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The Beginner's Mindset: The Future of Law Turned Upside Down

Upside Down

When I was in first grade, I realized I could read and write upside down and backwards. This realization came one day at school, standing in front of my teacher’s desk. She was looking down at some papers, and without much thought, I started reading what she was reading – even though the papers were facing her. In a few seconds, I knew that we were having chocolate milk and saltines for our morning snack and that recess was going to be shortened due to a fire drill. (By the way, this skill remains in my top five most useful.)

I remember walking back to my desk nonchalantly thinking, “I wonder if I can write that way too.” I picked up my Husky pencil, turned my Big Chief tablet around, and began writing a sentence at the end of the line:


Fast forward four decades and I now think of my natural “I wonder if” curiosity as part of the Beginner’s Mind, a Zen principle popularized by Shunryu Suzuki. The principle includes “having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner in that subject would.”

In my new role as head of innovation at Level 2 Legal, my openness to new possibilities and a beginner’s mindset has come easily – because I am a beginner. I am new to the company, new to the eDiscovery and legal services market, and new to understanding how lawyers think. (Spoiler alert: Avoid risk. Flee from uncertainty. Stick with the tried and true.)

This past week was also my first time to attend the Global Legal Blockchain Consortium and ILTACON, the International Legal Technology Association’s conference. My brain was on fire for five straight days, taking in new ideas, technologies, and insights. For people like me, there could not be a more exciting time to be in the legal world.

I came home thinking one main thought: The legal industry is at the beginning of a gigantic disruption – and disrupting a market demands exploration of new possibilities. It demands a world of learners, not knowers. It demands a new mindset to go along with the new skillsets.

Here are a few ideas to help you develop and enjoy a Beginner’s Mind, many of which return us to the curiosity and naiveté perfectly suited for innovation:

Get rid of the “shoulds” in your life. If someone tells you “You should…”, then you probably shouldn’t.

Get comfortable with saying, “I don’t know.” In public. At work. In front of your colleagues.

Find your Wow. “Wow” was my younger son’s first word. He would pick up everything from a blade of grass or cookie to a diaper or paper sack and say, “WOW!” Find what it is in your life that gives you the same sense of delight and hang out there.

Travel. Alone. I have had some of my best breakthroughs on trips where I am open to new sights, tastes, and cultures.

Take long walks. Or runs. Or showers. There’s magic here, that’s all I know.

Ask for help. You won’t look stupid. People love to help and tell you what they know. You’ll also be building those relationships you are going to need when it comes time to turn an idea into reality.

Question everything. You may not be the most popular person at work, but who cares? The results are worth it.

Maybe Zennovation is indeed the new path to Innovation: “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.”


Leigh Vickery, Director of Innovation & MarketingLeigh Vickery serves as the director of strategy and innovation for Level 2 Legal Solutions.