Lawyers are coming around to the “why” for transformation, but struggle with the “how.” That’s change we can work with.

[Editor’s note:  To keep things fresh, Anusia is periodically handing her NewLaw Fundamentals baton to other provocative change agents in her network.  This month, we are pleased to welcome Anna Lozynski, who, as General Counsel of L’Oréal in Melbourne, Australia, led a large and successful transformation of the company’s legal function.  See “2019 In-House Leaders,” Australasian Lawyer.  Since January 2021, Anna has been in demand as a legal Innovation consultant, tech advisor, influencer & freelance GC. As evidenced by today’s essay, Anna is one of the legal industry’s most persuasive voices for change. wdh]

In 2015, when I pioneered the implementation of legal technology as a General Counsel and self-taught Legal Operations aficionado at the world’s leading cosmetics company, the prevailing questions in the legal industry being posed by skeptical legal lips were “Is Innovation hype?” and “Is it a lawyer’s role to innovate?”

Swipe forward the better part of a decade, in this post-pandemic world, we are observing a plethora of socioeconomic shifts. Many businesses face unprecedented change and guiding the organization and the legal department through this period of transformational change can feel like an oversized ask.

COVID-19 was responsible for changing perceptions about remote and hybrid working. But we are in the midst of the real wake-up call now in a landscape of layoffs, re-organizations, and pressure to digitize beyond the adoption of video conferencing platforms and e-signature technologies. It’s not just about modernizing the way legal services are delivered; the people element also deserves strategic consideration and has begun to take up more legal leadership headspace.

Q: How do lawyers feel about transformation?

I ran a recent LinkedIn poll asking what people feel when they hear about transformation in a corporate context. While 58% of respondents felt excitement, 31% felt dread. Only 1% of respondents felt relief.

As lawyers, we can unconstructively get bogged down in semantics. And more so, in our insecurities.

The late James Baldwin delivers quite the truth bomb when he says “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” Baldwin’s insight is reminding us that transformation is a journey, first of the self, and then of others, sometimes both, in parallel, across multiple axes. It’s messy, and as new research shows, emotional.  See Andrew White, Michael Smets, & Adam Canwell, “Organizational Transformation Is an Emotional Journey,” Harv Bus Rev, July 18, 2022.

Whereas we lawyers prefer rationality and order.

Nancy Giordano, a Forbes Top Female Futurist and author of Leadering: The Ways Visionary Leaders Play Bigger (2021), writes that 21st Century leaders ought to be asking these two pivotal questions continually:

  • What does the future need and expect from us?
  • What are we each in a unique position to contribute to it?

She advances that “these questions allow us to shift the outlook on the future — on transformation — from one of overwhelm to one of opportunity. And then the real question is how to bravely answer the call.”

Q: How can we transform more boldly?

In a recent interview on the Joe Rogan podcast, Mark Zuckerberg discussed the tension between being reactive and proactive in his role. He candidly shared that he could easily fill his working days by being reactive and all-consumed by business as usual. Yet he knows he better serves Meta by shifting his headspace to the future direction of the company and its next bold play.

Author and leading consultant Peter Bregman opines:

You need to spend time on the future even when there are more important things to do in the present and even when there is no immediately apparent return to your efforts. In other words — and this is the hard part — if you want to be productive, you need to spend time doing things that feel ridiculously unproductive.

Bregman, “You Need to Practice Being Your Future Self,” Harv Bus Rev, Mar 28, 2016 (emphasis in original).

Indeed, many lawyers are coming around to the “why” for transformation, but less on the “how.”

In addition to Nancy’s “compass” questions, here are some other practical transformation tips:

  1. Consider what are the risks of not transforming. Giordano advances that “in a world of dynamic change, an old map is often more dangerous than none; it gives us a false sense of security and/or encourages us to default to what we assume we ‘know’.”
  2. Make transformation core. It requires a cultural shift — an embedded commitment to prioritize innovation. Change management is a mindset circuit; whether it involves technology or not, it doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It requires continuous nurturing and training to keep everyone’s change muscles engaged and primed to be stronger vis-a-vis evolving business needs.
  3. Transformation is not only a rational journey, but an emotional one. A recent research collaboration between EY and Oxford University surveyed 935 CXOs across 23 countries about organizational transformation and concluded that “in order for transformation to be successful, leaders must approach it in ways designed to mitigate emotional harm to — and drive emotional commitment from — employees.” See “Emotional Journey,” supra.
  4. Be in permanent beta. I love this term from The Garage Group. It means to be focused on continuous improvement and growth. It also assists with us being able to more smoothly ride parallel waves of unpredictability and disruption.

In the 2020s, we have finally managed to shift away from constantly questioning the role of innovation in the law.  It’s now the moment to shift to embracing transformation as an opportunity to move forward more boldly. As legal leaders, but also as a profession.

The phone is ringing, and transformation is calling. Will you answer with the old playbook, or the bold playbook?

The choice is yours.