Permissionless innovation” is a wonderfully empowering and energizing phrase that provides a great insight for how we can “be” as individuals and as professionals, and it is the “concept,” “belief,” “view” and “ethos” that I want to infuse into the users of this site, among all aspects of the legal profession and its stakeholders and beyond and into our world more broadly.

Regardless of where we work, where we went to law school (or other educational institution), the number of years we have practiced as a professional (as a legal professional or otherwise), the body of knowledge that we possess and regardless of any other socioeconomic or demographic information about us, each of us should feel emboldened - sua sponte - to help make a work product or a service delivery process better; each of us should feel emboldened sua sponte to create a novel way to present a work product, to collaborate innovatively and creatively with a client (or a group of clients with the same underlying interests); and each of us should feel emboldened to generate any new product or way of engaging with others that comes from our very own unique visions of how we can add value.

More specifically, every lawyer should embrace the power of innovation and creation without having to ask a partner, a general counsel, a senior attorney or other supervisor for permission.   Now, that does not mean that one has to disregard authority to innovate or create; rather, it means that even if a partner, a general counsel, a senior attorney or another “power-that-be” says: “Do it this way, because that is the way we do it around here.” Or, “Do it this way, because no body else does it that way?”, every lawyer should feel emboldened to suggest and “make the case” for giving a “new way” a try.

My wish for our profession – a profession that boasts some of the greatest problem-solving minds on earth – is that each of us, through our practice of, and engagement with the law and other disciplines, practice “permissionless innovation.”

What does “permissionless innovation” mean? It means that, as we practice our profession by providing legal advice and guidance and as we collaborate with our clients and other professionals, we must use, create and foster new technologies and processes (including AI and machine learning, among others) to help deliver work products and services that not only meet client needs but also leads all of us – within and outside of the profession – to discoveries that we never anticipated by virtue of the precedent to which we have had access… but which came through spontaneous thoughtfulness, deliberate collaboration and experimentation, all informed but unanchored by precedent.

Now, I wish I could claim credit for the efficient eloquence of the phrase, “permissionless innovation,” but, alas, I cannot. I was viewing Joi Ito of the MIT Media Lab during one of his TED Talks from March 2014. Ito’s TED Talk is a must see, and you can access his talk at: https://www.ted.com/talks/joi_ito_want_to_innovate_become_a_now_ist#t-267242.
The messaging within the TED Talk is unequivocal. Ito reminds us that the Internet has democratized creation and innovation and that each of us should and must take advantage of that democratization.

“… the Internet … pushed innovation to the edges…, away from the large institutions, the stodgy old institutions that had the power and the money and the authority.”

And, Ito’s guidance is pretty straight-forward:

“So, I think the good news is that even though the world is extremely complex, what you need to do is very simple. I think it's about stopping this notion that you need to plan everything, you need to stock everything, and you need to be so prepared, and focus on being connected, always learning, fully aware, and super present.”

At the risk of being redundant: The foundation for “permission innovation” is: “Being connected, always learning, fully aware and super-present” in the work that you do so that you can be attuned to, and so that you do not miss any, opportunities to create a better work product or process, however out-of-the-mainstream or however tangential to precedent.

Ito also shares an insight that is particularly relevant to lawyers.

“[I]t feels like they're trying to make you memorize the whole encyclopedia before they let you go out and play, …”

“ … and to me, I've got Wikipedia on my cell phone, …”

“ … and it feels like they assume you're going to be on top of some mountain all by yourself with a number 2 pencil trying to figure out what to do when in fact you're always going to be connected, …”

“ … you're always going to have friends, and you can pull Wikipedia up whenever you need it, and what you need to learn is how to learn.”

To all of the lawyers reading this: How many times have you been told that you need to know more – more about the law, more about brief writing, more about public merger agreements, etc., all before you talk to a client, before you are the primary drafter of an agreement or engage in any other activity over which a  supervising attorney or other decision maker has control? ANSWER: TOO MANY TIMES.

And it may very well be that a supervising attorney or other “power-that-be” knows more “data” or has more "data" in his or her mind; however, not having a full body of knowledge in the confines of your mind does not prevent you from innovating or contributing to enhancing how client work products and services are scoped out, created and delivered.

Knowledge of data or other facts is not a prerequisite to innovation; practicing “permissionless innovation” will undoubtedly make that clear.

SO, GO PRACTICE, IN A PHRASE, PERMISSIONLESS INNOVATION … WHOEVER YOU ARE!

#PracticeInnovation  -   #PermissionlessInnovation  -  #FrontierOfTheLaw

What helpful insights, tips, or strategies might you be willing to share that would help other professionals think through how to incite innovation and efficiency gains into the practice of law?

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.