Law entrepreneurs

Cite this Article
Larry Ribstein, Law entrepreneurs, Truth on the Market (May 24, 2010),

On Thursday I’ll be speaking at the Law & Entrepreneurship “Conference within a Conference” hosted by Law & Society at its annual meeting in Chicago.  Here’s my panel, also including Rob Beard, Brian Broughman and Erik Gerding. My topic is “law entrepreneurs.”  

My presentation will continue my speculation, begun in Death of Big Law, on the “legal information industry” that could develop in the aftermath of the demise of current models of delivering legal services.  Consistent with the theme of the mini-conference, I focus on opportunities for entrepreneurship in this new industry.  So the project might be especially intriguing for those, including the law school class of 2010, who might appreciate alternative employment opportunities.

The paper begins by discussing the forces that are giving birth to the new industry:  globalization, new information technologies, clients’ demand for cheaper law, and deregulation of legal services.

I then examine some possible ways to tweak the existing industry model based on customized advice to clients.  We can expect to see new ways to connect lawyers and clients, and ways such as outsourcing to substitute contracts for firms. Also expect new kinds of firms that can be sold to the capital markets and that combine law with other disciplines.

Then I look beyond legal advice to refashioning legal information into products.  Entrepreneurs might develop new ways to sell legal ideas, uses for contract templates, ways to standardize contract drafting, private development of new business associations, mechanized contract review and investments in legal think tanks that engage in research and development.  

The r & d idea could be of particular interest to law professors.  I consider the potential for a law version of “Bell Labs” that could privatize some of the research now happening in academia.  Good thing, too, because I’m not sure how much room will be left in the brave new world of legal information for research subsidized by law school tuition based on big law jobs that no longer exist.

Next step is revolutionizing litigation.  I try to run, or at least walk, with the idea of litigation as an exploitable asset.  I consider potential opportunities for entrepreneurship in exploring for new causes of action, production of lawsuits, legal research, financing litigation, assisting the capital markets in valuing litigation and liabilities, legal risk management, and adjudication.

Finally, I consider the preconditions for robust legal entrepreneurship:  how the law will have to change; the interest group alignment that will make this legal change possible; and last, but not least, how to train a new generation of legal entrepreneurs who invent things rather than wait for cases and transactions to walk in the door.

The bottom line is that the ancient idea of legal information production as the exclusive province of worker cooperatives surely is going the way of all the other precursors of the industrial revolution.  As the existing business model gasps its last breath, it’s time for some serious creative destruction.  I plan to consider what this might look like.