Can we (or should we) open source the legal profession?

When it comes to sharing of knowledge and tools, there is a common perception that legal professionals are not very good at sharing of its valuable knowledge and resources. Whereas the common perception (one which I used to hold) is that the tech industry is much better at sharing than the legal profession. For me, the foundation of this belief is the prevalence of open source development and distribution of code which has taken over the world in the last decade, to the point that many of the modern software applications would not run at all without them. In contrast, the legal profession seemed to have a common practice of rivalry and secrecy.

I had an interesting discussion on this topic of sharing of knowledge and open sourcing with John Scrudato last week. On top of his day job, John has been working on an open source tool for lawyers to annotate and share labelled data. It was John that pointed out that legal professionals do share a lot of valuable knowledge and resources, but that they may not be as portable as code – all the case laws, template documents, opinions, and commentaries that legal experts release to the wild are as powerful in their own arena as any open source codebase in fulfilling its purpose.

In this 30 minute conversation, John and I chat about the unusual topic of the role of open sourced software for legal. Our conversation traverse these topics:

  • what would make legaltech “seamless” for lawyers
  • pros and cons of point solutions vs platforms
  • do legal professionals “open source” their resources
  • why would someone open source legaltech code
  • what lessons about sharing can the legal profession learn from the tech industry
  • why “selfish altruism” makes sense for technology entrepreneurs
  • does open sourcing threaten lawyers – collaboration, competition or “coopetition”
  • open source projects for law, like:
  • where does John’s “open source low-code tool” fit into the legaltech ecosystem
  • how do we leverage legal data for data-driven law
  • how can we encourage people to share code for the legal profession

One of our favourite quotes that captures why open source makes sense for legal use cases was:

“… there is a donut hole in the middle, where you have some kind of automation project or problem, where you can do it with code and you can do it pretty easily, and you can do it on a scale where for human it would be a pain in the butt. Right, like, I’ve got 500 or 1,000 documents, no one is going to build a business off that, and it might be one of those situations where it’s so specific that a multi-purpose platform probably, no matter how good it is, isn’t going to be suited to it. That’s the donut hole.”

Timestamp 22:35

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