In April 2012, Phil Weiss and Warren Allen hosted the BLIP Legal Hackathon, an event that would prove foundational for the Legal Hackers community. At the event, the organizers defined a powerful mission statement:
“The goal is to morph and evolve the law on one hand to better serve technologists, enterprises and society, but also harness technology so that lawyers can better service their clients.”
Understood in this way, “Legal Hackers” is about more than simply using computers to improve the law; it is also about fundamentally shifting what it means to “think like a lawyer.” This mission has remained a guiding light for the growing Legal Hackers community from that moment through today.
Over the last two and half years, those who attended the 2012 BLIP Legal Hackathon have gone on to organize large thriving community groups of Legal Hackers. Since 2012, NY Legal Hackers has built a community of over 1,100 members, officially incorporated, and created an advisory board made up of, amongst others, the general counsels of Meetup and Etsy, who are no strangers to community building. In 2013, when two active NY Legal Hackers members (Jameson Dempsey and Rebecca Williams) found themselves relocating to DC, they were inspired to organize a new Legal Hackers community in their new home. Today, DC Legal Hackers has over 450 community members, including long-established DC legal informatics leaders and energetic newcomers.
The DC Legal Hackers believe that as more lawyers, policy makers, and technologists come together routinely to explore and develop creative solutions to issues at the intersection of technology and law, it will have a positive and transformative impact on our legal industry, our government, and our society. At the same time, we recognize that the Legal Hackers community is still in its early days, and that the risk of cooptation by those who do not share our nonpartisan, noncommercial, and inclusive mission — who would seek to turn “Legal Hackers” into another consulting buzzword, or worse — is real. When DC Legal Hackers organizers met with the organizers of NY Legal Hackers and the Seattle Legal Innovation & Technology meetup at the 2014 Data Privacy Legal Hackathon, we discussed broader community organizing tools, including a trademark and mission statement. We supported these efforts to broaden and build a cohesive community.
Over the past week, the DC Legal Hackers organizers have engaged with our local community, examined how other well-respected community-organizing corporations have handled trademark issues, and gut-checked our views on supporting a cohesive community that is also inclusive and committed to openness. We have discussed these issues with members of our community and with Legal Hackers LLC. We also found that a number of similar organizations — including Code for America, Occupy Wall Street, the Wikimedia Foundation, and Startup Weekend — have sought trademarks in order to maintain a coherent vision, but have utilized licensing schemes with very limited conditions in order to promote and encourage widespread adoption. (For additional examples of collaborative communities that have registered trademarks, please see this draft of a new article from attorneys at the Wikimedia Foundation.)
After this review, the DC Legal Hackers organizers believe that Legal Hackers LLC has the best interests of our growing community at heart with their application for a “Legal Hackers” trademark. However, we would be remiss not to recognize the concerns of many members of our local community who would prefer that the mark “Legal Hackers” remain free and open. We stand for a unified and inclusive Legal Hackers community. The DC Legal Hackers organizers believe that a trademark is an appropriate way of reinforcing the nonpartisan, noncommercial, inclusive values of the movement. At the same time, we oppose any outcome that would impose overly restrictive, top-down conditions on local hubs or individuals. For these reasons, we believe that the ultimate solution should involve collaborative input from the entire community — not a debate, but a process. In this way, we believe that the Legal Hackers community can maintain its place as a beacon for innovation and exploration in the legal industry and civil society at large.
Since we began DC Legal Hackers, we have been happy and proud organizers, and we’re excited to see the community grow and evolve in an open and inclusive way. Law and technology are fundamentally iterative and evolving industries, and like them, we will continue to listen to our community and revisit how legal policies, like this one, support or detract from the goals and mission of DC Legal Hackers.
– The DC Legal Hackers Organizers