Some Thoughts on wireLawyer

[Revised 9:00 p.m. EST, December 20, 2013, to make it less dismissive. Sorry about that.]

Once again I was drawn to Bob Ambrogi’s LawSites, this time for this post about wireLawyer. Here are the first two paragraphs of Bob’s post:

Back in October, I reported the beta launch of wireLawyer.com, which described itself as “the first dedicated digital network created by lawyers for lawyers” and as having “the first crowd-sourced peer-2-peer exchange for documents.” Neither claim was true and, at that point, there was not much to the site.

Now, wireLawyer has once again announced its launch in beta, putting out a press release proclaiming, “wireLawyer Launches First Online Professional Network for the Legal Community.” You have to wonder how a PR person can write a headline like that without at least Googling the claim. Have they really not heard of Legal OnRampMartindale Connected, or even the ABA’s ill-fated LegallyMinded? This is all the more surprising given that the site lists LexisNexis and Martindale.com as a “partner,” whatever that means.

The press release refers to how wireLawyer allows lawyers to “access thousands of peer-reviewed documents.” And in this comment to Bob’s post, Matthew Tollin, co-founder and CEO of wireLawyer, elaborated on that:

We have a very careful roll-out strategy where one product/feature leads into the next product/feature. Culminating in the first revenue-generating referral/split fee community. We started with the largest, most comprehensive and smartest contract database. They are not “canned legal forms.” In fact, we despise the legal template companies that rob innocent consumers everyday. Our system is real contracts by real lawyers for other lawyers- for FREE. Yes, some come from Edgar, but they come from numerous sources and the attorneys themselves. One of things that makes our system ‘smart’ is its search. Search is very difficult technology (although done well like google, this fact should be imperceptible). We simply have the best search engineers in legal tech.

Sure enough, wireLawyer’s home page features primarily a prominent search box with the heading “Search for a contracts.” Below the search box is the following statement: “Access millions of contracts and forms instantly. Smart search and peer-review features separate the good from the many.”

Users looking for precedent contracts might find wireLawyer useful. And I’m willing to assume, for the sake argument, that wireLawyer is the best source of free searchable contracts. (Thanks to a teaching perk, I use Lexis to search EDGAR, so I’m not in the market for their service.) I have a bigger issue.

There’s no shortage of precedent contracts. Instead, what’s lacking is contracts that are clear, suited to your needs, annotated, customizable, and not only reliable but also seen to be reliable.

A search function that gives you easier access to EDGAR just gives you more to wade through. That presents the user with a major quality-control problem. Most of what’s out there exhibits the dysfunction of traditional contract language. And you might well have no way of knowing who drafted a given contract, how competent they were, and what concessions are reflected in the document, and why. If you’re a sophisticated user, you’ll end up spending time searching through many alternative contracts and haphazardly selecting one or more. Then you’ll spend some time, or a lot of time, cutting and pasting, and revising, but likely you still won’t end up with a thing of beauty. If you’re not a sophisticated user and pick from among the contracts you find on wireLawyer, the odds are that you’ll end up with a contract that, to a greater or lesser degree, doesn’t suit your needs.

I don’t see any sign that wireLawyer has addressed these quality control issues; I don’t see how they could. Regarding the contracts that come from sources other than EDGAR, it would be helpful to know where they came from. And it’s not explained what wireLawyer’s “peer-review features” consist of.

So while users who don’t otherwise have access to EDGAR might find wireLawyer useful, it does nothing to address the problems that afflict traditional contract drafting.

As an objection, that might seem unfair—that I’m criticizing wireLawyer for not curing cancer. But the gap between what we have now and what is feasible isn’t that great, so I find myself frustrated by services, like wireLawyer and others, that offer just modest enhancements on a broken system.

But if you all you need is easier access to precedent contracts, wireLawyer might be for you.

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.