Business is undergoing a paradigmatic shift in its relationship with existing and prospective customers, the workforce, society, and even the planet. This is the business story of our time— a top-to-bottom corporate reverse- engineering process undertaken from the customer perspective. Business is challenging and refining its purpose, culture, structure, economic model, systems, processes, metrics, people, technology, and data use. Customer-centricity is its North Star. An enhanced end-to-end customer experience is its promised land.
The business transformation journey tests human adaptation, innovation, collaboration, and agility. It is as much a story about human behavior and change management as it is about technology, data, and new delivery models. The goal of workforce change management is to field an integrated, tech-enabled, data-backed, team-oriented, agile, holistically diverse workforce team unified by a clearly-articulated, universally-embraced purpose.
Human adaptability, data, technology, and new delivery models are each key change elements; the success of business transformation hinges upon their enterprise-wide integration. For example, data does not recognize domains, and expertise can be leveraged across business units. The ability to collaborate cross-functionally and to draw from the tools and resources across the enterprise produces an enhanced capacity to predict, mitigate, and quickly resolve risks and to foresee and capture opportunities. That is more easily grasped than practiced; it is a human journey.
Business transformation is a team sport that requires its diverse team members and their increasingly fluid roles to work collaboratively and across business units to achieve a common goal. Successful digital transformation is the elevation of the collective over the individual; skillsets over resumes; roles over jobs; constant learning over diplomas; and thoughtful experimentation over fear of failure. It is turning the challenges of a rapidly changing, increasingly complex business climate into opportunities to replace legacy paradigms with new ones that align the enterprise with the workforce, customers, and society. It is doing good, doing well, and creating a sustainable future.
The ramifications of the business digital transformation journey are far-reaching; they are altering how we live, work, and engage in commerce. An indicium of business change is the expansion of its metrics beyond economic performance alone. Business performance now includes environmental stewardship, social responsibility, and sound governance (ESG) and a holistically diverse, equitable, and inclusive workforce (DEI). These are tangible indices of corporate culture and purpose. Not only are they intrinsically valuable, but they also build goodwill and brand loyalty, promote talent acquisition, retention, and advancement, elevate purpose, and enhance performance.
Business is confronting a constellation of metastasized “wicked problems” as well as real-time new threats. That’s one reason why companies are morphing from siloed departments to more fluid, agile business units capable of operating as cross-functional teams. The integration of data-backed, tech-enabled expertise, experience, and diverse perspectives is required to solve the complex, rapid-fire challenges of a fast- changing world and digital business.
Business recognizes the legal function must be a part of its customer-focused, enterprise-wide, change process. The C-Suite is pressuring corporate legal leadership to mine the untapped potential of the legal function. This involves two key mandates:
1. Proactively defend the enterprise by using data, technology, and multidisciplinary teams to predict, detect, extinguish, mitigate, and/or effect early-stage risk/dispute resolution (a similar approach applies to commercial transactions, governance, IP monetization, and other practice areas);
2. Transition from deal-blocker and cost-center to opportunity facilitator and value creator. This is advanced by embracing automation, artificial intelligence and enterprise technology platforms, data, self-help tools, and multidisciplinary workforces. This enables lawyers and allied legal professionals to spend more time on value-creation opportunities within and beyond the legal function. It also instills an elevated sense of purpose that has been linked to improved retention, health, and performance.
The first step in law’s transformation journey is to align the legal function with the mission, purpose, and culture of business and to instill a customer- centric, team-oriented mindset. This is not an easy or quick process, but it is a necessary one. The legal function cannot achieve alignment unless it: speaks the language of business and understands its goals and risk profile, works proactively and at the speed of business, operates as a team (internally and across the enterprise), upskills, and adopts a customer-centric, results-oriented approach to everything it does. Legal must embrace the data-backed, tech-enabled, multidisciplinary approach to problem-solving, value-creation, and customer-centricity of business.
The legal function’s purpose is not to provide the best possible legal response but to provide rapid, data-backed, holistically considered, timely, actionable solutions to problems. Law’s raison d’etre has long been performing legal work at a high level—as judged by other lawyers. The legal function must now satisfy the needs and expectations of business, society, and the environment. The legal function is part of a larger whole; its purpose must be aligned with that whole and its performance is based on its impact on the whole.
The legal function must forge a collaborative relationship with other business units, sharing its expertise, experience, data, judgment, and institutional knowledge with them. The process must be reciprocal. Such a holistic, cross-functional, enterprise-wide approach to problem-solving, value creation, and enhanced customer experience is the crux of the business transformation story.
Business has outlined the legal chapter of its transformation story. Here are some additional chapter scenes.
1. Law is a function whose purpose is to serve its customers and society. It is a means to achieving that end, not an end unto itself.
2. Law is no longer solely about lawyers and legal issues; it involves allied disciplines whose expertise, experience, and perspective are required to meet the needs of digital business and society.
3. Effective legal delivery is data and tech-enabled. These tools do not replace differentiated legal expertise—they enhance it.
4. The legal function is part of a larger enterprise/societal/planetary whole and must recast its purpose, paradigms, people, and processes accordingly.
5. The legal function must look beyond its parapet and better understand the challenges of business. The press of work is neither an excuse nor a sound career strategy for failure to be inquisitive and to challenge and improve traditional ways of delivering legal services—and value.
6. The legal function’s mandate is to provide accessible, fast, cost-effective, transparent, predictive, multidisciplinary, data-backed, tech-enabled products and services that drive enterprise value and enhance the customer/end-user experience. It must also promote and deliver greatly enhanced access to legal services.
7. The legal function must align with the purpose and culture of business and embrace and adopt its customer-centricity. It must look beyond the historically narrow parameters of legal and collaborate with other business units and functions to advance enterprise, customer, and societal needs.
8. Law is not unique, nor is its transformation journey.
9. The legal function can look to business as a transformation guide.
10.The legal function must mine, analyze, apply, and share its data internally as well as with other business units. Data is domain agnostic and is most potentially impactful when shared across functions.
11.Legal delivery does not require “white glove” service in all instances, nor are attorneys necessary to resolve many commercial disputes. Consider, for example, that eBay
12.The legal function shares many of the same challenges—and opportunities—across the globe. It should think globally and recognize that innovative problem-solving is not confined to a handful of markets. Legal practice may differ but methods of enhancing delivery of legal services are scalable and readily adoptable across the globe.
13.Legal practice—the shrinking universe of tasks presently requiring a law license—remains captive to the self-regulated, balkanized, idiosyncratic rules proscribed by lawyers and Bar Associations. The profession imposes geographic restrictions to discourage “outside” competition from other professions and “foreign” lawyers. These artificial, protectionist, constraints do not serve clients, prospective clients, or society well.
14.The business of law—everything except the shrinking list of activities that require legal licensure—is not constrained by lawyer-imposed geographical, ownership, outside capital, and practice constraints. It is experiencing rapid growth, increased market share, capital investment, and consolidation. Managed services, platform providers, and an infusion of talent from other sectors evidence the transformation of law from lawyer-centric practice to customer-focused industry. This parallels the metamorphosis of medical practice to the healthcare industry decades before.
15.The financial success of large law firms— enhanced by the pandemic—should not be construed as marketplace endorsement of their model or a talisman of sustainability.
Business has recognized that it cannot meet new challenges—and capture opportunities— with old ways of doing things. Data, technology, multidisciplinary expertise, and diverse viewpoints are leveraged and shared across the enterprise as never before. The once rigid boundaries separating departments are being replaced by agile, cross-functional teams. The workforce is encouraged to “see the big picture,” and to participate in efforts to improve within and across their function.
This is context for legal change. It is a business story. The importance of law’s chapter to the wider business transformation narrative has yet to be determined. It will hinge in no small part on the legal function’s ability to get beyond law and focus on business, its customers, society, and the planet.