Dave Hitz, co-founder of NetApp, has an amusing blog post up that looks at "lawyer speak" from an efficency point of view. In Think of a Will as a Program You Can Only Test By Dying he considers the number of characters required to get a simple goal accomplished in both C and Legal Language (a will in this case):
The smallest "useful" computer program simply prints "Hello World!". It does almost nothing, so most of the program is overhead. In C, it takes 53 characters of program to print 12 bytes of text Ė an overhead factor of 4.4.
Iíve been reading LEGAL this week, because some friends of mine are writing their will. I agreed to be the trustee in case both parents die while the kids are still young. It occurred to me that the "hello world" of wills is this:
Leave everything to my spouse. If s/he is dead, then split it evenly among my kids.
This is pretty much what my friends' will said, but to express these 83 bytes of idea took 18,700 bytes of LEGAL, for an overhead factor of 225. That is, LEGAL is 51 times less efficient than C.
He goes on to answer the question "Why is LEGAL such a shitty language?" and finds that, among other problems, "it doesnít use modern techniques like subroutines or standard libraries." Doing so would save a ton of time and effort. It'd probably also reduce the lawyer's income.
As he concludes:
Of course, there is one additional reason that legal documents are so long: Many lawyers are paid by the hour.
I'm not quite sure why this amused me as much as it did. Perhaps it's my programming background combined with the fact that I've been reading more legal documents recently. Either way, I can definitely see his points. The legal profession could learn a thing or two from good programming practices.
If you've ever heard stories about companies that experiment with paying their programmers based on the number of lines of code written (or number of bugs fixed per week), you'd understand how crazy this really could be.
Posted by jzawodn at August 21, 2007 10:14 AM