At the recent ReInvent Law NYC conference, one of the speakers, Abe Geiger, founder and CEO of Shake, used an apt term that I’d never heard before: “tiny law.” As I understood the phrase, “tiny law” refers to all of those day-to-day contractual arrangements consumers enter into every day – only through standardized forms or handshakes or oral agreements rather than formal written contracts. And that’s the raison d’être of Shake: to help formalize those millions of tiny law transactions in a simple but custom agreement generated on a mobile device.
Will Shake displace lawyers, particularly solos and smalls who are most likely to handle “tiny law” problems? At least one piece by William Peacock, from a few months back, suggested that Shake could pose a threat to lawyers. But from a solo or small perspective, Shake is actually a godsend….
Shake gives solos and smalls a tool to recommend to clients. What most people don’t realize is that most solos and smalls don’t want to handle “tiny law” matters. Given the value at stake in these transactions, it’s difficult to justify the cost of hiring a lawyer even for review.
Other times, clients will ask if a lawyer can simply give them a template to use at no charge — or to review an already drafted agreement, which can create malpractice liability exposure. For these reasons, creating an app to help parties enter into a transaction won’t displace solos, but instead serves a market that never wanted to hire lawyers to begin with.
Fixed is another tech tool that falls into the tiny law category. According to TechCrunch, Fixed enables you to contest a parking ticket — again, something that usually isn’t worth the cost of hiring a lawyer (hard to find a lawyer who will charge less than the $25-$100 amount of the ticket). Although Fixed may raise issues of unauthorized practice of law — some jurisdictions may only permit lawyers to represent a consumer, even on just a parking ticket — I don’t view it as a threat to solos, because parking tickets are also “tiny law” matters.
Even in a perfect world of unlimited resources, hiring a lawyer for tiny law transactions probably wouldn’t make sense. After all, why muck up a simple handshake deal with tomes of legalese, or waste $500 in fees to fight a $50 ticket that doesn’t result in points? Tools like Shake and Fixed solve these problems.
Carolyn Elefant has been blogging about solo and small firm practice at MyShingle.com since 2002 and operated her firm, the Law Offices of Carolyn Elefant PLLC, even longer than that. She’s also authored a bunch of books on topics like starting a law practice, social media, and 21st century lawyer representation agreements (affiliate links). If you’re really that interested in learning more about Carolyn, just Google her. The Internet never lies, right? You can contact Carolyn by email at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter at @carolynelefant.