Outing Startup Legal Docs

The prominent law firm, Gunderson Dettmer, is populating the Docracy site with templates for startup legal documents!

As of this writing, forms Gunderson Dettmer has posted include IP assignments, consulting agreements, NDAs and an employment offer letter.

800px-Safecracking-Drill-RigThis could be a very big deal.

Here's what I think is significant:

Rather than post forms to its own site or other platform tied in with the firm's branding, Gunderson is entrusting a third party with custody of the docs and, presumably, with the expectation that they will be subject to open curation.

I am not saying that Docracy is or is not the perfect platform - I don't understand their business model just yet - though I heartily applaud Docracy for taking the dream farther than anyone else to date. But whatever the eventual, optimum landscape for openly sourced legal docs may turn out to be, moving the activity to a venue independent of any single law firm is the necessary first step.

Imagine other firms do likewise. It would blow the doors off the virtual Victorian safes in which law firms sequester legal templates.

From my brief experimenting with the Docracy site, I take it that the forms they host are typically set up so that they can not only be accessed and downloaded, but also edited. In the case of the Gunderson forms, it looks like the editing function, per se, has been removed, though a "branch" function is retained, that appears to permit you to create a variant based on the Gunderson form. I need to experiment further with this (maybe I will attempt to make a "branch" of the employee IP assignment doc that would include a notice required by Washington law). 

It is essential to the cause of open sourced startup legal docs that the hosting platform and the contributing law firms permit others to edit, mash up, borrow from, and otherwise iterate at will. Total freedom is the manner in which we will be able to both verify standards and measure degrees of variation.

Docracy seems to be set up for the use case that people will want to sign and deliver documents through the service. Perhaps that is how Docracy currently plans to make money - from transaction fees on signed and delivered deals. To me, that is less interesting than the availability of the forms, and the promise that the forms may be freely manipulated.

Suppose DLA Piper, Cooley, Wilson Sonsini, and one or two other firms get all their comparable forms up there. Then Kingsley Martin (or others following his lead) could put his (their) software to work, and we might end up with a mash up of an actual, definitive, industry standard for each form.

More to think and write about this subject. More to come.

Photo: Jon Lorquet, Wikimedia Commons.


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