Can Law Be Contagious?


Jonah Berger outlines six principles to make something go viral in his 2013 book Contagious: Why Things Catch On.

Principle 1: Social Currency

That “something” must provide people with social currency. To paraphrase Mr. Berger “Most people would rather look smart than dumb, cool than geeky… We need to leverage game mechanics to give people ways to achieve and provide visible symbols of status that they can show to others”. For example, the Apple logo on a computer is a visible status symbol (at least for now).

Principle 2: Triggers

We need triggers to remind people to talk about our products. “Top of mind leads to tip of tongue”.

Principle 3: Emotions

Humans are social animals who enjoy sharing information. “When we care, we share”. People are more likely to share highly arousing information (like awe or anger) more frequently.

Principle 4: Public

Mr. Berger refers to the classic saying “Monkey see, monkey do”. He then refines it by saying “making things more observable makes them easier to imitate, which makes them more likely to become popular”.

Principle 5: Value

People like to share things that offer incredible value. It could be monetary value, social value, or another form of practical value.

Principle 6: Stories

People do not simply spread information. We tell stories. “So by making our narrative integral to the product, people cannot tell the story without it…”.


The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge this summer perfectly embodied all six principles.

It is no wonder that it was such a success. People felt “cool rather geeky” when sharing their videos. Many celebrities participated in the challenge. Matt Damon, Anna Wintour, Gwenyth Paltrow, and many more, all had fantastic videos that generated social currency to the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

We were triggered to think about donating to the Challenge by seeing people’s videos on websites like Facebook and YouTube along with the traditional medium of television. Furthermore, the Challenge required those nominated to nominate other people to donate. Those nominated were eager to contribute to finding a cure (a practical value) for a disease that deprives people of their motor skills while cruelly leaving their cognitive function intact.

Can legal services ever catch on fire? Or does the confidential and private nature of legal services prevent them from becoming truly contagious? When considering these questions, I always remind myself that solicitor-client privilege belongs to the client.

I think the reason I am stumped is because I am asking the question incorrectly. I need to think more like the hot dog contest eater in Think Like a Freak by Steven Levitt & Stephen Dubner and completely reframe the question. Instead of eating the hot dog with the bun, he ate the hot dogs first and the buns second. This allowed him to significantly reduce his hot dog eating time and win the contest. By reframing the question and knowing what to measure, he was able to improve his performance.

So perhaps the the blog post should be titled “how do we measure the contagiousness of law?”.