Gilbert + Tobin's new breed of lawyer: The 'techno-legal'

Corporate law firm gives lawyers coding skills and backs new UNSW course

It may sound like a Judge Dredd sidekick character, but ‘techno-legal’ is the term given to a new breed of in-demand lawyers, who are both comfortable with code and can keep their cool in court.

Individuals with those dual skills are hugely valuable to the likes of corporate law firm Gilbert + Tobin (which believes they coined the term). The firm is busy training up techno-legals internally, and this year nurturing future talent by backing a new course at UNSW.

“They do say that coding is the new literacy,” Petra Stirling, Gilbert + Tobin’s head of legal capability and transformation, told Computerworld.

“It’s teaching lawyers to code and to use technology to deliver their work. It’s another form of literacy that lawyers need to have.”

Gilbert + Tobin puts the majority of its own lawyers through how to code and technology-related programmes. Though advanced ability in coding was not yet a requirement of the legal profession, a proper understanding of the basics was essential, Stirling says.

“A two-hour workshop in HTML and CSS and JavaScript does not make a full stack developer make, but it does create a window into how to design a product, create a wireframe and think about how it needs to be created,” she says.

“Lawyers need to be able to imagine, design and commission mini hacks and mini automations and products in the future. That’s where the learning to code really comes to its fore.”

Such programs are also offered to the firm’s clients. In February it ran a 24-hour design and coding event with Westpac’s Legal and Secretariat team. The hackathon delivered working prototypes to assist the bank’s in-house legal team to deal with recurring, often time-consuming requests more efficiently. Several of these prototypes are now being refined for implementation, Gilbert + Tobin said.


Lawyer's armoury

From July, law students at UNSW will be able to learn about the automation of legal tasks and advice, how to design and build legal information systems, and use technology to generate legal documents and create and code user-facing, law-related apps.

The ‘Designing Technology Solutions for Access to Justice’ course will be introduced later this year as an elective for undergraduate and Juris Doctor students.

Stirling says that law schools are “completely revising their curriculum” in order to ensure that both the impact of technology from a legal perspective – issues such as data privacy and cyber security — and the application of law through technology are well represented.

Course head Professor Lyria Bennett Moses believes that the ability to understand and build legal technologies was a hugely valuable skill in the legal job market.

Gilbert + Tobin are sponsoring the course, which is modelled on one developed at Georgetown University in the US, by buying students licences to use a Neota Logic development platform. The firm has been involved with UNSW since 2001, backing the university’s Centre of Public Law.

No stopping a good idea

Giving staff coding classes is part of a wider innovation effort at Gilbert + Tobin delivered by its g+t <i> strategy, which focuses on rapid prototyping and a fail fast and learn methodology, Stirling said.

There is, like all good innovation initiatives, a black T-shirt design. Gilbert + Tobin's has “g+t <i>” in white letters across the front and Stirling is wearing one under her white blazer.

“You should see the faces of people when they receive a T-shirt. There’s not like a ceremony, but. I popped a couple to colleagues in Melbourne. I very quickly got a phone call back full of great joy – ‘I’m wearing it now!’,” she says.

“Anyone can put on ‘GTI’ shirt, come up with an idea and be part of building that tech whether that’s in the design phase or the actual build phase,” Stirling adds.

“And the ideas come from places in the firm that might never have been tapped in a top down strategy. It’s had a really positive cultural impact on the firm. And a democratic impact on the firm. We do rely on committees and governance but they never get in the way of a good idea.”

Join the Computerworld newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags codinghackathonWestpaclegalCorporate lawGilbert + Tobinlaw

More about Gilbert + TobinTechnologyTechnology SolutionsUNSWWestpac

Show Comments

Market Place