and kudos to both O’Keefe for writing about this and Ellis for implementing this innovative legal  job search strategy.

Is effective blogging and networking now an equivalent, if not advantage, over being a member of the law review? Well, as many lawyers are often inclined to initially reply to some questions, I believe it depends. What about these scenarios:

  • Law student X is invited for a recruiting interview at the ABC Law Firm. If he is both on law review and has a strong online presence, nowadays which one more likely got him the interview or was it both?
  • Law Student X is on law review while Law Student Y has a terrific blog and network. Will ABC only invite X or Y, or both based on the candidates’ merits?
  • ABC recognizes that they are lagging in their own online presence and marketing skills. Will they invite X and/or Y for interviews and why? Should the interview for X and Y be different and, if so how?
  • Should alternative career paths be developed by ABC for X and Y? Should both tracks be towards eventual partnership consideration?
  • If X and Y are both hired, should Y expressly help Y in building his or her online presence in some form of buddy system?
  • Will X’s and Y’s skills be differently evaluated in performance reviews? How will this possibly affect ABC’s compensation and bonus structure for associates?

Finally, I additionally suggestion that law students engaged in a search should consider applying some personal network mapping software to identify the people who are “hubs” and “spokes” in your network. The hubs are those members with the highest degrees of connectedness and might thus turn out to be more helpful resources. (see also The Subway Fold posts on February 5, 2015 about mapping Twitter networks and this one April 10, 2014 on mapping LinkedIn networks.²) A Google search on these applications will produce many possibilities.

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1.  See this excellent ongoing column of the same name on the ABA Journal’s web site covering a multitude of important topics on this tectonic technological, professional and economics shifts.

2.   LinkedIn has recently removed their networking mapping tool.

March 5, 2015 Update:

Following up on Kevin O’Keefe’s very informative post discussed above, he published another enlightening blog post squarely on point for this topic entitled Emory Law School Gets Students Blogging Early with Innovative New Class on February 12,, 2015. This spotlights Professor Jennifer Murphy Romig’s new class on legal blogging at Emory University School of Law. I will again briefly summarize, annotate and comment upon Mr. O’Keefe’s interview with her. I highly recommend clicking through and reading it in its entirety for all its details and insights.

Besides my own very strong interest and involvement in the efforts of law schools to provide their students with the latest business skills, this immediate got my attention because I am a proud alumnus of Emory Law.

Professor Romig’s new course is called Advanced Legal Writing: Blogging and Social Media. It’s listed as Course 851 on the right-hand side of the law school’s Course Descriptions page under Spring 2015 Courses. (Please click on the link for a full description.) The interview with her covered the following topics:

  • Origin:  The administration was supportive of the original proposal, looking to expand student’ skills in “public legal writing”, as distinguished from other traditional first year legal writing for client/matter-specific work. The professor had previously launched her own blog called Listen Like a Lawyer that turned into a very positive experience for her to communicate and network within the legal community. As a result, she sought to bring blogging skills to law students for use in the workplace and to “build marketable skills”.
  • Value: During their job searches, law students will, in all sizes of firms, find potential employers with blogs or else those who might be interested in launching one. Thus, if asked to do so, they will then have the skills to write, post offer strategy on blogs. As well, it provides students with a “creative outlet” where they can choose their own topics.
  • Curriculum: This is divided into thirds including 1. The “ethics”,  “history” and “methods of blogging”. 2. Studying blog writing to present their “legal analysis” and “voice and style”. As well, they will work in groups to revise a WordPress* theme and explain their changes, and give presentations on other topics involving formatting and content. 3.  Creating and critiquing their own WordPress blogs which, at their option, can be used to present their blogging skills to potential employers. Distinguished guests from the world of legal blogging will also be participating.
  • Results: The benefits of effective blogging include improved writing skills in practice and online, as well as the generation of interactivity on other social platforms and personal networking. The trends include introducing students to “different styles” of lawyers’ usage of social media platforms, and providing them with the means to track and adapt to the latest trends in social media.
  • Recommendations: 1. Begin on a small and secure legal blog among a “supportive community”. 2. Use blogging as  an “opportunity to be creative” where students can test out formats and functions. 3.  Find issues that are important to each blogger to pursue in their writing.

I am very grateful to Professor Romig for all of her work in launching this course at Emory Law. I was indeed even more proud of my alma mater after reading about this.

I want to suggest these additional suggestions:

  • Following up and showcasing among students those instances where their blogging has had an impact upon their job searches, legal matters, social movement initiatives, and networking. I would gather these instances and analyses into a report full of embedded inks, to be shared with fellow students and the administration. Perhaps some form of meta-blog where students can post and actively discuss their blogging experiences and techniques.
  • Using the blogging course as a recruiting tool for potential law students. Consider making this an expressed advantage of Emory Law in that the school will provide and enable students with the most modern tools they will need to communicate, market and practice law.
  • Encourage live-blogging of events and presentations at the school in order to open another new media channel to publicize them as well as to refine contemporaneous blogging skills. Again, collecting and archiving these blog posts might be worthwhile on the school’s website.
  • Has Emory Law ever considered holding a legal hackathon? It might also bring in some positive support from the local legal community and be a worthwhile event to live-blog and webcast.

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*  WordPress is the hosting service used for The Subway Fold.