Hardly a day goes by that clients don’t ask for recommendations on what new legal or regulatory technology to get to help their in-house legal or compliance teams perform better. The frequency of the question is not surprising – legal- and regtech is the hottest ticket in town. Investment in these technologies grew by 813% in 2018 and entire conferences are devoted to it (we are at one – Legal Innovation and Tech Fest – this week).

We also understand where the question comes from. Us compliance and legal folk have known for years that people really don’t like us or the work we do, and hope that a light sprinkling of cool legal tech will result in rainbows, unicorns and warm and fuzzy feelings. But it won’t.

If we don’t address the underlying reason why people hate us, no amount of technology will make the lawyer jokes stop. That is why our response when we get asked for tech advice is always this: Let’s do a #complianoscopy!

Why the gross metaphor you ask? Novation has a long and storied history in toilet humour. Our motto used to be “One-ply, two-ply, comply”, which is still a banner on our website, and  one of our directors refers to herself as an out-house lawyer (she takes care of your shit). But this time we were inspired by one of those quotes that we wish we wrote ourselves:

“Compliance is like a colonoscopy: People may need it, but they don’t want it, they don’t like it and they certainly don’t want to talk about it. (And they absolutely don’t want any more than is necessary).”

Shout out to Sean Graham.

The first part of the solution is to own and understand the problem.

Why do people hate lawyers and compliance officers (and the work we do) so much? It’s not just because we speak legalese and sometimes even Latin. There are a number of fairly legit reasons for this:

  • We are seen as the inhibitors of business. All we do is create unnecessary obstacles and red tape, which stops them from doing their jobs and innovating.
  • We are out of touch with business strategies and goals and unaware of the day-to-day struggles of the rest of the business.
  • When they ask us a question, they always get a long, complicated, boring answer back. Even if it was a yes/no question!
  • We always say “no” before we say “yes”. And we never ask them why they want to do something in a certain way.
  • We don’t give practical advice and people are often left thinking “Okay, but what am I supposed to do now?”

The second part is the #complianoscopy.

Sounds painful, but actually it’s necessary – and always has great results. Once we’ve put on our latex gloves, we start asking questions like:

  • Does your legal/compliance strategy align with the businesses strategy?
  • Do you follow a risk-based approach to make sure that your risk appetite matches the businesses and to stop yourself from sweating the small stuff?
  • Do you always ask why the business is doing something in a non-compliant way in the first place, before you give your opinion?
  • Do you do a cost-benefit analysis before you make recommendations?
  • Do you speak like a normal person or do you “revert to” people and use “and/or”? And how is your Latin?
  • Do you think people read what you write? Do you think that you change people’s behaviour?
  • Do you know what change management is? (One of our directors, Ann, is one, and she says it is “Figuring out what the implications of changes really are and why people respond to change the way they do.”)

All of these questions are aimed at testing whether you have empathy with the people you advise, whether you take the context in which you work into account, whether you are a pragmatist and whether you understand good communication and change management.

And we truly believe that before you nail these soft skills, you should not be automating anything. You’ll just fail faster.

Elizabeth will be atttending the Legal Innovation and Tech Fest from 10 – 11 June 2019. She’ll be on the panel discussing Legal Service Delivery of the Future at 14h00 on 11 June 2019. This session will delve into the legal service delivery model of the future and will explore how law firms and alternative legal service providers have evolved and are increasingly collaborating in hybrid delivery models.
Read more about #LegalTechFest here.

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