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  • Andrew Ray, Visiting Fellow ANU College of Law

Do you need to know how to code? Being ready for that "tech - law" question in a job interview

One question law students applying for jobs will be familiar with is something along the lines of 'how do you see technology impacting the legal profession over the next (five or ten) years?’ As both the private and public sectors adapt in response to changing technology, it is (after all) only logical that they’re looking for graduates with the necessary interest and skills to be part of these changes. But what exactly does "tech-ready" mean for law students? And how do you answer such a question in a way that is both honest and informed?


On the face of it, the answer is not simple. Legal education traditionally focuses on developing students' skills in research, analysis and problem solving. Despite the impact that technology is having on all areas of law and legal practice, little attention is given to these developments within a law degree. Law is often paired with another humanities-based degree such as arts, social sciences or international relations (to name three) – disciplines that do not immediately align with a strong interest in legal tech.


In developing your preparedness and your response to questions on law and tech, it's useful to consider:

  • why you are being asked this type of question and

  • how you can best demonstrate the necessary skills (and interest) that a prospective employer might be looking for.



What employers are looking for

Broadly speaking, both the private and public sectors are aiming to attract graduates who understand

  • how technology is impacting the development of law and

  • its operation in practice.

This means that, in an interview, you need to be able to (in general terms) show you understand and are interested in the impact of technology on law, and have some skills in applying technological solutions in practice.


In demonstrating an interest in technology, it is crucial to note that employers are not looking for you to memorise and regurgitate a definition of AI or machine-learning. Instead, it is best if you can show a natural interest in how technology is impacting an area of law they practice or that you are interested in. An honest answer about something you know and are interested in will not only appear more genuine, but will also be easier for you to remember.


Developing such an understanding or interest is not hard. Technology is (in my view) having an impact in almost all areas of law, from reshaping administrative decision-making, changing how police investigate suspects, altering family law disputes to incorporate online dispute resolution, through to changing the way that consumers view products. This explains (in part) why employers are looking for graduates who can navigate the changing legal landscape. From looking at how definitions of property can accommodate digital assets (such as cryptocurrency) through to how data are used by BigTech companies such as Facebook, there are many opportunities for you to show you have an interest in the impact of technology on law.



In terms of demonstrating skills, it is important to understand that employers do not (generally) need their lawyers to know how to code. Just as a patient would not expect a lawyer to perform surgery, it is safer, faster and probably cheaper for law firms to hire a dedicated coder to design their tech rather than rely on their legal staff.


What employers do want, however, is for graduates to understand (at least at a general level) how to use technology and how to explain it to both clients and more senior staff. This might range from having a basic understanding of how a coder approaches a problem, what a minimum-viable product is, to more simple tasks such as how to use Microsoft Teams to dial into a remote hearing. These sorts of skills are becoming increasingly valuable in modern workplaces especially as they transition to a permanent work-from-home model.



Developing skills and experience

Being able to point to skills and experience that can showcase both an interest and proficiency in technology can help you navigate what may otherwise be tricky and pointed questions in interviews. When choosing elective subjects you might consider taking courses that include a discussion of technology or ask whether you can do your research essay on how technology is impacting a particular legal problem. Universities are increasingly designing their elective offerings to account for the need for "tech-ready” lawyers as part of their own recruiting efforts.


Beyond the classroom, extracurricular activities such as competing in a legal hackathon, participating in a tech-law moot (bonus points for a moot conducted remotely), or writing a short article or submission on a technology law topic can really help you stand out from the crowd. These activities can also help you meet like-minded people (if you are interested in tech generally), expand your circle of friends and give you experience working with an interdisciplinary team to solve problems.


In summary, whether are a law student who is keenly interested in tech or not, chances are you can develop enough knowledge and skills to answer a question well on law and tech in an interview.

[1] This piece reflects the author’s personal views only.

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