Some Thoughts on the iPhone App “Shake”

Last week the law-and-technology claque on Twitter was abuzz with news of Shake, an iPhone app that allows you to “Create, sign and send legally binding agreements in seconds.”

Here’s Shake’s statement of purpose:

Think back to the last time you signed a legal agreement. Did it stress you out? Did it make you feel uncomfortable? Did it cost you a lot of money? If you’re like us, you probably answered YES to most of those questions. It’s a shame and it doesn’t need to be this way.

Our mission is to make the law accessible, understandable and affordable for consumers and small businesses. We want to empower our users to share ideas, goods, and services without the fear of being stiffed for a freelance gig or putting their business at risk.

I don’t have an iPhone, so what I know about Shake is based on an exchange of emails with Abe Geiger, Shake’s founder and CEO, and a telephone conversation with Abe and Vinay Jain, Shake’s “head of legal.” My thanks to them for taking the time to speak with me.

I can’t say anything specific about the process you go through to create and sign a contract on Shake, but it does seem quick and simple.

Regarding the measure of customization offered, Abe told me that when creating a confidentiality agreement, the user is asked to specify the party names, the governing law and jurisdiction (both the same state), and the purpose (out of three alternatives). Creating a freelance agreement requires answering a greater number of questions. (By comparison, anyone completing the questionnaire for Koncision Contract Automation‘s confidentiality-agreement template might, for a medium-complexity transaction, end up answering around 80 questions.)

Regarding the content offered, Abe sent me a confidentiality agreement that he created using Shake. It consisted of 12 short sections that would fit on a single page of a Word document. I could take issue with how some issues are handled, and I could take issue with some of the language used, but that would be beside the point.

It would be beside the point because when assessing Shake, you have to consider the target users—freelancers and early-stage startup companies who are unwilling or reluctant to retain lawyers and who would use Shake for simple transactions. That being the case, it makes to sense to offer limited customization, and there would be no need to get too finicky about the language.

I have two reservations about Shake. First, it doesn’t take much for a contract to get complex, and I’m not sure that Shake’s target users are equipped to know when it would advisable for them to consult a lawyer. Once a company is more mature, mistakes made early on can come back to haunt it.

And second, using someone else’s contract language requires a leap of faith. To be plausible, any vendor would ideally not only be expert, but also be seen to be expert. I’m not sure that Shake meets that standard yet.

But if you assume that Shake’s target users wouldn’t otherwise consult a lawyer, I’d be inclined to recommend that they use Shake rather than, say, LegalZoom or Rocket Lawyer.

As regards how lawyers should view Shake, tweets about Shake mostly parroted heavy-breathing language from this post on the FindLaw Legal Technology Blog, namely the title, “We (Lawyers) Just Got Replaced By a Contract-Drafting App,” and, from the text, “lawyers of all ages, meet your new nemesis.”

Buried at the end of the post is a more measured assessment: “The threat to our livelihood is minimal … we hope.” I’d go further and say that any lawyer who is put out of business by Shake would have to be a scum-sucking, bottom-feeding scavenger (to quote the old joke).

About the author

Ken Adams is the leading authority on how to say clearly whatever you want to say in a contract. He’s author of A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting, and he offers online and in-person training around the world. He’s also chief content officer of LegalSifter, Inc., a company that combines artificial intelligence and expertise to assist with review of contracts.