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Of all the key areas in which law department leaders self-graded their overall maturity and development in the recent ACC Benchmarking report, Innovation Management ranked last. How can law departments create a culture of innovation and creativity, let it thrive, and keep that culture alive? Chief legal officers (“CLO”) set the tone for their teams through how leadership approaches, how they hire, retain and promote, and, finally, the behaviors they incentivize. Explore key takeaways below from ACC’s virtual CLO roundtable on 23 July 2020.

Practical Tips for CLOs to Nurture a Culture of Innovation

CLOs tend to have a fixed view about ability and learning often adopting the paradigm of “why change it, if it works?” This may be partly due to the inherent tension between being an innovator and a successful CLO.  The former requires a large degree of creativity and appetite for risk, while the latter has been traditionally viewed as risk averse. How can CLOs, and by extension the legal department, disrupt this paradigm and start encouraging innovative thinking? 

Below are three areas of focus that are ripe for innovation.

1.    Diversity and Inclusiveness

  • What if your headquarters is located in an area that lacks diversity or may not attract diverse candidates? Teleworking and more flexible work options is one approach to tackle this issue. However, CLOs shouldn't give up on trying to have talent relocate to their headquarters. CLOs may, for example, leverage their own diverse team members to try help. Using the right talent recruiter can also make a significant impact.
  • CLOs should personally make express commitments to diversity. They should be mindful, and guard against the inclination to hire people that look and think just like them.
  • Make the business case for diversity, equality, and inclusion. A more diverse workforce enhances the business – this should be measured and reported. Objectives should be set based on assessed weaknesses in regard to diversity, equality, and inclusion, with compensation tied to results.
  • CLOs should have open and honest conversations with their teams. What can the team do on a small and immediate scale to address organization-wide problems? Encourage direct reports to reach out to their teams and check-in; how are you doing?
  • CLOs should listen to their team’s personal stories to create a sense of welcome and belonging. A diverse candidate may need more help to feel like a part of the team – they may need to be mentored into the culture. This includes asking them to take risks when they don't feel comfortable.
  • Having a diverse team or focusing on diverse hiring is a great start, but there is more work to be done. Who are the strongest voices on your team? Who is your likely successor? Are the diverse members of your team being heard? Don’t shy away from the responsibility of thinking outside the box to ensure a diversity of opinion.

2.    Talent Development

  • Many legal departments are largely comprised of subject matter experts, many of whom cannot advance to a leadership role. CLOs should be thinking proactively about how to expose those subject matter experts to other areas of interest. Some will accept this approach with open arms, while others will not. Either approach is completely acceptable, but those that are open to exploring other possibilities in career development will benefit immensely.
  • CLOs should explore ways to encourage their legal team to think more strategically about the organization’s goals. For example, the CLO can make lawyers on their team responsible for c-suite decisions.
  • Gaining international experience or serving on an overseas project is a great method for developing a legal team. The challenge is that many families are hesitant to uproot their lives and move, especially in homes where both parents work. CLOs should explore shorter international assignments or, perhaps, look at bringing international work to their team.

3.    Culture

  • Lawyers are reluctant to fail. Taking a risk or trying something that may fail can be challenge. CLOs should establish safety nets and manage the tension of innovation, experimentation, and failure.
  • CLOs should pay attention to the employee experience within the legal department. Companies focus on customers, so why not on employees? What is the actual employee experience as opposed to what the company line says it is?
  • Simple steps can go a long way. What is your company dress code? Can you attract more talent and nurture a more productive culture by focusing less on formal dress and more on employee experience?
  • CLOs should try and find solutions to law related issues from outside of the legal field. For example, bringing in a pricing analyst to help analyze pricing arrangement with law firms.
  • Hiring tech-savvy staff is a start but not enough to start building a culture of innovation. There is no “one way” to achieve this culture of innovation; it’s a combination of Diversity and Inclusion efforts, talent development, and ensuring that the legal department feels comfortable taking risks and failing, to name a few.

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Region: Global
The information in any resource collected in this virtual library should not be construed as legal advice or legal opinion on specific facts and should not be considered representative of the views of its authors, its sponsors, and/or ACC. These resources are not intended as a definitive statement on the subject addressed. Rather, they are intended to serve as a tool providing practical advice and references for the busy in-house practitioner and other readers.