Docracy is an open source library of legal documents. Docracy has a very interesting story. It was started at the TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon, a competition of developers. Docracy’s founders – Matt Hall and John Watkinson, are software engineers, and they build a prototype in 24 hours, winning the competition. The concept was so successful that they decided to make it their full time job.
The Startup Story
The idea of a free, reliable library of legal documents came from the founders’ own experience as developers. They were often asked to sign simple contracts, like NDAs, and they asked themselves: “how can it be possible that there is no way to know if this is a good document?” There should be a place where two reasonable people can agree on a basic contract, for free, in minutes! So, they built Docracy, with the mission of taking out the mystery and fear from legal documents.
In other words, the vision is to democratize contracts. Docracy is already the biggest open source library of legal documents with thousands of free documents, and wants to be the reference site when you need to sign a contract. Docracy helps you execute a legal agreement at every stage: from searching a good starting point that fits your need, to customizing for your situation, to sending to the counterparty and sign it online. No software to download, no paper wasted. Many different people use Docracy, but their core user-base is made by modern, tech-savvy businesses and freelancers: people who don’t have time to waste on legal overhead, but still need legal protection.
How does Docracy work?
With Docracy not only that everybody can share their own documents, but also that users can leave comments, create improved versions of existing documents (the folks at Docracy calls it “branching”), tag documents, and of course download and sign contracts. This process is completely transparent, so you can track the evolution of every document and you can see what other users do.
Veronica Picciafuoco, the Director of Content at Docracy says,
“This way the documents are not static files to be silently downloaded, but they live and breathe with the users, and this is what we mean by community curated.”
For example the freelance web designer community is extremely active in contributing and updating new documents. A plain-English design agreement naturally became a widely adopted standard, with multiple branches: a Spanish version, a version for user experience work, etc. In this sense, we enable every community to curate their own set of legal agreements. Our goal is to foster the formation of public standards, and we believe crowdsourcing is the best way to do it. You can see the most popular documents in our homepage.
After you upload a document, you can choose if you want to keep it private, or open source it to the community. Publishing it means that you can benefit from the community knowledge, but Docracy knows that sometimes you just have to keep things confidential. Nevertheless you can still use Docracy, privately, to control the history of your document, make multiple versions, or even create fillable fields. For example, I can send a contract to a client directly via Docracy: they will be prompt to fill the blanks I set for them and sign the document online, and legally.
Does Docracy offer legal advice?
Veronica says, “No. According to US law, only a licensed lawyer can provide legal advice. However, a big part of Docracy’s community is made of licensed attorneys, who also contributed some of the best documents and are usually very helpful in answering requests and comments. In this sense, Docracy is a great bridge between self-help and professional, full service legal advice. The user can get general information about a document through comments, annotations and topic explanations, and then make an informed decision to go seek for an attorney.
Powerful robots and algorithms at work to update terms of service and privacy policies
When we asked Veronica that how are terms of service and privacy policies are updated, she said, “It’s not as easy as it seems! We send a “robot” every day to the page where all those terms and policies are hosted, to grab the most recent text version. Then, we import them and use Docracy’s powerful track-changes algorithm to look for changes and highlight them in the best possible way. You can see the latest changes here.”
E-signing and E-negotiation-free on Docracy
Veronica says “Yes, we have our e-signing and e-negotiation feature that you can use both with public and private documents, for free. We’ll keep improving this tool and also our collection of documents, to make it even easier to find the one you’re looking for. We’re about to release a brand new product which will be our first premium offering, targeted to sophisticated legal professionals. It’s very cool. You can see a teaser here.”
There is a lot of takeaway for startups from Docracy
First, by using our curated legal templates and saving some lawyer fees. They can also benefit by our online negotiation tool, Super Signing, that is a modern and tech-friendly approach to e-signing, much different from other old fashioned e-signing services, and also free. We also have a number of initiatives to educate startups about important legal issues that affect them. Our blog and our twitter account are go-to sources for legal tips for startups.