Community profile Legal Hackers: interview with Jameson Dempsey

Photo via Legal Hackers DFW

I had the pleasure of chatting with my friend Jameson Dempsey, one of the founding members and current board members of Legal Hackers. Legal Hackers is a global movement of people innovating at the intersection of law and technology. It’s an amazing community with 110 chapters (and growing) and I learned so much from chatting with Jameson about their decentralized approach, their beautiful open ethos and how they manage their tremendous global growth.

Below are raw notes from our conversation and some personal highlights for me — more details in the recording above. Thank you Jameson!


  • It started with one legal hackathon that then become a local meetup in NYC, called NY Legal Hackers Meetup.

The intention

To use the hacker ethic and creative problem solving to advance the intersection of law and technology.


Code for America Brigade Community, Internet Society, Sandbox: distributed communities that are bound by a common mission.

Their ethos

At the core of Legal Hackers is this beautiful open ethos of being welcoming, embracing of diversity, being accessible, using creative problem solving for law and policy

  • Open: Legal Hackers is at the core an open community, which is not the tradition in legal community, and that’s the gap they are filling in the legal community.

Who is a Legal Hacker?

Anyone who shares the ethic of Legal Hackers can become a Legal Hacker. There are no clear membership markers, nobody pays dues, “people can just flow in and out”. This is very unusual for legal profession, where everything usually has “walled gardens”, it tends to be expensive to get into circles and community. Legal Hackers wants to flip this over, be a free resource. If you want to be part of the community, you’re welcome to join any event and welcome to come back. If you want to get more engaged, you are invited to become a co-creator and organizer.

Challenges of being such an open community

  • If you are so open, there is potential for movement to be co-opted. As anyone can flow in, anyone can become an organizer, and some people might be tempted to use the umbrella for personal benefits

Their core rules

  • non commercial

Their decentralized governance

  • Chapters get to decide most things for themselves: how they are organized,

The role of the central organization (HQ)

  • They have a legal entity (Legal Hackers LLC) that is the central organization

What technology they use

  • They started on

Learnings about running a successful chapter:

1) Diverse local organizing team.

If organizers represent a diverse set of communities, a diverse set of people will feel comfortable showing up. If all organizers are lawyers, mostly lawyers will show up. Also helps distribute the workload. It’s important to have several people as organizers as it’s a lot of work. Fluctuations of volunteer work.

2) Active social media presence

  • Internal: a social network that allows them to connect with each other within the chapter and have a flow of information and resources without top-down help

3) Regularly happening, smaller in-person events

  • “There is a difference between an events company and a community. One of the things that’s really important for legal hackers chapters is for the events to be regular enough where people feel like they’re part of a community.”

How important it is to be a volunteer organization

“When everyone there is a volunteer and people show up first as legal hackers — that is people who share the legal hackers ethos — it changes the tenor of the conversation because people are there to meet with other people who share a common identity, rather than to sell goods and services, rather than to advance some sort of policy initiative, people are getting together because they share something in common with one another.”

Why do people show up?

  • “A global craving of people in the legal profession for something different”: an open source approach to the legal system

How does it matter for the local members that they are part of global chapters?

  • Legal innovation is still a pretty new concept, “if they see an open global community, they know that they are not alone”, they can learn from best practices, they can connect with like minds across the globe

Growth challenges

  • Data management challenges: Coordination and spreading information among 110 chapters becomes data management issue. Plus another 40 chapters in formation. Currently they have around 330 current organizers.

Can organization continue to scale purely volunteer driven?

  • Jameson says yes, technology and smart processes will enable that. And it would change the fundamentals of the organization if not everyone were to be a volunteer.

Originally published at on November 20, 2018.

Together Institute

Hi there, we are Together Institute, we exist to help…

Together Institute

Hi there, we are Together Institute, we exist to help people and organizations build more meaningful communities. Here is where we share what we learn and think about.

Fabian Pfortmüller

Written by

Grüezi, Swiss community builder in NYC, author of @CommunityCanvas, co-founder Together Institute,

Together Institute

Hi there, we are Together Institute, we exist to help people and organizations build more meaningful communities. Here is where we share what we learn and think about.

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