Articles | 02/05/2018

How Your Liberal Arts Education Sharpens Your Skills for a Techie’s World

There is a steady drum beat in the legal industry about legal technology and how it’s going to change everything.

There is a notion that “fuzzy” disciplines, like the humanities, philosophy and law are less relevant and less bankable than “techie” degrees like computer science, engineering and physics, which may open the door to a coveted job with tech titans like Apple, Facebook, Amazon and others.

Whereas 20th Century lawyers were encouraged to develop a deep expertise in a narrow area of law, the 21st Century calls for T-shaped lawyers. R. Amani Smathers describes a “T-shaped lawyer” as one who has deep legal expertise but also has the ability to collaborate across many disciplines, such as technology, business, analytics and data security. Lawyers are encouraged to learn to code, participate in hackathons, study the blockchain, and utilize design thinking.

And, none of these exhortations are bad advice per se; in fact, it’s a good thing to push professionals outside their comfort zone – so they learn and grow. But, it is not necessary to become a coder to succeed in the world of legal tech. In fact, the opposite may be true. Your liberal arts education may give you a distinct advantage.

Scott Hartley, a Stanford grad, venture capitalist and author of The Fuzzy and the Techie, names a few examples of tech entrepreneurs who have succeeded in spite of their lack of technical skills.

Stewart Butterfield, founder of business messaging platform Slack, who studied philosophy at the University of Victoria and Cambridge, credits his ability to develop a successful product to following lines of inquiry to their logical conclusion. LinkedIn Founder Reid Hoffmann earned his philosophy master’s degree at Oxford University. PayPal founder Peter Thiel studied philosophy and law. Ben Silbermann, founder of Pinterest, studied political science at Yale. AirBnB founders Joe Gebbia and Brian Chesky earned bachelor of fine arts degrees from Rhode Island School of Design.

Now, of course, having a liberal arts background, such as an education in law, does not guarantee success, it does provide valuable skills.

  • Creativity – Skills taught in the liberal arts include creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, decision making, and persuasive arguing. These fundamental thinking and communication skills are the foundation to, in the words of George Bernard Shaw, “dream things that never were” and ask, “Why not?”
  • Human Nature – Humanities and social sciences are dedicated of the study of human nature. The theory of how government, for example, should work is less important than how it actually does work, why dysfunction persists and what can be done to create a system that accounts for real world challenges.
  • Emotional Intelligence – Empathy is key to understanding and can help us to communicate in ways that allow us to connect directly. Designing products and services using empathy can be a great differentiator. Think of Apple’s success with the iPhone by focusing on intuitive functionality and beautiful design.

While techies may know very well how to build something, they may not be trained (at least as well as fuzzies) with why to build something.

Both techies and fuzzies have a lot to learn from each other and the sum of their ideas could be greater than the parts. I encourage you to join a group where cross-pollination between fuzzies and techies is encouraged.

Check to see if you have a Legal Hackers or legal innovation meetup in your city, mark your calendar for the next meeting and make sure to go.

Another way to get involved is to participate in the upcoming Global Legal Hackathon, taking place February 23-25, where lawyers, coders, politicians, students and educators will be working together to create prototype solutions to access to justice problems. Host cities range around the world and there are over 10,000 participants registered.

Legal Hackers will hold its Computational Law + Blockchain Festival, in decentralized nodes around the world March 16-18. It will focus on creating and implementing programmable contracts and legal blockchain use cases.

However you participate, participate! And, remember your fuzzy skills can help you succeed in a techie world.

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