Lawyers up their game with coding skills

The prospect of legal proceedings can instil fear in hearts and wallets – whether considering action or faced with the need to respond – but technology can alleviate some of the stress and is making justice more accessible.

Online delivery of legal services is increasingly employed for simple applications such as initial  consultations, with its value coming to the fore this year amid COVID-19 isolation and social distancing. However the complexity of law, and specifics pertaining to individual practices, has limited broader digitisation within the profession.

Now a six-month course delivered by Flinders University is equipping lawyers and professionals in the social justice space to code their own bespoke apps for the benefit of their clients, while giving themselves an edge on the competition.

“In what I’m sure is a surprise to most people, it is possible to acquire adequate coding skills for developing useful applications in a relatively short period of time,” says Mark Ferraretto, coordinator of Flinders University’s new ‘Coding the law’ short course.

“Our experience is that we have been able to teach law students useful coding skills over a single 12-week semester. We have students across all age ranges, with the only commonality their complete lack of coding skills and knowledge. Nonetheless, all have successfully developed practical applications.”

Flinders University now teaches coding skills to all law students, equipping them with an essential skillset while delivering tailored applications that are improving the community’s access to justice.

Mr Ferraretto has worked in information technology roles across the globe, including for Deutsche Bank, JP Morgan Chase and Cathay Pacific Airways. An admitted solicitor, he  practised in an Adelaide commercial law firm before joining Flinders University.

“There is a greater synergy between technology and the law than most people think,” he says.

“Both disciplines are highly technical, and both contain a mix of the creative and the mechanical. I cannot count the number of times my software development tools would have been a huge help creating commercial agreements while I was in practice.

“Learning basic coding skills not only enables lawyers to create apps to improve business practice or access to justice but also ensures they understand the opportunities presented by technology to increase efficiencies, in the context of their firm’s speciality areas and unique client needs.”

Mr Ferraretto also teaches Flinders University’s undergraduate topic ‘Law in a Digital Age’ which has seen students create apps, including one developed in 2019 for tenants who receive an eviction, or ‘vacant possession’ order.

“This ‘SACAT Homelessness Advisor’ app assists tenants to quickly find emergency accommodation suited to their particular circumstances,” he explains. “We’re now liaising with the South Australian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (SACAT) to commission the app.”

The homelessness app is one example of how a simple software application can yield value that far exceeds the effort put into its production.

“SACAT can now provide quick and tailored advice to tenants who are facing the daunting prospect of homelessness – cutting through bureaucracy and giving tenants an easy way to access the information they need in a difficult time”.

Flinders University’s inaugural ‘Coding the law’ short course will commence on 1 August in an online, self-paced format, with enrolment still available. Participants will come away with a finished legal software application under their belts, industry-standard coding and web design skills, and new insights to transform their organisation’s processes. The cost is $3,000, with a 25% discount offered to Flinders University alumni.

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College of Business, Government and Law