You Get What You Pay For, Part 27

In this post on his eLawyering Blog, Richard Granat considers various online sources of free, or nearly free, form contracts. He begins his post as follows:

Legal forms, without the legal advice or assistance of a lawyer, continue to decline in value. As a pure digital product, a legal form follows the price curve of other digital goods eventually approaching zero. Several new start-ups in the legal industry will accelerate this trend.

I posted a comment. If you don’t feel inclined to track it down, here’s what I said:

Richard: This post assumes that legal forms are a commodity. They most certainly aren’t.

Even that most rudimentary of contracts, the confidentiality agreement, raises very subtle issues and can be adjusted innumerable ways to reflect different circumstances. Furthermore, the language used can fall anywhere along a spectrum from incoherence to rigorous clarity.

So if anyone offering contracts online wants to attract sophisticated users as opposed to ill-informed consumers, they’d have to offer the following: (1) technology that allows for a decent amount of customization; (2) content that provides a decent amount of customization; (3) substance that addresses the issues comprehensively; (4) guidance as to choices offered; (5) language that complies with a rigorous set of standards; and (6) credentials suggesting that it would be reasonable for users to take the leap of faith required to use their service.

There’s plenty of dubious stuff out there. Take, for example, Rocket Lawyer’s confidentiality agreement, which I reviewed in this blog post. Or DLA Piper’s “Document Factory,” which I reviewed in this blog post. And in 2007 I wrote about docstoc in this blog post.

I haven’t written about any of the other services you mention. I might if any of them attracts sufficient attention. To do so, I think they’d have to come closer to meeting the criteria outlined above.

I like to think that my own venture, Koncision Contract Automation, is the only one that comes close. But putting together Koncision product (currently just a confidentiality-agreement template) involves too much effort, in terms of developing the technology and formulating the content, for us to be able to offer it for a song (other than when running various promotions). If people want this sort of quality, it comes at a price. And although that price is a bargain, it’s not nothing.

I have no idea which services, if any, will attract sophisticated users. But one shouldn’t have any illusions as to what’s currently out there.

Ken

Richard intends to respond to my comment; I’ll let you know if he does.

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.