Sometimes I think it’s me. I read what other people write, shake my head, and mutter to myself, “they didn’t say anything, and they murdered 1000 words doing so.” Nouns have become verbs. Adjectives wrap around every noun. Strings of jargon leading nowhere, saying nothing, are repeated paragraph by paragraph, changing their order without disrupting a damn thing. Am I just too old to get it?
Last week, I received a PDF presentation about “Helena,” a new startup boasting a 20-year-old Yale student CEO and connections—so they claim—to some of the most powerful and influential people in the world, from Stanley McChrystal to, uh, Selena Gomez. I spent the better part of last week trying to figure out what the company does—and I’ll level with you, man, I’m still not sure.
As far as I can tell, after having read the PDF deck (embedded at the bottom of this post, purportedly circulated by a PR rep working for Helena) multiple times, the company is a group of people who are doing something. That something appears to be “change,” although it’s unclear what they’re changing or how.
Sam Biddle’s post is hysterical. He’s met, level by level, with facial bullshit for the audacity of trying to find out what this promoted enterprise, named “Helena” for no discernible reason, does. It’s got money, backed by the baby-boss’ rich VC daddy, but no purpose. This may be the greatest business of all time.
As lawyers, we’re not supposed to be anywhere near as susceptible to gibberish as others. After all, we fight over the definitions of words all the time. Meaning is critical, and specific meaning spells the difference between lives in prison and fortunes won or lost. We know words. Or at least, we used to.
Two years ago, in a post here titled, A Time of Unprecedented Innovation in Legal Technology, I noted that Angel List, a site that lists startups of all kinds, included 412 companies identified as legal startups. Today, the number of legal startups included at Angel List is 1,094. That is nearly threefold growth in the number of legal startups in just two years.
Perhaps I spoke too soon two years ago. The legal industry continues to see innovation at a pace that far outdistances anything we’ve seen before.
That’s my pal, Bob Ambrogi, loving that New Normal of Reinvent Law disruptishness. So if the “legal industry” (when did we become an industry rather than a profession?) is seeing all this innovation, where is it?
The #legaltech crowd on Twitter exploded into a self-congratulatory circle jerk. Woo! Yay technology! Actual Tweet I saw:
#everywordisahashtag #aMillennialused”hashtag”asanadjectiveyesterday #OMG #Ialmostpunchedthemintheface #etc
That’s my other pal, Keith Lee. Keith is a lot younger than Bob. A lot. Certainly he, if anyone, can appreciate the paradigm shifts that a dinosaur like me can’t, right?
Initially, I sorted the 1,104 “legal startups” by number of followers. This seemed like the best way to look at the most prominent, active legaltech companies. That would give me an idea about the quality of the companies listed. So I started going through the companies.
At only the 6th company listed, I paused. LawPivot was acquired by RocketLawyer back in 2012. So they should be out of the running to be listed as a “legal startup” at this point. They should have been out of the running when Ambrogi made his initial post two years ago. But I guess it makes sense to have them listed for historical accuracy. Let’s go along with it for now.
But RocketLawyer sounds pretty cool. Rocket is a cool word and makes it seem all innovativish, right? Apparently, under the slogan, “legal made simple,” it offers forms and you can “ask a lawyer” questions. Which kinda sounds like LegalZoom, which offers forms too. Legal forms have been around forever, but they came from companies with uncool names, like Blumberg Legal Forms, so they weren’t disruptive at all. The word “Rocket” is a favorite of innovativish law companies, like Rocket Matter. I suspect the cool factor of the word is derived from childhood cartoons.
Not much further down the list I came across Lawpal, ranked as the 16th most popular/most followers on the list. I knew off the top of my head that Lawpal closed its doors at the end of 2014, never gaining any traction with their platform (read a good history at Quora here). Lawpal should definitely not count to a “tripling” of startups in just two years. Not a good sign when we’re only up to 16 on a list of over 1000.
Not a good sign at all. There appear to be three or four ideas that are repeated by one failed business after another, which in turn fail because, well, they have nothing to offer. Like Helena, they are long on meaningless jargon and devoid of substance. For reasons that elude me, guys like Ambrogi seem to believe that if you string enough adjectives together, that makes it a business worth taking seriously.
There are a few “legalspace” business that are real. LegalZoom and RocketLawyer, if people want to try DIY legal forms. Avvo, for lawyers who haven’t figured out how internet marketing works yet. Clio, which provides “law practice management software,” which I believe means they sell what we used to do with a yellow pad, but much shinier.
Then there are the old school businesses that have adopted tech.
Subscribers to Thomson Reuters Westlaw and hard-copy reporter volumes got a surprise last night: An email informing them that TR had erroneously omitted small portions of text from some 600 cases published since November 2014.
“As part of our commitment to transparency,” said the email from Andy Martens, global head of product and editorial, “I wanted to alert you to some errors related to publishing cases in Westlaw and our print volumes that we have now corrected.”
See what they did there? They blew it, and yet used their screw-up to promote their “commitment to transparency.” They should win a transparency award. If they really screw up, maybe they can shoot for a Nobel Prize!!!
We’re awash in a world of nonsense, lies and gibberish. Old lawyers can’t figure out what the hell they’re talking about, as the words make no sense to us, they don’t mean anything. We begin to assume that maybe it’s us, our failure to keep abreast of the whirlwind of innovation that the digital natives take for granted.
But then, a young guy like Keith comes along to show that we’re not nearly as out-of-touch as we might think, but that you people are just full of shit. And the worst part is that we’re all supposed to grasp that words need to have meaning or they’re just squiggly lines.
These legal space innovators respond that lawyers are averse to tech. Because it’s not like the tech magic can leave words out of caselaw that can destroy our clients’ worlds. They blame us for the fact that there are 1000 startups, and 995 failures. We just don’t get it. Helena gets it.
Want to be more Helena-ish?
P.S.: Old school concepts, like supply and demand, still matter. Just because you have a supply doesn’t mean you’re entitled to a demand. And if you can’t explain what you do in a sentence, then the only thing you supply is bullshit. Sadly, there is stupid VC money to fund it, which means that the age of innovationismality in law will persist.