It’s a long story I don’t often tell my colleagues in the legal field, partially because it is long and attention spans are short, and partially because they’ll just find it confusing.  But before I went to law school (at age 35), I was a firefighter/paramedic for nine years. See Post 070 (full story for the patient and curious reader).

Having lived this experience, I have some appreciation for its value.  For those wanting the most important insight, at least for those working in the legal field, here it:  the vast majority of our norms and hierarchies are socially constructed. Unfortunately, it has a corollary truth: The winners of this socially constructed reality tend to hang on the hardest, which creates enormous friction for the project of making the law better, faster, and less expensive for clients and society and more engaging and meaningful for nonelite stakeholders, including nonlawyer (allied) professionals.

Today’s guest contributor, Eric DeChant, has a similar perspective, see Post 177, as he spent nearly two decades in construction and in the Merchant Marines before finally heeding the call to more fully develop his intellectual talents and interests.  Eric was a student in my fall 2019 “How Innovation Diffuses in the Legal Industry” course at Northwestern Law.  Shortly after graduating with his MSL in May, Eric shared his essay, which was no doubt written to help him sort out the key takeaways of law school, particularly for his career.  I am publishing it because I thought readers would enjoy seeing our world through a fresh set of outsider’s eyes, as this perspective is rarely documented.

One key insight I hope readers take away from Eric’s essay is that contrast, as much or more so than raw intelligence, is a key input of innovation, akin the how world travel increases tolerance of others. See, e.g., “How Travelling Abroad Builds Trust and Tolerance,” Ideas for Leaders, Mar. 3, 2014. In diffusion theory, this is called the “stranger” perspective. See Everett Rogers, Diffusion of Innovations at 42 (5th ed. 2003) (“The innovator, as a type of stranger, can more easily deviate from the norms of the system by being the first to adopt new ideas,” quoting Georg Simmel, Conflict & the Web of Group Affiliations at 140 (1955)); Post 068 (noting how Jason Barnwell’s outsider perspective aids his innovation work at Microsoft).

Eric DeChant is yet one more allied professional who is destined to have a large impact on the remaking of the legal field.  If you are looking for promising legal ops professional, akin to the magic Wendy Rubas is working over at Village MD with other MSLs grads, see Post 174, here is Eric’s resume.