This post is part of "2012 Law Via the Internet Conference," a series of 8 posts. You can start at the beginning or see all posts in the series.

Scott Greenfield’s response to Clay Shirky’s Law Via the Internet conference keynote:

The LII’s efforts to make law freely available isn’t at odds with Clay Shirky’s nonsense, but isn’t consistent with it either. Rather, Shirky takes the ball and runs sideways, toward a goal that doesn’t exist. People, meaning non-lawyers, want unfettered access to the law. That’s fine. They want not only access, but the ability to understand it and use it without need to pay for lawyers. That’s not so fine.

I think Scott may have gotten Shirky’s point backwards, perhaps due to my poor summary. Shirky’s point, I think, is that non-lawyers are — en masse — already trying to interpret and understand the law, largely without help from lawyers, and will continue to do so using whatever tools are available. Shirky thinks lawyers ought to pitch in and correct the of bad interpretations that Scott complains about in his post.

(Also, I’m not clear on why Shirky is a charlatan, but Scott is not the first to say so. It’s possible I’m just being dense, but its not obvious to me.)

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One Comment

  1. shg says:

    Yes, non-lawyers scour the interwebz to validate their belief that the law supports them, and ending up in trouble. And when they get in trouble, it’s because they don’t know what they’re doing, what it means or how to use it properly.

    And lawyers who build houses watch as they fall down around them. Or repair their cars stand on the side of the road awaiting a tow truck.

    At the moment, people are learning why they can’t perform their own surgeries, build skyscrapers or try cases despite the wealth of foundational information the internet provides. And as they fail, they will come to appreciate that there is a reason why lawyers go to law school, study, gain experience and, in most instances, become competent at the practice of law.

    Or lawyers can annotate statutes and decisions as if that will transform non-lawyers into litigators, contract drafters, researchers or judges. Except it won’t. It may enable people to falsely believe they might be able to pull it off, but they won’t. It will, however, cause much pain and suffering of people who need the help of a lawyer, but use the pretense of the internet instead.

    If Shirky wasn’t a charlatan, he would argue that it’s our obligation to enlighten non-lawyers as to the flaws of their thinking, the risk of harm they are assuming, the absurdity of the impossible dream that ten minutes of reading will turn anyone into a competent lawyer. But then, he wouldn’t be a tech futurist and nobody would watch his youtube videos.

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