Trickle Up Technology

I heard a lot of grumbling from BigLaw attendees at Reinvent Law NY about the consumer legal app commercials sprinkled in and amongst the other presenters.  The easiest and most common target was Shake.

Shake is an app for creating legal contracts on the fly from your phone. You answer a few simple questions, the contract is compiled, you can review it and sign right on the phone, then hand your phone to the other party to sign, or email it to them. Simple consumer level document automation in your pocket, resulting in legally binding agreements.  Boy, I wish I had Shake back in my freelance theater days.

But the most frustrating comment I heard was, "Yeah, I guess it's cool, it's just not relevant to what we do." And I heard this from respected, intelligent, forward thinking people in our industry. 

For the sake of argument, I will grant that in it's current form this particular app is not relevant to BigLaw.  However, I beg you to look beyond the app's current use. Look just beyond the shiny, colorful, consumer friendly UI, and imagine the possibilities. Imagine sitting in a contract negotiation with a similar app, tapping in negotiated points on a tablet as the app highlights potential concerns for further discussion. Then at the end of the meeting imagine emailing both sides preliminary agreements to be poured over by their armies of attorneys. What corporate counsel wouldn't love that?  What firm is going to give it to them?  Why does it have to be a law firm?  Why not Shake?
I don't know anybody at Shake, but they seem like pretty smart people.  Their stated mission is "to make the law accessible, understandable and affordable for consumers and small businesses." In other words, "don't worry BigLaw, we're not coming after you." But scroll down below their mission statement to their Principals and Beliefs and you will begin to get a whiff of much greater ambition.
  • We are not afraid to be bold, push the envelope, and challenge the status quo
  • We are driven by what legal transactions can and will be, not what they have been historically
  • We value innovative design and superior user experiences
  • We are a technology company solving a legal problem, not a legal company trying to understand technology
  • We believe that the legal market is 1) huge 2) inefficient and 3) underserved by technology and 4) begging for change
  • We believe that significant change in the legal industry will be driven by consumers and small businesses, not by lawyers and law firms
Every law firm should create their own list of Principals and Beliefs and immediately adopt the first, second, third, and fifth bullets directly from Shake's list. But make no mistake, bullets four and six are shots across our bows. Shake may not seem relevant to you right now, and I bet they like it that way.

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James Partridge said...

Great observations, Ryan. I think a critical point many of the Shake critics are missing (and I admit, I was one of them at ReInvent Law) is that the reinvention of law is aimed at a market that is far broader than BigLaw. While perhaps not as sexy as BigLaw, the consumer nonetheless makes up a sizeable component of the market. And, unlike typical large law firm clients, the consumer is often priced out of the marketplace. Technologies like Shake will play an important role in providing this constituency access to legal resources previously reserved for big business. Once that happens, as you said, everyone will benefit.


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