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As you’ve probably noticed, we’ve been delayed as of late here at RRH. Luckily, though, it’s not just because we’ve been sitting around in the living room and eating Funyuns. There’s been two big projects on the hopper:
* A First Project: We’ve been cranking on finding organizational partners and getting spun up to develop our first application that we’re planning on rolling out in early 2011. It’s looking like a neat little initial step in robotic lawyering. Stay tuned!
* Legal Hacking Conference: There’s also been some interest among folks in throwing together a potential legal hacking conference over the summer, in the vein of the geek conference classics like DEFCON or HOPE. The idea would be to bring together folks who are working on legal technology, but also generally doing awesome things in hacking around the constraints of the law. More news on that soon as well!
In the meanwhile, the partners have been watching the recent trend of investments in law suits with much interest. We’ve been putting a good deal of thought into the possibility of creating a commodified legal instrument that’d allow you to easily trade/sell/buy tort claims. This 7th Circuit case seems to permit it, though obviously more research/legal engineering would have to go into it.
The boys and girls over at ABAJournal are reporting on the dramatic emergence of lawyer-entrepreneurs chomping up huge amounts of cash to compete with law firms in a big way even as the economy continues to tank. Combined with the ongoing trend of Biglaw partners leaving their cozy homes to spin up smaller, more maneuverable firms, it’s the opinion of senior partners here at RRH (and some of our collaborators) that we’re finally approaching a big, bad, rootin’-tootin’ High Noon style shootout on a global scale in the coming few years. On one side, the still-powerful, still-highly-respected-but-slow incumbents. On the other, the relatively-nimble-and-fresh challengers.
For legal hackers and supporters of legal hacking, there’s both ideological and pragmatic reasons to get into this fight. Not on any one side, but on creating applications and services that aid both sides.
Ideologically, it’s clear at this early stage that neither side of this fight has it quite where the legal hacker wants it yet. Incumbents are a natural opponent since they are relatively less progressive with regards to technology. But, the challengers are only partially on the side of legal hacking. While wanting to update the legal system with shiny new hardware, it’s clear that they largely want to just replicate the same old services and activities, but just cheaper, faster, and more efficiently (as indicated by some of the strongest boosters on this front). That’s pretty narrow thinking, and RRH thinks that it’s evident in how little gets talked about innovating on top of the law among both incumbents and challengers. It’s clear in the lack of real research and development even as the two teams gear up for a clash.
That being said, the conflict itself fuels a demand for the kind of research and development that legal hackers want. Challengers are looking for new ways to outflank incumbents, and incumbents are looking for ways to plug holes against the threats of challengers. Effectively, there’s a meta-market emerging to demand legal arms dealing, early-stage innovation for products that can be scaled-up and put into play in the emerging conflict over legal services. In some ways, this meta-market gets around the oft-cited problem that it looks like clients really aren’t playing a role in pushing things ahead. The very nature of competition over market share between incumbents and challengers creates the engine for technological development to occur, regardless of what clients are looking for.
Beyond being a great opportunity from the business angle, the disruptive aspects of supporting both sides opens a wedge for broader thinking and innovation to enter, so it’s worth finding ways to grease the wheels of collision. Engineering the proper tools can permit a disruptive and productive conflict between business models to deepen, but it can also cause the nature of the conflict itself to change.
Wow, so it’s been awhile. I’m writing here from the new world headquarters of Robot Robot and Hwang in beautiful, sunny Berkeley, California. The senior partners are being moved over on the bed of a truck from Boston as I write this, and we’re leased a gorgeous new office space in an Oakland server farm (we’re down the hallway from some friendly servers that run a neat little mom-and-pop web hosting service). As our partners start spinning their hard drives and getting plugged in with the area, you can expect that we’ll be posting more regularly from here on in.
In any case, while we’ve been on hiatus with the move — we’ve gotten some fair questions from the boys over at the ABA as to what exactly it is that RRH is doing, and what we’re looking to do in the coming months. The partners have asked me convey their view on this publicly, so I figure it’s worth setting down here on the blog.
In brief, RRH is premised on the idea that the law — inclusive of the law itself as well as the practice of it — is a type of a computer in the technical sense of the term: a programmable machine that receives input, stores and manipulates data/information, and provides output in a useful format.
Beyond being a neat metaphor to just consider, such an analogy opens the ground to take action on three things:
First, to mine the data itself. If law concerns the manipulation of data, there is room to bring in a universe of techniques that have been developed from other fields in dealing with and better understanding large datasets. From RRH’s perspective, this includes everything from statistical analysis and machine learning to graph theory and others.
Second, to creatively design applications that experiment with the legal computer. The processes of the law define a framework for what is permissible. However, creative engineering and development can design novel programs that are possible within existing frameworks and create entirely new behavior. The invention of the modern corporation, for instance, is perhaps the best example of this programming. The creation of “real” programs — like the introduction of peer-to-peer sharing technology — can also play a role in disrupting the typical operation of the legal computer.
Third, to bring (digital) technology itself into the operation of the legal computer. Insofar as the law has traditional methods that process and manipulate data, the much improved information technology of the past decade may be useful in augmenting or supplanting those traditional methods. It might also play a role in stabilizing the system as a whole against the efforts of actors that are deploying this technology to their advantage (I’m thinking here of automated collections law firms).
Our mission with all these three is to prototype on, advance the progress of, and provide thinking about how each of these elements plays out in practice. Hope that helps to clear things up! Feel free to leave any questions. In any case, we’re excited to get rolling — keep an eye on this space.