General Counsel Discuss: Moving from a Global Pandemic to Inspiring Innovation

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The general counsel panel discussion held during the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC) 2020 Global Summit was excellent! This article summarizes some key takeaways.

Panelists:

Maaike de Bie, group general counsel and company secretary, easyJet

Bradley Gayton, senior vice president and general counsel, Coca-Cola

Dev Stahlkopf, corporate vice president, general counsel, and corporate secretary, Microsoft

Moderator:

Mike Haven, CLOC board member and senior director, associate general counsel, and head of legal operations at Intel.

On the current state of the legal industry

  • With crisis comes opportunity. Legal departments and lawyers have a continued opportunity to shine in the current environment because many business issues, projects, and problems have new, developing, or novel legal implications. Plus, lawyers are known to remain cool, calm, and collected in crisis situations, so all lawyers — those working in-house, in law firms, in government, etc. — are valued now more than ever.
  • The challenges of working from home are not relenting. Keeping everyone engaged while working from home is not getting easier. The need for leaders to stay abreast of and remain focused on improving both individual and team communications by frequency and type was emphasized.
  • It is hard to fully understand others when you are only with them virtually. Listening intentionally and without distraction is hard to do in the current environment but is more important than ever. Without hallway talks and dropping by colleagues’ offices to check in or to say hello in person, a lot of subtle communication cues and nuance can be lost.

Trends

  • On being purpose-led. There are numerous companies, businesses, and industries that are currently suffering financially. Those that receive government or public support will face more pressures from society. Businesses can and should step up to fill the void not filled by government. For example, having a basic diversity, equity, and inclusion department or program is no longer enough. Many companies, firms, and organizations need to refresh their strategic purpose, plans, and accompanying efforts.
  • The pressure to deliver legal services better, faster, and cheaper will not let up. The mandate to be more efficient and save costs comes from the C-suite, permeating the entire company/organization, and the legal department is no exception.
  • The pace of digital transformation is increasing. The legal profession is notoriously slow to adapt; lawyers are paid to be risk-averse, rely heavily on precedent, and tend to approach every legal problem as bespoke. This is the mindset of many lawyers, but it is not how business professionals think. There are now enough success stories and proof of how the strategic procurement and deployment of technology can and do create and deliver efficiency, reduce time spent, save costs and fees, and impact the bottom line.

On moving forward

  • Legal technology and innovation are now client- and market-driven demands. Many lawyers do not think or perceive that knowing about, spending time to learn, or using technology is part of their job. But for the reasons above, the need to continue to upscale the practice of law and deliverables is necessary for all lawyers.
  • Innovation and digital transformation need not be daunting, perfect, or comprehensive.
    • For example, one simple yet innovative (for legal) thing to do is to formally change the name “in-house legal department” to simply “legal department.” The word “in-house" is superfluous, since most legal departments and outside law firms now work collaboratively to handle and deliver all corporate legal services. This change would be relatively simple to do yet would be innovative for the legal profession.
    • Panelists discussed the importance of embracing the fact that digital transformation and innovation do not happen overnight, easily, or with one single project. Instead, they are a journey with no ultimate destination. A consistent investment of people, resources, time, and budget is needed over time.
    • The journey can also be messy and imprecise and involve iterations and failure. It is important that lawyers and teams realize that perfection is not possible with innovation and digital transformation. The need to embrace the possibility of failure and to “fail fast” was emphasized.
    • A good place to start on the journey is to ask about, survey, and identify common, repetitive tasks and work by department, team, or group. Inquire who is using what technology currently, what’s working, where is time wasted, etc., and then pick a priority project — one that will measurably improve productivity and efficiency and save costs. It helps to have one person be responsible for planning, tracking, managing, moving the project along, and reporting.
    • Raise these issues with the outside law firms the organization or company uses. Perhaps their technology can be leveraged and applied to the company’s legal department’s needs.
  • Culture and change management are constants.
    • Leaders must embrace a growth mindset, buy into innovation and digital transformation, accept that there may be some failure along the journey, encourage the team to try new things and fail fast, and agree to be evangelists for strategic innovation.
    • Leaders also need to be committed, intentional, and dogmatic, because the moment they give up or let the pedal off the metal, progress stops.
    • Never underestimate the aversion to change, and consider team-building exercises that expand thought processes, approaches, and skills.
    • The need to remain agile, adaptable, and fluid is critical.

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Connect with Julie Savarino on LinkedIn

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