“Innovation” means many different things to in-house counsel as we each have a different role within our organization and a different reason for working where we do. We may be technical specialists content to focus on a particular practice area or perhaps new to the in-house experience and nervous about uncertainties to be faced (especially as sole counsel).
We are inundated with commentary offering opinions about what we should know about or be doing to effect change in the legal industry. For instance, my organization believes innovation is “an essential principle underpinning [its] overall business philosophy”, fundamental to the advancement of the organization (and the global economy).
A search on the Association of Corporate Counsel web site identified resources and examples to highlight what is being done around the world: efforts on innovation in contract management, ADR strategies, approaches to compliance training, legal technology, external counsel engagement, and alternative fee arrangements — each a focus of the ACC’s Value Champions program.
Some may argue as in-house counsel we are not expected to be inventive with our efforts for the organization. Some may not expect our role to include experimenting with different processes and practices or challenging the status quo in providing services — but it should. The following step is essential in increasing worth as in-house counsel.
Find a championIdentify someone in management who can support and champion your efforts and help gauge whether the senior management team will accept counsel who does more than think within the legal box. Even a small initiative or idea may not be new for you as a lawyer, but it may be new for your organization, and demonstrable tangible or financial results will capture the attention of senior management. As evidenced in the pharmaceutical industry where a medication used for one treatment finds remarkable results treating something altogether different, so, too, may guiding initiatives adopted from other industries bring benefit to our organizations.
Too many lawyers are slaves to precedent and process, relying on what has been done in the past. I acknowledge a certain need for this as part of our job as counsel. For instance, using template documents can save time and keep us from reinventing the wheel.
However, I must point out our profession is based on us using our ingenuity — applying our intellect in a creative way for the benefit of our client. There’s an alternative to slavishly following antiquated templates or dysfunctional processes that may have made sense when lawyers charged by the word.
The truly innovative do not question the need for change; instead, they question what can be changed and what steps may effect that change. They do not offer the fallacy of having “no time”, an often-used excuse for not acting. Taking initiative and being disruptive is crucial.
What many of us are doing today is not sufficient enough to meet the needs and challenges posed to our practices and organizations tomorrow. Although your organization may not necessarily recognize your endeavours, it is better for our profession that you take up the torch, shake off your inhibitions, and make a difference.
This year, I was honoured to join some very talented in-house counsel and judge submissions for the 2015 Innovation Awards. Numerous counsel brought leadership in ideas and actions to their organization, realizing efficiencies and cost savings, and rendering positive operational impact. The nominees must be commended for their efforts and initiative in seeking a better way to practice, going beyond more than just what is expected.
We all face inefficiencies, frustrations, expensive tools (your external counsel?), and processes. However, our roles as in-house counsel provide opportunity for leadership. Embrace this and look beyond your legal role to generate unforeseen value for your organization.
Lorne O’Reilly is senior counsel at Dow Chemical Canada ULC.