By Stanley Greenwood, LAW FOR ALL’s Chief Information Officer.
Anyone who tells you that technology, especially artificial intelligence (AI), isn’t going to have a significant impact on almost every industry isn’t clued-up and, quite frankly, shouldn’t be trusted. There is no denying that advancements in the tech space are already changing the way many companies go about doing business. As you finish reading this sentence, there’s probably a company that’s implemented a tech-driven process or product that is setting them apart from their competitors. The legal industry is certainly no exception to this rapid evolution.
As the Chief Information Officer at LAW FOR ALL, I have been tasked and challenged with managing and inspiring a development team within the quickly evolving LawTech and LegalTech space. Our goal is to help a leading legal services provider stay at the forefront of their industry by ensuring the technical and digital processes that increase their efficiency and output are up to date and, more importantly, evolving with the times. Over the years, I have been blessed to have been involved in two multi-million-rand projects. And with each project, not only did our software ecosystem and tech-stack increase but so did our staff compliment and overall operational complexity.
Naturally, the above-mentioned comes with a unique set of challenges, and the fact that my team and I don’t have legal backgrounds might seem like an unconquerable hurdle, but inexperience in the field isn’t a problem at all. Let me unpack some of the challenges and solutions I have encountered and implemented.
Building a Development Team: Attracting and Retaining Talent
Undoubtedly, a challenge hidden within our search for talent is the fact that software developers don’t yet recognise LawTech and LegalTech as an exciting opportunity – especially when compared to FinTech or joining an emerging technology startup. I have had my fair share of declined interviews for this very reason. Becoming aware of this has shaped the way I interview, hire and ultimately manage candidates (I will delve into this a little deeper just now). Once I have a team in place, the focus then shifts to not only getting the work done but ensuring there’s enough acknowledgement, opportunity and incentive to stay in the somewhat uncharted territory of LegalTech and LawTech. My approach to retention is two-fold: fostering a healthy working culture and regular unfiltered check-ins. It’s all about bringing out the best in your team.
How to Get the Most from Your Team of Developers
People are the magic… Yes, I know, right! Most successful people share this sentiment, and multiple management and leadership books state this as a fact. You may argue that “your” coworkers are different and that you face various barriers, not to mention your un-accommodating company culture.
As an employee (or even business owner), you are mandated to help the business grow, improve its position within its ecosystem and deliver value to the business’s customers and key partners. The days of working strictly according to your job specification are quickly and adamantly coming to an end. If you still see barriers between you and other areas of the business, you need to reframe your thinking and rather quickly. I encourage you to challenge your assumptions and the narrative in your head, preventing you from stepping outside the “lines”. I personally only practised this after it was first modelled to me by my co-workers and manager, but please don’t repeat my mistake, you will be wasting your own valuable time.
Practically, this can be done by considering and implementing three behaviours:
1. Create a healthy environment/atmosphere
From experience and observation, most people want to be part of a team, feel that their work matters and they want their immediate work area to support them in reaching their responsibilities. This is a broad topic and can range from adding some lights and plants to a room to workshopping a shared values word cloud and displaying it on the wall. You need to pay attention to others environment and listen to them verbally and visually, as some people don’t always know what is possible. A few years back our department established its own “Team Alliance” (aka values) – respect, cleanliness, humanity, reliability, passion, fun, transparency, humility and accountability – allowing us to keep each other accountable as we work as unique individuals. I encourage my team to work on projects that excite them and to think beyond their current role, expecting them to voice their desired career direction as well as how they would like to achieve it. We operate within a thin hierarchy where there is no room for ego, and the best idea wins. Decision- making is shared, and everyone is expected to contribute verbally.
2. Absolute truth versus ambiguity
You need to remove ambiguity by continually seeking the absolute truth. This behaviour means taking the time to understand how you work daily. Your activities, the tasks you perform, why you achieve them, and how they add value. If you are unsure on either of these, you need to start asking questions to your managers and employees, not within your circle. You ask questions to understand the status quo better. Only then you can challenge your assumptions, remove ambiguity, understand the truth (origin) and start making suggestions on improving or even stopping a unit of work. Remember, only dead fish go with the flow. You have the absolute right to understanding the work you do from A to Z.
3. Encourage failure, practice humility
You are only one person, and the truth is, you have good and not-so-good characteristics or quirks- and this is okay! Embracing this, moves you one step closer to handing off work that you are not good at and asking for work you are good at and actually like doing. For most of us this behaviour is displayed by delegating work – the work you know someone else can do better. Now, remember not only to consider those employees available to you but considering everyone working within the company. Now, this goes both ways, if someone else is doing work, you find fun and excites you, talk to the right person and ask for it.
Having the courage to ask for something you want means you need to be vulnerable and move outside your comfort zone. Delegating and allowing others to make a mistake or achieve success – even if this reflects negatively on you or positively on them – is where the magic lies.
Practising these behaviours is liberating and moves you forward by forcing you to make mistakes, make connections and understanding what your business is fundamentally about.
Don’t Forget the People as the Tech Evolves
Of course, there is going to be pressure- as a leader- to not only be aware of all the developments but also finding ways to implement to best suit the company. And that is when you might lose sight of people and their humanity. One thing I have learnt is to not only seek out but also understand, and respect is the curve balls life throws everyone as we go about our work week-in and week-out. Giving your best at work does not mean being perfect. Waiting, repeating and pushing yourself (or co-workers) to perfect a piece of work is often a waste of time and causes unnecessary friction. Stay focused, sensitive and genuine. You will find your way in the industry in no time.