Lawyers are innovators, too: Five takeaways for legal professionals who want to change the world - Lorraine Marchand
When I asked Rose Oskanian about the challenges legal professionals are facing and how an innovative mindset can benefit them, I got an earful! She should know — Rose is VP, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary at Vitara Biomedical and board member of the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC).
She had invited me to address the ACC’s Greater Philadelphia Chapter and share innovation tips and techniques with the members.
Some believe the job of legal professionals is to keep innovators and their companies out of trouble — I mean, isn’t the role of IP attorneys, general counselors and compliance professionals to mitigate risks and leave the art and science of innovating to the business and technical experts?
As I learned during my keynote at the ACC conference, Rose and the attending attorneys vehemently disagree with this old stereotype of attorneys redlining documents and raising concerns that have the effect of slowing down business instead of figuring out new and better ways of working and innovating.
In fact, innovation is a critical topic among attorneys today in response to several trends that are challenging the sector to re-invent itself. Here are three of these trends:
- Collaboration among business and support functions creates a competitive advantage for companies as noted in Smarter Collaboration by co-authors Heidi Gardiner and Ivan Matviak. Collaboration is a team sport and should include legal, finance, operations and support functions. This integrated approach helps to ensure that diverse perspectives are brought to the table, including different perspectives on the customer and the challenges they face. But in many organizations legal professionals sit in a silo removed from the business and are seen as performing transactional services. They should be viewed as strategic business partners who can enable the company’s growth.
- Technology including ChatGPT can make legal research more efficient and less expensive. Several published articles indicate the two professions that will be most impacted by ChatGPT are writers and attorneys. This may be overhyped but it’s worthwhile to consider how technologies like AI and ChatGPT can be effectively leveraged by legal professionals.
- Finally, the profession, like so many others, wants to attract and retain the next generation of Talent. Newly minted attorneys want recognition for their work, faster promotion cycles, and a better work-life balance. They are also keen for the profession to adopt technology which in turn should make their work more interesting. For example, if you can use contract management systems to handle administrative tasks, legal professionals can be freed up to have more problem-solving discussions with their clients.
As we prove time and again in The Innovation Mindset, where there is a problem, there is an opportunity to make things better! Here are the five key takeaways that I would like to share:
- First, legal professionals who adopt The Innovation Mindset can be better partners to their internal business colleagues by collaborating, anticipating and supporting strategic growth objectives. One attorney who’s worked at a large pharma company and at a premier academic institution said, “I analyze partnering deals to understand what both parties need. From a strategic standpoint, how will the respective companies benefit from this partnership and how can we maximize the chances of marketplace success?” He commented that often the CEO succumbs to Board pressure to get the deal done in time to impact quarterly goals. “But I can bring a more balanced perspective, making sure our company is getting what we need from the deal and negotiating to ensure our strategic priorities are met — that the deal makes sense and is one we’ll be glad we did when we look back in three years.”
- Secondly, legal professionals can pivot off from traditional ways of working and learn how to leverage technologies that enable them to work faster, smarter and to be more responsive to business needs. As one attorney pointed out, “We need to be up-to-date on our understanding of cybersecurity, data and analytics, cloud storage, and make sure our document management systems are the most advanced, as well as user friendly.”
- Thirdly, the legal team should consider the role of AI and ChatGPT in their work and in the work products their companies create. How can legal professionals use the technology to improve their jobs? Importantly, how can they anticipate risk to the business if these technologies are increasingly being used by scientists, marketers, and sales to conduct research and create content? How do we use advanced technologies but mitigate the potential risk to the company and its employees?
- Fourth, legal professionals must deepen their understanding of the customer — their internal customer but also the company’s customer — and help the business create win-win solutions that support growth and expansion.
- Finally, they need to rethink the educational curriculum and developmental path for junior legal professionals, integrating technology, digital, innovation and business acumen into their training. This will help ensure the workforce is better rounded and capable of being a strategic business partner. It will also improve professional satisfaction when attorneys know they are growing in competency and developing new skills and adding more value to the business and their own ability to have a fulfilling career.
The Innovation Mindset is the right solution at the right time for the legal profession — we need to encourage leaders of the profession to take the time needed to assess their current state and develop a plan for creating a new future state.
As legal professionals become more adept at thinking like their business partners, they will identify new ways to add value to the relationship and to stretch the boundaries of being a great strategic partner!