If you’re trying to determine what the new economy means, author and attorney Janelle Orsi can do a lot to help. In her book Practicing Law in the Sharing Economy, Orsi gives compelling insight into the practical application of law to solve, or attempt to solve, the challenges of a new way to function economically. I’m inspired by this approach that Orsi puts on the shoulders of transactional law. Human interaction is the point at which Orsi sets her sights.
If you’re less than excited about such a legal topic, then let me rephrase it by saying this book is the nuts and bolts of changing how we generate wealth through exchange. As Orsi states it is not only imperative for attorneys to focus on this, but urgent. In this blog about co-ops, I’ve always considered co-ops as a vital contribution for sharing wealth. This book is a welcome manual for the broader trend for a more equitable society of which co-ops are a part.
There is a growing gray area in the law that we should all understand concerning such things as time banks, car sharing, volunteering, alternative currencies, co-ops, and more. Lawyers (and the rest of us) will need to navigate this gray area. Even the clients lawyers represent can change dramatically. In a sharing economy an attorney is more likely to represent a group of people with a cause, not just an individual. She states: “Even when [attorneys] represent only one party to a transaction, sharing economy lawyers may still find themselves helping to facilitate a meeting involving multiple people in a collaborative relationship. Facilitating the growth of an open and trusting relationship among parties could ultimately be just as important as lobbying for favorable contract terms for a single party.”
If you’re starting a business, a chapter is devoted to legal entities. Law can drive existential business decisions and the topic of entities is given thorough consideration especially around taxes and employment law. Co-ops are central to this new approach to economics, but how to set one up and not run afoul of law can be complicated. Is your organization going to be a non-profit? Orsi covers the many pros and cons of 501(C) organizations, which stretch far beyond the common 501(C)3.
But I feel like this book is about much more than law, such as rethinking what work will be in the new economy with a shift toward working for ourselves, and not waiting for others for employment. One of my favorite points made in the book is the importance of resilient relationships in her chapter on writing agreements. Although we should strive for harmonious relationships when creating agreements of a collaborative nature, a practical element of relationships needs to be considered. But another significant part of a gray area is uncertainty in a new way of doing things. If people share a car, for example, and create an agreement to do so, what are the risks? People are challenged by uncertainty, warns Orsi, and may feel more comfortable with the status quo.
I found Practicing Law in the Sharing Economy to be both technical and nicely written; it describes the overall context of the sharing economy and is a resource for solutions. I’ll end with a quote on what’s at stake from the opening chapter: “The reality is that we have already used the planet’s resources faster than they can be replenished, and we have built our current economic system by creating an ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor. That means that the new economy that we build must not just be sustainable, it must now regenerate the economic and ecological abundance necessary for everyone to thrive again.”