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Legal Business

The Steve Jobs of Law?

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, or shape.

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.