How you could sell a car in 2034 without a hefty contract

This article was originally published on LinkedIn as “How I sold my car in 2034“.

En Vauxhall bliver demonstreret af sælgeren

Prologue

Contracts are increasingly complex and difficult to navigate, even with recent efforts to simplify the language we use. Much of this is the result of efforts to express complex and interrelated legal and compliance concepts in words and since every legal writer has his or her individual style, the variations in contracts are staggering.

Recently one of my clients asked me for a single paragraph that somehow encapsulated a vendor contract. My response was that such a thing is extremely risky and not pragmatic. There is simply too much in a contract of that nature to adequately express in a single paragraph. Instead, I suggested a couple of options that streamlined the interface for the complete contract.

Later that night I thought about the request further and what it would take to create a “1 paragraph contract” for my client. I realised that such a thing would look very different to the contracts we have now. In fact, the path to a an effective contract that could be expressed in such a short form could lead to a radical overhaul of the broader legal and compliance environment that underpins almost everything we do.

Imagine that instead of expressing those complex and interrelated legal and compliance concepts in words, we reverse the process and establish a syntax to express those concepts more abstractly and yet in a way that still includes all that stuff the “fine print” is designed to cater for in our every day dealings? We could develop a new way of going about our business that doesn’t require lawyers writing pages of contracts that may still be susceptible to interpretational differences.

Going further, what if the way we contract ties directly into a broader contracts profile we all have from our first contract and which gives assurances as to what we can legitimately contract for? This is just the beginning of what could be possible. Legal frameworks could be developed, implemented and enforced programmatically. It would mean a radical transformation of the legal profession, possibly the end of much of the profession as we know it today. On the other hand, it would mean that people could go about their lives, dealing with each other with more confidence, far less uncertainty and without needing to spend so much on unintelligible legal fees.

The story below is a hypothetical scenario which should give you an idea of how this could work. Whether this scenario becomes a reality one day is another question altogether. I suspect that two developments will be key drivers: the so-called Internet of Things and cognitive systems like IBM’s Watson.

How I sold my car in 2034

I arranged to meet Andre on a sunny Sunday morning, 28 May 2034, to sell him my vintage car. I hadn’t met him in person before but I knew it was him because I received verification of his identity when we shook hands and sat down through an interaction between our CitIdents, the SmartNet and some or other authentication process my contract technician told me happens in the background. We met in a local teahouse and chatted while the waitron delivered our orders. Andre asked me about my run earlier that morning (my best time yet) and I congratulated him on his daughter’s latest masterpiece which he shared the night before. We then turned our attention to the deal we were about to make.

Andre kicked off the discussion with a quick data request to access the car’s entry in my Registry. He reviewed the car’s purchase and service history along with its logged mileage and general condition. It pretty much matched the data representation I posted with my sale ad the week before and he was also able to confirm that I was the car’s owner and entitled to sell it to him in the first place. He didn’t say anything but I suspect he also ran a quick valuation check through SmartNet to confirm my asking price was reasonable. This sounds like a lot but he finished his initial review in the time it took me to empty a sachet of sweetener into my tea and stir it.

He smiled and said he was comfortable with the car’s history and condition as well as my price. We exchanged data requests for access to the relevant portions of our contract profiles in our respective CitIdents (this has become standard practice when contracting these days). We both received confirmation that we had the necessary legal capacity to sell and buy the car (Andre’s verification included confirming with my bank that I have paid my vehicle finance and the bank had transferred ownership to me). Andre’s bank confirmed with me that he had sufficient funds to pay for the car on our agreed terms and established a payment link to my bank account for a one way funds transfer.

We decided, for the sake of tradition, to conclude our contract with a handshake. Our wrist tokens registered each other’s proximity as I said “I, Paul Jacobson, agree to sell you my car for our agreed price today.”. Andre smiled again and, in return, said “I accept your offer to buy your car today.”. With that our respective CitIdent’s registered the details of our agreement: the car being sold, our agreed purchase price, the current date and time as well as our verified identities. The SmartNet quickly polled our CitIdents for the further information it required to complete the legal and logistical aspects of our deal, advised the relevant local authorities so they could update their records and I received a data notification that the car had been removed from my Registry and transferred into Andre’s along with confirmation of the first of Andre’s payments.

We chatted a little more, finished our tea. Andre took a call from his partner and while he was chatting, I took a moment to review the transaction records newly associated with my CitIdent’s contract profile. Sure enough the sale was symbolically represented using the usual cheerful info-icons with the broad parameters of our transaction supplemented with the usual conditions, restrictions and permissions provided by the SmartNet’s latest contracts AI. The latest models finally introduced cross-jurisdictional compatibility between different regions’ contract models.

Andre finished his call, I sent payment to the waitron with a tip and thanked Andre. For a moment I couldn’t understand why the car didn’t respond to my proximity and unlock and then I realised it wasn’t mine any more. Senior moment. Since it was a lovely Autumn morning I decided to take a pod home and spend the rest of the day with my wife and children.

Smarter design for more efficient legal service delivery

The more I think about this challenge, the more I believe it is becoming a design challenge. In particular, I am really interested in how interaction design can be applied to digital risk management to revolutionise our legal and compliance interactions.

Alex Hamilton published a terrific post on the radiant.law blog about addressing legal service delivery inefficiencies. His post is titled “Creating Standards” and, although it is probably aimed more at lawyers, he touches on an important aspect of risk management:

Standard documents are a necessary, if not sufficient, start to fixing the inefficiencies of legal service delivery. For in-house teams in particular, pulling standards together, whether form agreements, playbooks or other tools, can be a real challenge; especially as the day to day reality of “more-for-less” overwhelms long term projects.

I’ve maintained for some time now that effective risk management is more than just about documents. The real value is in the insights that go into how legal frameworks are structured and how they function. Lawyers whose business models depend on selling contracts are going to find it pretty difficult to survive (if they aren’t already). I keep seeing new services popping up online which offer more and more sophisticated legal document assembly options (one of my clients is doing some very interesting work in this space) which are becoming easier to use and much more affordable than conventional legal services.

Developing smarter legal frameworks has a lot more to do with knowledge and information management with an emphasis on smarter solutions. radiant.law is part of a new wave of legal services firms which place more emphasis on value and discarding convention that exists for its own sake. I think my eyes roll involuntarily every time I hear a lawyer object to something I propose merely because what I suggest runs contrary to “the way things have always been done”.

Many lawyers are stuck in mind-numbing ruts. They resort to laborious workflows and document models with little thought about whether they are still relevant or whether there are more effective solutions for clients’ solutions. One of the other blogs I subscribe to is Adams on Contract Drafting through which Ken Adams challenges legal writing conventions and approaches. I find myself reading contracts I receive from other lawyers to review and even many of my older document models and becoming increasingly frustrated with convoluted and repetitive language. One of my mantras at the moment is “simplicity” and each time I work through a legal document, it becomes an opportunity to simplify the wording and structure.

It doesn’t stop there. The process of simplifying your digital risk management extends to technologies you use to manage your resources. I like Hamilton’s suggestions to use search to index and organise; wikis to constantly improve your framework models; treat your legal framework development model like an open source development model and “release early, release often” and, of course, create better standard document models.

Inefficient legal service delivery is increasingly a design challenge. In particular, I am really interested in how interaction design can be applied to digital risk management to revolutionise our legal and compliance interactions. This video titled “Connecting“, below, blew my mind about a year ago. I think it hints at a possible future for the work people like Hamilton and I do.

Is your marketing strategy diabetic?

One of the behaviours I haven’t really understood completely is why agencies and their clients don’t seem to grasp the importance of adequate legal frameworks to effectively support their social marketing and collaborative business initiatives? What has been clear is that very few marketers understand just how important it is to have good legal advice and frameworks and they frequently use something that looks right so they can tick the legal compliance box. Unfortunately that isn’t a very good solution because even the best intentions won’t be much help if they are also woefully uninformed. Most marketers that we have dealt with seem to be aware of the need for some sort of legal structure for their work and yet they just don’t take sufficient steps to understand their risks and cater for them. My recent diabetes diagnosis came to mind as an interesting analogy which I explore in this post.

One of the behaviours I haven’t really understood completely is why agencies and their clients don’t seem to grasp the importance of adequate legal frameworks to effectively support their social marketing and collaborative business initiatives? What has been clear is that very few marketers understand just how important it is to have good legal advice and frameworks and they frequently use something that looks right so they can tick the legal compliance box. Unfortunately that isn’t a very good solution because even the best intentions won’t be much help if they are also woefully uninformed. Most marketers that we have dealt with seem to be aware of the need for some sort of legal structure for their work and yet they just don’t take sufficient steps to understand their risks and cater for them.

This conundrum inspired me to use a personal health issue as an oddly apt metaphor for what seems to be going on at last week’s Advertising and Marketing Law Conference. For about as long as I can remember, I haven’t paid much attention to what I have eaten or been too concerned about how much I have exercised. My idea of going to gym until about December 2012 was making sure I visited enough times to retain my discounted membership through Discovery Vitality (Discovery isn’t paying me for this post or is even aware of it). I should have paid more attention because my family had a pretty long history of diabetes, high cholesterol, cancer, heart disease and one or two other conditions. I was also advised to cut back on my sugar intake a couple times over the years and I agreed there was merit in doing that but the risk just seemed to be too remote.

My Story

On about 5 February 2013, my wife and I went for a Vitality assessment. I thought the result would be similar to last year’s assessment where my key metrics were ok (except for slightly elevated cholesterol) except I expected to learn that I had lost some weight due to increased water intake since December and a couple substantive gym sessions over the holidays. I did see a couple differences between my February assessment and my May 2012 assessment. My weight was down (about 3kg), so was my waist measurement and body mass index measurement but my cholesterol was up about 0.7 mmol/l and, more significantly, my blood glucose was up from 5.5 mmol/l last year to 15 mmol/l in February. The norm is between about 4 mmol/l and about 6.5 mmol/l. That was alarming but, not understanding how this works at the time, I attributed that to not having fasted before the assessment and having had two cups of tea with two spoons of sugar that morning. Just the same, I was told to go for a fasting test the next morning to check.

The next morning, I went for a fasting pin-prick blood glucose test at my local pharmacy clinic and the test revealed about 13.1 mmol/l. Clearly something wasn’t right and I called my GP who ordered me in right away for further tests. He came back to me the next day with a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes (no doubt about it) and a test result of 12.7 mmol/l with a medium term average of over 8 (if I remember correctly). My life changed almost immediately. I started exercising more frequently and regularly, changed my diet almost completely and started testing myself and tracking my progress (my diabetes seems to be under control, thankfully). I also discovered that what I thought was a slightly elevated cholesterol level is actually far too high in conjunction with my diabetes and that places me at risk of something called metabolic syndrome.

Now, almost four months later, I am in better shape than I have been in decades (literally). My diabetes is with me now for the foreseeable future and I have to be pretty vigilant about my diet, injuries and a variety of other risk factors. On the whole, I am better off than I was at the beginning of the year but this was not something I expected to have in my life at 37.

Diabetic Marketing

So what does this have to do with social marketing? It occurred to me that what most marketers are doing is analogous to what I did for years. I see the big contributor to my diabetes onset as being unrestrained consumption. In a sense, this is what marketers active on the social Web are doing too. They work in a fascinating and engaging space and often do so with little regard to the legal consequences of their campaigns. Marketing online seems to be perceived as being immune to conventional risks and I often read advice from prominent agency “gurus” who speak about how various forms of engagement can address discontent and cure a brand’s problems. I’m too young to remember much of the 70s but when I think about what the hippies of the 60s and 70s must have been like, I look at some of these apparently authoritative marketers and social media strategists because they may as well have flowers in their hair when they talk to their clients.

That said, there are many instances where positive feedback on Facebook or a “Hi Bob, please DM us your email address and we’ll resolve your complaint” direct message on Twitter can defuse a sticky situation but the world is more complex than that and so are the people who have varying expectations of brands. Sentiment in a tweet can ravage a company’s share price and this can literally happen in seconds as many traders increasingly rely on artificial intelligence and automatic sentiment analysis for share trades, let along human traders reacting to humans coming together under a share #Acmebrandsucks hashtag. Reputational risk is only one of the many risk factors marketers need to be mindful of and they just don’t have the knowledge to anticipate and cater for a growing number of legal and compliance requirements and considerations that apply to their work as much as a traditional offline marketer (if such a beast still exists in large numbers).

We were privileged to listen to Michael Judin speak about corporate governance issues relating to the social Web and one of the principles he highlighted under the current Companies Act was the Business Judgment Rule (Samantha Buchler wrote about the rule in a post titled Business Judgment Rule – Valuable Protection for Directors Against Liability on the Jacobson Attorneys website) which comes to the assistance of directors who conduct a reasonable degree of due diligence in carrying out their duties. Directors who fail to do so, could find themselves in some pretty hot water under the Companies Act (penalties can include personal liability and prison sentences). This rule highlights the potential and very real risks to company directors who fail to inform themselves about their legal compliance and governance requirements as well as the risks their companies face through poorly informed marketing campaigns. The rule also highlights the extent to which marketers acting on behalf of these companies could find themselves liable for their failure to take reasonable steps to inform themselves about the legal ramifications of their work and the potential impact on their clients.

Put another way, not taking an active interest in the legal risks and possible consequences of their unrestrained consumption could leave companies and their agencies unnecessarily exposed to liability, monetary losses and reputational harm. This is a case where, like diabetes, prevention can be more effective than the cure but it requires diligence, entrenched processes and educating yourself (or even taking good advice from experts in the space). Taking steps to manage the fallout after an incident may be enough to keep a company standing (and often provides fodder for revealing case studies) but is it enough to say “We’ll just take our medicine if this goes badly, not that it will because we know what we are doing”?

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p>I love the social Web. It is a diverse, dynamic and exciting space where people can engage in so many different ways. It is a fun space to be in but there are real-world implications too. The question to ask yourself, as a company representative or marketer, is whether you are doing enough to educate yourself about the risks and are taking informed and calculated risks? If the answer is no, it is probably just a matter of time until you receive a rude awakening like I did in February 2012.

Thoughts about legal frameworks in the near future

A couple photos from the Deloitte Tech Trends 2013 event

We attended the Deloitte Tech Trends 2013 event at the Wanderers Club yesterday. It is an annual event and we had an opportunity to hear from several Deloitte executives, including Mark White, Deloitte’s Global CTO. Although the discussion focused on technology trends and how businesses are (and can) incorporate them into business processes (the emphasis was on business-driven technology implementations, not just technology for its own sake), we couldn’t help but think about the implications for legal frameworks and how law may be applied in a near future era of billions of smart and connected devices.

We created a Storify which is basically a stream of consciousness as we thought the process through in 140 characters at a time.