Open sourcing legal documents

I thought I was being relatively radical and progressive when I wrote about how the approaching legal documents business singularity but it seems I was just joining a crowd of progressives. Two recent posts caught my attention recently which illustrate this growing trend.

In the first post, titled “Standardizing (vs. Reforming) Contract Drafting“, William Carlton talks about open sourcing legal documents by opening up law firm precedent banks to the general public. In his response to a post on Koncision blog arguing that legal documents open sourcing just isn’t happening in a meaningful way, Carlton said the following:

Ken, I really mean open sourcing, not crowd sourcing. The place to start (I think) is to simply “out” the template banks that every law firm keeps. 2007 was the dark ages, in web terms; it will not be possible to keep templates off the web much longer. And business lawyers shouldn’t try. (Prediction: the most successful won’t.) The profession should embrace transparency and move on to charging clients for counseling, negotiating, customizing. Not for unveiling the boilerplate.

Carlton points to news that international legal group, DLA Piper, reportedly intends dropping the walled garden around its precedents which it restricted to its clients (a major legal group already sharing its precedents with its clients). The Koncision post was partly in response to an earlier post by Carlton titled “Open Sourcing Legal Docs” which explores the idea of making legal precedents publicly available as part of a broader process of identifying best practices and almost standardizing sets of documents based on those best practices. Carlton concludes that post with the following observation:

And the legal profession will do just fine. Right now the industry is still behaving as though there is proprietary value in standard boilerplate documents, and the opposite is true: there is tremendous public value in the documents, and unleashing that value helps clients and lawyers alike. The sustainable proprietary value is in counseling what, when, how, and why not or why something else instead.

The other post which inspired this post is the second part of a series of posts titled “Developing CAD for Law” on the Contract Analysis and Standards blog. This second post talks about how legal documents have an almost modular construction and the goal of a contract development platform would be to take blocks of text or clauses that can be combined, forming coherent legal documents appropriate for specific circumstances. I pointed out a service which does something similar in my previous post. Another interesting approach is a comparative approach to certain types of documents aimed at distilling the best clauses to be incorporated into the intended document. The example I came across is a template for an End User License Agreement on the kiiac site.

This all points to an increasing shift away from document-based legal services to what the legal services business should be: applying legal knowledge to specific situations and formulating effective legal frameworks to meet clients’ needs. Legal documents become analogous to software applications with variable functionality. The real value is in the knowledge and skill that produces not only those applications but also develops the appropriate and broader framework.

I mentioned in my previous post that I will be releasing my documents under a Creative Commons license. I have selected the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 South Africa License for my documents and my first release under the “ legal docs” brand is an agreement for photographers which I published to the Facebook page yesterday evening. This first document is available for free although future documents be paid “apps”. I will expand this offering in due course to include a support model for these documents. The document is available for download and comes with an explanatory note:

Explanatory Note – Photographer Terms and Conditions

Photographer Terms and Conditions