I’ve been thinking about the concept of Community as well as the types of communities there are. For example, how the community of a college is by and large, yet there are hundreds of majors to choose from, each with its own community of likeminded people with shared interest in studying the same field. Or the legal industry, for example, all falls under the larger “law” umbrella, but is studied through thousands of smaller, more niche practice areas. Or take the concept of religious people as a community- each community is broken down by religious groups – then broken down into smaller sub-groups of said religion, and only then are people unified and understand each other’s playing field, once they’ve boiled down exactly which group they most closely align with.
I’ve been spending time in the last few weeks contemplating what community is in light of my experience with it. I had to reach into the archives of the memory bank to think back to pivotal moments that forced me to need community- the moments it wasn’t presented before me or available, but rather something I lacked and longed for.
The first example that came to mind was moving to Los Angeles when I was 18 to go to college. I was alone for the first time, peeling off from the community I had fostered for the previous 17+ years of my life. I had no idea what it was going to look like to actually have to work to find my people. My people had always been there, introduced to me by family friends or my older siblings’ friends. In high school, sports gave me my community. My older brother (the year above me) had given me my community. Community was inherently part of who I was, without realizing what a privilege it was to have.
Los Angeles was a rude awakening. Easy, in a sense, knowing I was joining forces with other scared college newbies in the same boat, leaving home to pursue education. A tad unsettling, on the other hand, that each new person I met, I was meeting without any context. Los Angeles was a quick reminder that I would either be as built up or broken down as the people I would surround myself with. The next four years would be a reflection on how far I’d grown based on the people I’d choose, and the shared experiences we’d have along the same. How steady that lesson has proven to be true over the years.
After college, I had set out on a cross-country bike trip with 3 other women peddling alongside me. They quickly became my people- the girls I changed flat tires with, shared meals with, and leaned on during 100 mile, 100 degree days. They were the girls who experienced the same roads and headwinds and highlights as I did – the girls who got burned by the same sun, had the same tan lines, and cursed as the same rolling hills through the midwest as I did. *Side note — anyone who tells you the midwest is flat LIED to you. If you don’t believe me, try biking it.*
Our biking community was taken in by strangers, hosted by other cyclists who heard about us coming through, and sought out by hotels and restaurants along the way, wanting to support us where they could. We leaned on the support of the biking community, previous cross-country cyclists with expertise we didn’t have, warm showers hosts who knew what it was like being a nomad on the road, and bike shops along the way who supported our mission.
After we ended the ride in New York City, I had no plan. I had a degree, a bike, a few suitcases of clothes, and a now expansive grasp on where in the US I could move. I’d seen a majority of the country, from the west to the east and everything in-between, so I h
ad options to sift through re: where I thought could best serve my next stage of life. I had enjoyed being outside 8-9 hours a day as life on the road presented us with, and having been in LA the last four years, I felt it was time to shake things. Two weeks after the ride, I packed up my car and moved to a little mountain town we rode through, Jackson Hole. Knowing no one, I had my first taste of building a community from scratch. What would it look like to live in this mountain town and belong to this mountain town- to foster relationships and understand the culture and contribute to the make up of it’s society? I knew it would be hard work, but I was up for the challenge.
I applied for dozens of jobs within the first week. I figured if I failed, I would move back to Seattle to be with my family and try again. I landed a job the second day in town. I worked at a small cafe in the heart of downtown, with the plan of integrating myself with the locals + getting to know the regulars who lived close by. What a strategy that was.
I quickly befriended many of the Jackson dwellers, some who were former mayors, some who were business owners, some who showed me the best hidden-gem trails. I got to know them on a personal level- intimate details about their families, where they had come from, what they enjoyed doing on the weekends. It started by asking each and every regular their name. I figured if they knew I cared enough to know their name, and if I cared enough to memorize their drink, I had some skin in the game. And I wanted them to know me too. They would stand on the opposite side of the coffee bar and we would chat for the minute and thirty seconds it took me to pull their shots and steam the milk for their drink.
I worked at this cafe for six months before the business owner asked me to open a third cafe with her and manage the store. At the same time this opportunity was presented, a prominent member of the Jackson Real Estate community approached me and asked me to join his company as a guest relations specialist. He was a regular, and I loved having his daily coffee ready when he walked through the doors each morning. I would let him pay later if the line was long, and he became someone I would regularly swap backpacking stories with, as he loved the mountains as much as I did.
I took the job at his company after hearing the other employees were all 25-30 years old, and quickly growing in their careers. They were building out a name for themselves in Jackson as the most elite and talented real estate agency around. I didn’t fill out an application for the job, nor did I interview. Mekki knew my character and abilities from watching my interactions day in and day out. It didn’t matter whether I was qualified for the job, what mattered was how he saw me treat people. I worked hard to build a life for myself in Jackson – I worked hard to call people by their name, and be known by my community. I wanted to belong here, and I was willing to put up a fight to feel like I did.
I ended up working with Mekki and the Outpost team for the next eight months, growing the company from 80 properties, to 120 properties – 30 of which were luxury homes. We added a rental service into the company, a cleaning service, and 24/7 customer service. It was a grind. There were tears along the way when we would get client calls at 11pm, or have to cancel a hiking trip last minute to coordinate a homeowner arrival. What kept us going? Without a doubt – each other. Nothing like shared tears to tighten a bond.
I recently listened to an episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast, a Donald Miller interview with Jim Deters, CEO of Gravity Haus. I was intrigued to listen when Miller summarized his findings on Gravity Haus as, “a community consisting of those who care about the planet and their personal growth.” Could it really be that simple? I thought. Is that really all it takes to make up a community this successful – just likeminded individuals who care about the planet and personal growth? Sounds like a community I want to be apart of. Why? Because those are two of my most fundamental core beliefs – to take care of our planet, to take care of myself. Why else? Because it sounds open, it sounds inviting. I wouldn’t be intimidated to join something I knew wanted me there.
So it got me thinking… how do all communities become that simple? In college, your community is shaped by the people you attend classes with, the people you go to the gym with, the people you find yourself hanging out in groups with on Saturday night. At work, your community is the people you rub shoulders with in an office space. More relevant- it’s the people you’re checking in on in a Monday morning zoom call, the people you’re grinding away with to meet deadlines, the people who care about the same projects as you. In the legal community, is it those in the same niche as you? Those who are practicing the same area of law and thus sharing experiences you’re going through as well? What would it look like to teach recent law graduates and young lawyers that to join this community, you just need to have an interest in other people’s wellbeing and your own wellbeing? That simple. That this community of young lawyers, entering into shares experiences and new starts, is going to be just that- a community. Where they can swap ideas, and share resources, and offer feedback and encouragement to their colleagues.
This community would consist of leaning into the conversations that other legal bloggers start, commenting and offering expertise, piping up when someone has a question. At LexBlog, I’ve been thinking about what communities would look like broken down by niche areas of the law- bankruptcy lawyers collaborating with other bankruptcy lawyers, and divorce lawyers collaborating with other divorce lawyers. Swapping stories, sharing resources, offering expertise in the area of law you know best and getting back to the basics of knowing each other’s names, spending a few minutes each week checking in on each other’s mental health, and using one another to network wider and deeper.
What purpose would community serve in the legal tech industry? What value would this add for lawyers and law firms at whole? Well, I think Stefanie Marrone nailed the hammer on the head when she wrote,
“Your goal is to keep in touch with your professional network and to provide information of value to them that enables you to showcase your expertise without being boastful or salesy.”
I needed my sports community in high school to teach me how I could become the captain of the tennis team. I needed my fellow student-peers in college to study with me, quiz me, and share their knowledge and me mine. I needed my community while I was riding to stick with me as I changed a flat, offer their tools to fix my handlebars when I’d fall, and research our route daily to avoid closed roads and dead ends. I needed my community in Jackson so I could learn to make a home for myself personally, asking for locals advice on best-kept secrets around town as well as professionally, to grow a company I believed in and wanted to see flourish. That is what community does – it lets those with the most knowledge and those with little knowledge dine at the same table and equalize the playing field so at the end of a meal, both parties walk away more informed, more heard, and more compassionate for the people they’re sitting with.
Jim Deeters said it best “We didn’t want this to be a club, we want this to be a community, an anti-club if you will, because as soon as you say the word club, it invokes exclusivity. We want to be inclusive.”
The legal tech community? It’s not a club. There is no room for exclusivity. If you don’t believe me- ask what my major was. Sure as heck wasn’t law. Or tech. And yet, I found myself a seat at the table.