RoboCop

Ed. note: Frank H. Wu is the Chancellor and Dean of the University of California Hastings College of the Law. He’s currently sharing some of his thoughts about legal education and other topics here on Above the Law.

In the modern economy, we are trying to achieve with people what we have done with machines. We want individual workers to be “plug and play.” The term refers to computer equipment that can function immediately, without the need for elaborate set-up; you merely plug it into a power supply and it starts to play what it’s supposed to.

I have thought about, and startups are implementing, the delivery of legal services equivalent to ride-sharing services. Imagine a database that offered a list of lawyers whom you could meet in your area (if you even wanted to see them face to face), during a specific time period, with searchable specializations. If they were pre-cleared for conflicts and had set prices for particular tasks, the user would click to reserve an appointment and be all set.

Call it “Ziplawyer.” Apologies to Zipcar.

Maybe combine it with a ratings service. Behold: a new structure for the profession.

The model is great for consumers. It gives them information and options. The access to the marketplace fosters competition.

But the model also is advantageous for members of the bar. It allows solo practitioners who are tech-savvy to punch above their weight, as the saying goes. They can reach many more people than they could by traditional means, who need exactly what they have to offer.

Yet I am enthusiastic about these possibilities only to a point. I am reminded of Robocop 2….

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In fairness, only one legal story dominated the week. The Zimmerman verdict provided a new twist daily. It even got Kim Kardashian involved, which was a relief to the unwashed masses waiting to hear how a spoiled sex-tape star would react to a verdict at the intersection of race and gun policy.

But the most newsworthy verdict in years was not the only thing happening this week, regardless of what CNN would like you to believe…

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