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Article Europe Future of Law

Trainee Coding Programme at Thrings (a law firm)

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Will Foulkes and Jermaine Smith are associates at a Top 100 UK law firm Thrings, which primarily   act for clients  from the South West. I had the pleasure of interviewing Will and Jermaine  about their new initiative within the firm: the trainee coding programme.

Thrings’ trainee coding programme is driven by the increasing availability of legal technology, the future adoption of smart contracts  and from Jermaine’s long-standing passion to start a coding initiative. The training programme kick-started last year, in which Will circulated a firm-wide questionnaire to gauge interest in blockchain technology and coding. When the questionnaire came back with overwhelmingly positive responses, Will and Jermaine  knew there was pent up demand to learn more. Therefore, as Jermaine explains, the programme is intended to add value to the firm rather than being a stand-alone exercise, with a real connection to the firm’s work that trainees can help to implement. Both have decided to provide the opportunity for trainees to learn Python as it is both logical and applicable to legal technology optimisation. Jermaine’s background in JavaScript lent itself to the programme’s design even though he had never used Python before this project. He appreciates that learning Python ‘is not easy to do’ which is why he thinks the project is going well as he ‘is learning alongside the trainees’.

Trainees have managed to keep up with the programme even in lockdown, with Jermaine making sure that ‘there is a team that you feel part of’. Through participating in this programme, the pair anticipate that trainees will ‘have developed some real skills they will be able to use in their own teams and also have piqued their interest in allowing them to be more creative about their problem solving’. They hope trainees will gain a new lens  to view the world from learning to code, improving their work in a significant way, or simply by attending webinars on innovation. The next steps for the programme will be to expand the team, with Jermaine mentioning the programme will ‘commit more time to machine learning and AI as firms will need to start using this sort of technology more quickly’.

Another prominent area of legal technology lawyers need to be aware of is smart contracts. In order to use them effectively and mitigate new risks that are associated with smart contracts, lawyers will have to learn how they work. This is important as it allows trainees to gain an increased edge in their careers. As Jermaine puts it, ‘Smart contract awareness is paramount as we move into the new paradigm’. The traditional career path for a lawyer normally involves having good technical ability and an ‘ability to sell and leverage the relationships you have’. Networking is a staple in the lawyer’s toolkit, not just to share knowledge with peers, but also to gain potential clients. Not all lawyers are good at networking and technology, but those ‘who are able-minded enough to learn both will have an edge’.

Will highlighted that Thrings’ management are ‘hugely supportive of genuine innovation within the firm’.  According to Will, COVID has given the firm the push they needed to put into practice what they had been planning without ‘much investment or potential downside for the firm. It has brought many benefits, including a sense of togetherness amongst the trainees’. There will be less labour-intensive work in law firms in the future, with one example being the use of ‘AI to improve clause recognition’, Will added.

Only time will tell if more firms will follow suit, but for now, it is clear that Thrings is carving a coding path of its own.

Lauren Moore

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