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Technology takes over the Law

Our commercial world is becoming a cascade of EULAs:  End Use License Agreements, shrink-wrapping us and our rights and remedies into confirming to however the product or service offeror sees fit to treat consumers.  Not just software, but banking online, employment applications, job search sites, and even places where dinner reservations are made impose a daily diet of EULAs, beyond human reading capacity.

These agreements are so frequently a facet of our lives – a kindred spirit – that few of us read or have the time to read them.  So we “click-through” EULAs, unaware and seemingly uncaring of the risks, value-barter, and consequences of trusting merchants with consumer identity, credit card number, social security or their digital detritus from hours of browsing, dripping cookies through the cyberspace of disconnected lives connected for commercial and surveillance purposes through the Internet.

In a wired economy ruled by contract law speeding transactions faster and faster, the legal gymnastics of navigating what one’s rights are is attracting startups to build applications that can “read” what EULA or other document is being presented (e.g., EULAlyzer), interpret its variance from a “normal” contract or other document, and generate alternative verbiage as a negotiated compromise (e.g., Docracy).

Likewise, high legal fees for litigation drawn out over multiple years are being whittled down by various automated research and discovery services (e.g., Lex Machina for patents or Blackstone Discovery for litigation discovery), and mediation services to accelerate compromise or resolution of disputes in commercial, family and other litigation settings.

For lawyers, technology has moved beyond Microsoft Office’s Word  for creating documents, Excel for spreadsheets and Adobe PDF for storing documents.  Technology has now come to dominate the function of lawyering, and the tasksNYC Checker Cab that clients formerly paid only lawyers and paralegals to perform.

The technology-phobic lawyer, clinging to her barely “smart” Blackberry inside a New York City taxicab, may want to retool and reconsider the landscape created by technologies conquering the law.

The bedside manner of the national and state bar associations may not yet fully understand the profound changes coming to the practice of law.  To keep up with current trends, for starters, to glimpse into the future, check out Stanford University’s CodeX:  Center for Legal Informatics, where legal tech startup founders graze and launch from regularly.

Bruce Cahan

Bruce Cahan is CEO and co-founder of Urban Logic, a nonprofit that harnesses finance and technology to change how systems think, act and feel. He is an Ashoka Fellow, aa Lecturer at Stanford University's Department of Management Science & Engineering, a Distinguished Scholar at Stanford mediaX and a former CodeX Fellow at Stanford's Center for Legal Informatics. Bruce was trained as an international finance lawyer at Weil Gotshal & Manges in NYC (10 years) and as merchant banker at Asian Oceanic in Hong Kong (2 years). Bruce graduated The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania (B.S. Economics 1976) and Temple Law School (J.D. 1979). Bruce has been licensed to practice law in California (2006), New York (1980) and Pennsylvania (1980).

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