There’s a Gold Rush of Legal Work Coming. Be Ready.

We’ll have to think like miners to get it. There's an apt analogy in the "crypto-mining" phenomenon. We think it's useful for reframing a lot of things.

Where’s the Rush?

The law is notoriously slow. Sometimes that’s okay–no one wants a hasty murder trial. Because its business is the law, the legal profession is also notoriously slow, both in operation and adaptation. But, software is eating the world and this means that the law and lawyers must adapt. Not because “disruption” is popular, but because law and order are critical to society.

There is a reason that we have “the right to speak to an attorney” upon arrest in the United States: laws are complicated. We, quite literally, do not expect the average citizen to understand them fully. And so we have lawyers, “officers of the court,” meant to counsel anyone dealing with that system which maintains order. And for cases important enough to life and liberty, you have a right to a lawyer.

Yet, as software keeps on eating, lawyers are falling further behind. This is a problem, because people aren’t getting help, and because lawyers don’t have the time to help if they wanted to. And this is not the kind of problem that can be solved by “going paperless.” Incremental improvements won’t do. We need a full perspective shift, because this isn’t a problem of old dogs and new tricks. This is a problem of scale.

To meet the scale of the coming need for legal help, we need to think about legal work more like the prospectors of old thought of mining. An apt analogy if we consider that the coming gold rush of legal work is born at the frontier of technology. But lawyers are here to help clients, not dig for gold. So, let’s help more people.

But first, let’s talk about “scale,” because we’ll need it to understand “where’s the rush?”

Will it Scale?

There is a reason that people in tech circles are obsessed with the notion of “scale.” The question “will it scale?” is asking this: will a way of doing things hold together as numbers increase? Can an idea, a service, tool, whatever, still function when a thousand people are using it every day? What about a million? What about a billion? Facebook and Amazon deal with problems in the Billions. (And governments deal in trillions!) You don’t have to do things to that scale, but scale does exist. Especially in digital.

The reason for this obsession with scale goes beyond the fact that more users = money. The obsession has to do with what it means to be eaten by software. When a service is digitized it is suddenly, at least technologically, possible to deliver that service to billions. Think about how many people you used to know personally who worked as taxi drivers. Now think if you’ve ever wondered to yourself “should I sign up for Uber to make an extra buck?”

Digital tools are built to let people do more stuff. Doing more stuff means more interaction, and collaboration, and buying, and selling. The power to do all of this stuff is instantly available to anyone with a smartphone, and doing it is still guided by laws. You have rights. But they are not always easy to enforce. There are also things you’re not supposed to do. Sometimes the things you are not supposed to do are outlined by a government, sometimes they are outlined in a “terms of service” contract. Which is actually a contract whether anyone in their right mind reads the whole thing before signing up, or not.

Regardless of how this makes you feel, more people are doing more stuff, and human stuff results in conflicts, and confusion. In court, this is why you get a lawyer. This is why people worry about “access to justice.” Talking to lawyers matters, and there are already millions of people who don’t get to do this because the system is broken.

And thus the need for full blown perspective shift. The problem is not that the legal profession needs to “go paperless” or get on Slack. The problem is the growing explosion of people who need their help, and the fact that there are only so many “billable hours” in a day and only so many lawyers. Current models simply cannot scale up to meet the need. Where there is such a mismatch, there is gold. When there is a coming explosion, there is a rush.

Mining for Good

The term “mining” has taken on a slightly different meaning in tech circles in the last few years thanks largely to Bitcoin, but that’s not what I mean here. I’m talking about pulling gold out of the ground kind of mining. The thing that drew so many dreamers west in the early days of the United States. And here’s where it lines up with the needed perspective shift for lawyers… none of the prospectors staking claim to a patch of land, hoping to strike gold, were thinking of the world in terms of billable hours. These prospectors, breaking ground in the frontier, were thinking of the world in terms of how much gold can we get out of the ground in any given hour. Not how many hours will it take to get “the usual” amount of gold out of the ground. No one even knew what the usual amount of gold was. But they knew that when they found it they held value in their hand.

The value in our hand is now abstracted into the notion of money, filtered through layers of paychecks and banks. In this system: we do work, we get paid. Lawyers get paid, a lot. Because the service they provide is important. But, a vast majority of the time, that service boils down to this: giving advice. In giving advice, there is gold.

As it happens, the same tools that let us build the Internet are really useful for allowing people to give other people advice. In some cases it looks like Twitter, in some cases it looks like Stack Overflow, or GitHub, which are both examples of places where programmers have found ways to work together and help one another with remarkable effectiveness.

At Juris, we’re learning from the tools programmers use, and building tools for lawyers to help more people, and help one another. (Picks and shovels anyone?) And we want lawyers to feel more like miners. These tools do not require that we charge by the hour. They do not require that we double bill. They do not require that we rent an office with a fancy conference room. And by breaking this dynamic we are able to incentivize a system to solve for the most help provided, and not the most time spent on a problem. And this is where we hold gold in our hands. This is mining. But we’re digging for the amount of help we can provide, not gold.

Make sense? Join us. Get digging.

~ Adam

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