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Larry Ribstein has a great short
post over at Truth on the Market reflecting on the future of law, titled Waiting for the Steve Jobs of Law.
He notes, "Law is waiting for its
Steve Jobs (or Bill Gates)."
Actually, the computer market needed
both Steve and Bill. They goaded each other and yet supported each
other. Both Apple and Microsoft were stronger for the other's presence.
Imagine a legal world in which a
Steve Jobs defines a new standard of simplicity and aspiration. Apple was a
master at creating aspirational goods, things that people wanted to own.
These goods were priced considerably higher than competitive-function but
utilitarian equivalents, but not so high that they were out of reach for those
on the middle rungs of the economic ladder. The Steve Jobs of legal would
create elegantly simple legal solutions, such as contracts that didn't cover
every imaginable occurrence but expressed the core agreement with such clarity
and insight that the contracting parties gasp and say, "Yes! That's the deal!"
These solutions would be "expensive." The attorneys creating them would be
well compensated. And the parties to the solutions would feel brilliantly
served despite the fees. (The last item is largely missing today.)
Now add to that legal world a Bill
Gates who finds innovative ways to drive costs down while serving a broad
market. His legal solutions build on past work (of his own and of others),
innovate around the edges, fit a broad range of situations, and are available
at low cost to a large market. They too are quality goods. The solutions would be
relatively inexpensive, and the attorneys creating them would also be well
compensated via the leverage of creating it once and selling it many times.
(It's all largely bespoke or custom work today.) And the parties would feel
brilliantly served because they receive high value at low cost.1
Oh, and anyone with some programming
knowledge could add to the benefits. The Macintosh, its Apple II predecessors,
MS-DOS, and Windows were all open platforms for which anyone could write
software and add value. Even today, it's the third-party applications for the
iPhone/iPad/iPod that make Apple a powerful force. The Steve Jobs/Bill Gates
world of law would be an open system. That doesn't necessarily mean laypeople,
by the way; just because someone took a course in BASIC in college doesn't mean
they can actually create a computer program. However, it might well mean that
those who add to this system might do so on the basis of their skills rather
than via a bar system (pun intended).
I don't know the real answer, of course.
I'm not Steve or Bill, let alone the Steve or Bill of the legal world. I can
but imagine the outlines of such a brave new world, not it's true form, color,
But somewhere out there, maybe there
is a Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, or both, ready to re-envision the legal world.
It could be an exciting,
interesting, challenging, and high-value-for-clients time.
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1I'm oversimplifying considerably to make the metaphorical
point. Microsoft was more innovative than most people outside the industry give
them credit for. There are certainly detractors of both Microsoft and Apple
products, and those naysayers make some good points (along with a considerable
number of whiny errors). As for the low-price thing with both Microsoft and
Apple, consider that computers used to cost $4000 in 1985 dollars and
had little processing power, and that a standard word-processing or spreadsheet
program alone - there were no suites of programs such as Office - cost 500 of
those 1985 dollars. The original Macintosh was, if not a bargain, certainly
priced right in the middle of the market at the time and came complete with a
pretty good word processor.