Legal Tech: Law and Computer Science in partnership
Your study path doesn’t have to be a linear one, resulting in more and more specialisation the further you go. Certain courses at the University give you the option to combine multiple interests and multiple fields of study, and back up the skills you’ve learnt in one area with useful practical knowledge from another.
Amy Conroy is a great example: having completed her Law degree at the University, she decided to follow up ideas from her final-year thesis by choosing to enrol in the MSc Computer Science (conversion) programme. This programme welcomes students from a diverse range of backgrounds, without any prior formal academic knowledge. “A year ago, I didn’t even know how to code a simple program,” says Amy, “and now I’m submitting articles to conferences based on my work using machine learning.”
Read her blog for more on how taking this unconventional study path has led to exciting work such as her open source web project openTenancy.
Developing an Automatic Case Judgment Summarisation System
I graduated with my LLB from Bristol Law School in 2019 and ended up heading down an unconventional route shortly after. I was drawn away by Legal Tech while writing my final year research project on artificial intelligence and its compatibility with the Right to be Forgotten from the GDPR. After that I decided to get a more hands on experience with technology by enrolling in the MSc Computer Science conversion at Bristol University which I finished this September.
Expand your knowledge
As part of my MSc thesis I developed a system that automatically summarises case judgments – something I sure wish I had during my law degree! A year ago, I didn’t even know how to code a simple program, and now I am submitting articles to conferences based on my work using machine learning. The biggest key to my success with my thesis was my existing legal knowledge, something that isn’t common in the computer science field. I was able to identify normal clues that indicated precedents in judgments and shape my system around that.
Combining my legal and technical skills has opened up an excellent opportunity in academia, which I continue to explore in my free time as I am still working on and improving my research. I am a firm believer that the critical thinking skills I gained during my law degree helped me to be successful completing my masters, as a lot of computer science is figuring out the best way to do something, not just using the first way that works.
openTenancy: An Open Source Legal Aid Website
This past July, my friend Ana Shmyglya and I decided to start openTenancy, an open source website that provides free advice on tenancy rights. On the back of my thesis, this has been the perfect way to combine my legal knowledge with my new technical skills. We decided to start openTenancy after I talked to Ana about how often my friends were approaching me to ask for advice regarding their tenancies (especially during COVID-19), and how frustrated I was that there wasn’t a simple way you can fill out a questionnaire and get a clear document explaining your tenancy rights. In the same respect, we felt that a lot of people, students especially, were missing out on enforcing their tenancy rights because of how hard it is for them to understand exactly what they are. So, the aim of openTenancy is to do just that – we’re hoping to make it simple for anyone to enforce their tenancy rights with a simple questionnaire!
“Open source is something commonly used in the technology field, which we’re hoping to bring to the legal world – this means that every aspect of openTenancy is freely available, and open for anyone to contribute to.”
We’re currently still developing openTenancy and are looking for contributors to help us write decision trees about tenancy rights. These decision trees are essentially pathways that guide a user through the interview, with each selection opening new questions depending on their answers. This is a really exciting opportunity for you to get involved in changing the current landscape of legal aid in the UK by using automation on an open source platform. Open source is something commonly used in the technology field, which we’re hoping to bring to the legal world – this means that every aspect of openTenancy is freely available, and open for anyone to contribute to. If you’re interested in getting involved, you can get in touch with me personally via email or send an email to the openTenancy team.
Legal Tech Careers Outside of Law Firms
“I’d seriously recommend that you consider exploring work opportunities with Legal Tech startups if you are interested in Legal Technology, or even if you are just looking at alternative career paths.”
Despite falling in love with coding through my conversion course, I knew that I still wanted to be involved in the legal world and put to use the amazing skills I’d gained from my law degree. For that reason I decided to look for a career beyond traditional legal firms, and I’m now working for a Legal Tech document automation company called Avvoka. Although I’ve only worked there for a few weeks, my work has been incredibly varied – covering marketing, sales, automation, contract review and more! I’ve loved the opportunity to work with leading automation technology, while also putting to use my legal skills and continuing to be involved in the legal market. I’d seriously recommend that you consider exploring work opportunities with Legal Tech startups if you are interested in Legal Technology, or even if you are just looking at alternative career paths.
I would really recommend that you try everything! The Careers Service at Bristol run a variety of events on different career paths and opportunities, and I’d recommend you take full advantage of that. On top of that, one big benefit of the shift to remote working is that a lot of companies are now offering short courses and other sessions online. For example, if you’re interested in seeing what the hype surrounding document automation is all about, my company Avvoka runs academy sessions where you can get hands-on experience with an automation tool used in a lot of law firms and commercial companies. Fun fact – before I applied to Avvoka I actually went to an academy session myself, after a great experience working with their platform I decided to try my luck by applying for a role!
“Remember that you are on no schedule to figure out your own career path, so take your time to find something you enjoy and don’t compare your own experience and journey with anyone else’s.”
I would also suggest considering setting up a Twitter account and following those that are working in the industries that you’re interested in (even if you’re not sure what you want to do, or even what field you’re interested in). Most of my opportunities have come from connecting with those in the Legal Tech world this way, including the lovely Catherine Bamford who has helped get openTenancy off the ground – her mentorship and now friendship has been so helpful navigating potential careers in Legal Tech as well.
Remember that you are on no schedule to figure out your own career path, so take your time to find something you enjoy and don’t compare your own experience and journey with anyone else’s.