The Impactfulness of Generational Collaborationalism in Lawspace

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:

The new generation of #startup and #lawyers taking matters into their own hands #innovation #legaltech #law 

#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.

19 thoughts on “The Impactfulness of Generational Collaborationalism in Lawspace

  1. Billy Bob

    Innovationismality?!? Hey, hey, hey. Maybe Paris Hilton can explain Hell-ay-nah? In which case, she too may be appointed to the board of directors. Wouldn’t that be the Cat’s Meow. The world is rapidly becoming devoid of “meaning”, unfortunately for you dinosaur lawyers and public pretenders. We #feeelyourpain!

  2. PDB

    Whenever I see the word “influencer,” I know that the person who is writing has nothing relevant to say. And, let’s see, I see the word “influencer” in paragraph 1 of page 2 of the presentation – 29 words into the document. Aaaaand, I’m done.

    FYI, I’m 31, so no Scott, you’re not out of touch.

    P.S. You see this kind of thing in law schools these days, where people have both a laptop and a tablet, and they make an audio recording of the lecture (as well as transcribing every word with an external keyboard), as if adding more technology will make you a better law student. Some of us still used pen and notebook though…

    1. SHG Post author

      When legal tech people reach out to me for my opinion (by which, they want me to write something here about how groovy they are), and I get an earful of gibberish, I tell them to explain it to me in English. They have no clue what I’m talking about. Words like “influencer” are real words to them. They don’t get me. I don’t get them.

  3. Keith Lee

    Of course, the day after I wrote this I received the following email, which I edited for their anonymity:

    “Hi Keith,

    I read your article “There is NOT an Explosion in LegalTech” and am curious to know what you think about NEW STARTUP. It was founded by SOME YAHOO and is the first and only open, online marketplace for legal professionals and law students to DO THIS THING THAT’S BEEN TRIED A DOZEN TIMES AND ALWAYS FAILED. I think both you and your readers may find it to be a valuable resource and I’ve attached a press release with more information ; I’ve also copied the body of it below.

    Please let me know if you have any questions.”


    1. SHG Post author

      I get those all the time too. I respond with my fee schedule for my legal tech consulting services.

      1. Ross

        Is that the schedule that starts at $1500/hr? That sounds like a reasonable amount, given the difficulty of convincing the earnest startup folks just how stupid they are.

        Years ago, I helped an attorney friend increase his firm’s use of technology(basic word processing, document management, billing, etc), and did some thinking about the potential for selling technology service to law firms as a business. I realized pretty quickly that once you get past basic practice management, timekeeping, accounting/billing, document management and search tools, there’s not a lot of potential for anything disruptive or game changing. I am not sure why the startups don’t see that, other than they are blinded by a belief in their own brilliance.

          1. Jim Ryan

            Too often technology and technologists look at the pureness of numbers, 1, 0. On a blank slate they look very clean and they are what computers ultimately work with. How can you not immediately sign-on/invest and not think that this latest piece of hardware/software is the cats meow. When those numbers are translated to/from the people world, they lose something in the translation, similar to the old story (true or not) of translating English to Russian and back again through a machine:
            The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak
            The liquor is strong but the meat is rotten.
            But in Helena’s case, it seems just plain stupid.

  4. losingtrader

    I read the pdf and it’s clear Helena is …”a massive global impact engine.”
    I think it took Superman to destroy the last one of those.
    Anyone have a spare black hole to suck in this World destroyer?

  5. Larry

    Perhaps its unfair to put all innovationismators into the Helena Bucket, but I see very similar fluff in the computer software industry. It, too, used to be a profession of sorts, until it became dominated by marketing.

  6. DaveL

    How is this innovation? Scamming gullible investors out of their money with “startups” that have neither a viable product nor a realistic business plan is nothing new.

  7. Sabine

    You would think that, with all the brilliant minds at Helena, they would know the proper phrase is “effect” a change.

  8. Thomas Downing

    I’m curious. They seem to find it significant that half of Helena is under 25, and half over 25. That leads me to wonder?

    1. Are people 25 years of age, a) useless, b) too useful for Helena, c) there are no such people.

    2. What happens over time? a) we fire those fantastic agents of change on their 25th birthday, b) we execute an over 25 to make way as the under 25 age, c) aging and other changes are societal and ecological problems, so Helena has stopped time.

    On the other hand, it’s hard to argue with what seems to be the business plan, buy and sell influence. The method outlined on Page 10 might, to the careless reader, seem to be pretty much the way anything gets done. Such a reader cannot be forgiven for missing the truly innovative part, it’s stated twice: “Broad, large scale Helena initiatives”. Helena initiatives. Now I understand.

  9. Dragoness Eclectic

    Reading the article, it appears that Helena is a think tank, a lobbyist company, and/or a plot by the Illumnati to take over the world.

  10. MelK

    They blew it, and yet used their screw-up to promote their “commitment to transparency.”

    What is “transparency”, if not “revealing to (someone) what might normally be kept concealed”? I think your complaint would better be targeted at the fact they only became “transparent” after they had already taken steps to correct the problem and thus limit the damage.

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