From Philosophy to Legal Tech: A Student's Story

“You don’t need to spend years studying code or statistics. If you understand the broad concepts, you’ll be able to collaborate with engineers and programmers.”

A line drawing of a smiling Laura Zhang

LAURA ZHANG ’18 came to Columbia Law with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and a curiosity about coding. Three years later, she can speak the language of programmers and knows Python well enough to apply it to her legal work. Here, Zhang, a first-year associate in the general business group at Goodwin Procter in New York, explains her path. 

How I learned to code as a summer intern:
My first summer after starting Columbia Law, I interned at a legal tech startup, Lit IQ. I asked if the CTO could teach me a bit of coding. So alongside my other duties, I learned a little Python and was able to write some scripts. I found that computer science is a bit similar to the analytical side of philosophy, and I immediately got hooked. 

Taking courses in law school:
I realized that I was able to take undergraduate computer science courses at Columbia for free, which was an amazing benefit. I also took Professor Mitts’ course, Data and Predictive Coding for Lawyers, which was really valuable. He exposed us to broad concepts, the basics of qualitative reasoning, and machine-learning topics that you normally would not learn until you’d studied statistics for years.

Algorithmic lawyering:
Last summer, while interning at Goodwin, I was able to use the new problem-solving skills I had developed when I was faced with this giant stack of SEC documents to sift through. One of my research projects was looking into databases to find documents that signaled a company was increasing the number of classes in their stock. I was able to apply a basic algorithm I learned at Columbia that made the research go much, much faster.

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Published October 24, 2018

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