GitHub for Lawyers

Media + Practice + Tech
July 30, 2013
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Many thanks to Hacker News and its readers for ushering this piece into the top-ten on January 20, 2017 — and for yielding this site 19,000 page views in a 24-hour period. Read more on that here.


Git was designed for code. Law is the original code1, and if anything proves that the Internal Revenue Code does. If you know even the littlest bit about how a bill becomes a law, and what mark up looks like, and perhaps have some programming background, using Git as a version control system (VCS) for legal drafting will make sense to you, particularly if you’re interested in steering law more towards the benefits of an open source community — a thought that’s only beginning to curl in the minds of even young jurists.

Git is an open source and lightweight system for managing and monitoring versions of writings. Other software can do this for you too, sometimes automatically (OS X is a basic example), but Git has superior advantages for controlling branches and, through GitHub, allowing networks to draft and merge asynchronously while substantially documenting and preserving the record.

Manually and locally controlling Git through Terminal provides the most flexibility for managing projects. But GitHub also has an app for Mac that takes much of the technical lexicon out of play and puts it into push button simplicity. Review setup options here.

The VCS-for-law discussion is not new, but it’s not over either. A group of lawyers is congealing on GitHub. Twitter posted a patent agreement there. (And in early 2014 Medium posted its terms of service and privacy policy there.)

I’ve put up a copyright license. You can fork the raw doc for other purposes and watch the original morph over time as others do the same thing. Or you can open issues with the original and make modifications to retool it. All on the record without much concern for data loss or the fact that several people might be editing at the same time. You can even branch a particular clause for work while leaving the bulk of the document intact, merging both parts when the clause is done going through rounds of changes. The system can handle conflicts with minor help from you, too. Check out Series Seed for another example of legal drafting on GitHub.

Or perhaps you’ll get ambitious, decide not to wait on your legislator for the next proposal, and ask your community to join you in a bill-drafting effort.

Code is poetry. Legal code, too.


[1] MIT (Computer Science & Artificial Intelligence Laboratory) / Harvard University (HLS, Berkman Center for Internet & Society) bearing this philosophy out in 2014.

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Media + Arts + Tech

Attributes

I am native to media, arts and tech – as a former touring musician, as one who can and does code, and as a maker fluent in design and multimedia content development (audio, video, photo, graphic, analog, textual). This overlap of niche and background allows me to efficiently and peerlessly integrate legal and creative for clients working in expressive spaces.

Corporate

They are called organizations for good reason. Getting and staying documented, well-papered, compliant, and aligned with pragmatic protocols is prime among best practices. General counsel and correct governance are as important to closely-held companies as they are to those seeking or deploying external funding. There are few investments more sound than a solid foundation.

Contracting

Optimizing a deal requires focussed and technical drafting. What multiple collaborators have in mind when they begin does not automatically manifest when a concept is translated into the physical world. Get ahead of junctures, pivots and transitions. Reflecting on the page what is intended at heart is the ultimate efficiency.

Copyright

There are few disciplines as relevant and fluid as copyright. The media space has enjoyed rapid development over recent decades. Law is not always so quick to follow. Navigating ownership of content is a primary concern for creative enterprises.

Trademark

Impact and impression are salable and demand attention, from protecting to capitalizing. Define your brand, put on a search, definitively document, and enforce with intent – or share, collaborate and cross-pollinate.

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Assets come in variegated forms – not always capitally quantifiable or neatly captured by intellectual property regimes. But proprietary information can be of principal, or even singular value. Safeguard, manage and leverage such resources prudently and productively.

Licensing

One of the most important tools in the kit of creative profit is the flexibility and extensibility that adept licensing affords. Do it well – do it right.

Regulatory

Interfacing with public agencies is a vastly different experience than cutting deals in the private sector. Conventions, ethics, regulations, policy, and sinuous procedure need not block your path forward. Additionally, the First Amendment was written for you – stand on it.

Litigation

There will almost certainly come a time when dispute crops up and grows entrenched, or rights and obligations are transgressed or ignored. Less talk, more action – bring deft advocacy and mastery of process into play.

Strategic

Creation is nothing if uninspired. Your vocation is to deploy vision and bridge the gap between what is known and unknown, what is possible and impossible. Apply the very same foresight to your company and your career. Chance favors the prepared mind.