#LegalTechLives with Will Ha, Mobile Software Engineer at Lolay and author of Quit Law and Code

Ava Chisling
October 12, 2017

Will Ha is a lawyer turned coder, specializing in mobile application development at the software development consulting firm, Lolay. After leaving his law practice at a boutique civil litigation firm in Southern California, he has completed an Ironman, worked at a bicycle shop, and put his philosophy degree to use by teaching himself how to code. Today, he likes to climb and spend time outdoors.

You left the legal profession to code and you’d like to see other lawyers do the same thing. I am presuming Gen Y lawyers would be most interested?

I don’t believe all lawyers should learn to code, but that most lawyers should no longer treat software and computing as merely an accessory to the profession. All lawyers should have a core understanding of software and software issues in relation to their practice area. In terms of it being a tool to their practice, knowing how to manipulate data with a little bit of Python can go a long way. Version control, for example, can do wonders in terms of editing documents in a collaborative setting. Simple natural language processing can be very powerful in research.

I am appealing to Gen Y lawyers, particularly those who are underemployed, by letting them know that there is a completely different career path where their legal training can come in handy, and where they can still earn enough to pay back their student loans on time.

Why did you leave one profession for the other?

I felt unfulfilled as an associate in a firm setting. The hours were long and I realized I missed being able to build something. I missed having a “tangible” final product as a result of labor. The other reason is the general employment outlook for lawyers overall. It’s an unfortunate truth, but there are more lawyers than the job market can absorb.

What is it about lawyers that makes them good coders, as opposed to architects or pharmacists, for example?

The fact that lawyers are trained to be critical thinkers. Being able to abstract situations in relation to law is not unlike what software developers do. Our ability to reason and our attention to detail are all beneficial.

Legal Tech Lives Will Ha

Tell me about the typical day of a coder. I have an image in my head and I want to see if it matches real-life.

I’m not entirely sure all coders have a typical day, but one might be in the midst of working on a new feature for an iPhone or an Android app that entails location awareness, or image processing after a photo has been uploaded to a server. These features can be broken down into tasks or tickets where a team of designers, testers, coders, and project managers work on them in a collaborative back and forth manner until they are complete and vetted. Often times, coders don’t write code from scratch and spend time rewriting code written by someone else to fix bugs.

In my experience, young people mostly go into law for two reasons: Either a family member is a lawyer and they want to follow suit, or they want to “change the world.” What are some of the reasons one would dream of being a coder?

To change the world faster. Compared to “force of law,” “force of code” is arguably more widely impactful and influential. Code, written by a person or by teams of people at places like Facebook, Google, Twitter, and Uber, is highly impactful. The chances that a young person will have more influence by code is greater than it is by law, and the process moves a lot more quickly.

Cryptocurrencies, for example, are based on the concept of a blockchain running on computers around the world. In less than a decade since its advent with Bitcoin, more than 100 billion dollars have flowed into the market, and it is now on the doorsteps of upending the world of finance, and potentially law, with Ethereum. These projects were started and maintained by small teams of coders with insight and understanding of a variety of social issues.

Do you believe the impact on your community is bigger with code than with law?

This could be a toss-up. It largely depends on your involvement in the community. Coders can contribute to open source software and can get involved in teaching others how to code or volunteer their time.

We here at ROSS obviously believe AI is an indispensable tool for lawyers. Tell me how you feel about AI and law — and AI in general.

I believe in the Marc Andreessen statement, that “Software is Eating the World.” AI is very much a part of it. Since transitioning to software development, I can easily see that computing is merely a tool to solve human/social problems — so as AI gets better, it will help advance law and society in ways that we have not imagined. Research, for example, will get better, and easy access to data can better assist judges/lawyers/clients to proper resolution in cases.

What is your favorite tech gadget you own and why?

My MacBook Pro, simply because I’m on it so much.

Please look into your crystal ball… what will coding look like in 20 years?

I think coders will still be doing similar things, like working on user interfaces and making the web better. There will likely be more AI-related work in terms of training AI models so that computers can be used to solve novel problems.

Are you still biking in LA? Do you find it weird that people find that weird? I sure do.

I do still bike in LA, and it’s one of my favorite things to do! People do find it weird, and there’s tons of baggage in terms of class and culture when it comes to the mode of transportation you take in the city. Biking in Los Angeles isn’t as bad as you would think, but it still has ways to go.

Legal Tech Lives Will Ha

You have spent much of your adult life in California. Tell me what you think of East Coast folks and why there is such a big East-West divide.

I look at folks from the East with fascination. In many ways, much of the traditional culture originates from the East, fueling the East Coast bias for many things. But, as someone from the West, I don’t really worry about it too much.

What is the best part about living in LA… and the worst part? Have you ever come across celebrity who impressed you?

The best part of living in Los Angeles is coming in contact with the different pockets of food and culture, along with the relatively easy access to the outdoors. The worst part is the traffic and geography. The celebrities are OK — nothing to write home about.

And finally, here is the one question we ask everyone: what non-work-related tech would you like to see invented right now?

I think a truly autonomous vehicle set for mass adoption would be nice. I wouldn’t have to worry about human drivers while biking to work.

True. No AI road rage… yet!

Ava Chisling

Ava is an award-winning lawyer and editor who counsels creative types, writes about pop culture/tech+law and sometimes creates ad campaigns. She is Quebec counsel for Momentum Law.