By Shan Li
Los Angeles Times.
Joey Mucha used to seal a business deal with a handshake or an email. Now he whips out his smartphone.
The San Francisco entrepreneur runs a side business renting out skee ball machines. With the company growing steadily, Mucha decided last year he needed to use contracts to protect his clients and the business.
But he didn’t go to a pricey lawyer. Instead, the 27-year-old downloaded a smartphone application called Shake. It guided him through the process of creating easy-to-read contracts, which customers can then sign with a swipe of their fingers on the screen.
“I don’t make enough money to pay $250 an hour for a lawyer to draft a contract,” Mucha said. “But I needed something to use as a defense in a scenario where I wasn’t paid, without hiring a lawyer or trying to write my own contract.”
Technology is creeping ever faster into the $200 billion U.S. legal field, shaking up an industry that has long been defined by tradition and dominated by white-shoe firms.
Law firms are already adapting to seismic shifts in the industry. The collapse of several big ones and the downsizing of many other firms during the economic turmoil left thousands of lawyers out of work. Survivors faced a stark new landscape in which clients demanded more flexibility and an alternative to the tradition of billing by the hour.
Industry experts say the industry is ripe for big tech shake-ups, including new innovations on social media and apps for smartphones and tablets.
“As software becomes more intelligent, we will have digital apps that can either substitute for the labor of lawyers or will assist a lawyer in being more productive,” said Richard Granat, co-director of the Center for Law Practice Technology at Florida Coastal School of Law.