Christine Kennedy speaks with a clarity that is refreshing.
She projects the confidence of someone who has carefully and patiently built a portfolio of valuable experience on which she can draw – at just the right time. As so many legal clients enter the field of Legal Operations for the first time, Christine is the ideal person to calmly guide them through this new world and field their many questions. In short, Christine is the person you want to know because you know she’ll talk you through change – and get you through the other side. She’s been there. She’s a “can do” person.
Christine’s journey in the legal space calls on some rich chapters of experience that are highly pertinent to the market today. Her time in the Big Four focused on the needs of Fortune 50 clients – extrapolating information to help them be ready in the event of litigation. It was a natural adjunct to her prior law firm days. She built up her grit in big trial prep and settlements. She was hands-on in the WTC litigation. It led her to JP Morgan, which became a timely immersion in financial services and the demands of managing a national portfolio of key matters. With a final segway from the area of Reinsurance, she made a step into the leadership team of MLA.
Her move to MLA reflected a win/win choice of career growth and personal growth – balancing the joys and demands of being an accomplished lawyer and a equally accomplished parent. Whereas some take issue with the phrase “work-life balance” I like the way that Christine framed the issue. “You can’t have a fight between the two. Both demand your best – and deserve the best.” The move to MLA was a conscious move from law as “putting out fires” to law “as smart preventive”.
There is a curious parallel in the career path chosen by Christine – and that which increasingly faces participants in the legal industry. It revolves around the word “autonomous”. For many people – and for many decades – law has been a safe, steady-state career. Clearly, that is changing. With this shift in industry dynamic comes a greater requirement of self-ownership – individuals taking control of their career path in a more proactive, agile way. Gone are the assumptions about 20, 30 or 40 year trajectories. The evolution of tech in recent years suggests a much more fluid, dynamic work environment awaits many.
I asked Christine what advice she would give herself as (a) as a buyer and (b) as a individual lawyer in today’s marketplace. She doesn’t pull her punches: “The key is to understand where you want to be in five years – and identify the critical drivers and requirements that will ensure you achieve that vision of yourself. How does tech fit into that vision. Leverage it, don’t fight it.” For the individual, she noted: “Increasing efficiency is often less appealing versus the sense of being able to create new and incremental value for clients. Legal technology has a long way to go before it is truly user-friendly in many cases – so there is a genuine value-add in being able to be the translation layer between existing and new world orders for law. Above all, focus on “current value” – what can you do for your client today that they cannot.”
We turned to the marketplace and I asked Christine about the reactions she observes to change and, in particular, the adoption of technology in the legal space. She speaks eloquently to three clusters:
Firstly, those who are on board with technology and innovation. She neatly describes the group as “Show me and I’ll use it.” These individuals and organizations have moved beyond the early hesitation years and they’re realizing the benefits of adoption. The downside is out-weighed by the upside.
Secondly, those in the middle ground. Christine terms this group: “The undecided. There is typically a clear realization of the changing world and the role that technology like Google and Amazon plays all around us. But when it comes closer – into the legal domain – there is an inherent need to vet it.” That behavioral instinct, the need to vet can often be very self-limiting.
Thirdly, the sceptical. And there are still many in this category. “For this group”, she notes, “there is almost a blindness to the role or alignment of technology with law. Technology is met with scepticism and they see little purpose or value in innovating.”
So we asked: What is the driving force these days? What moves the needle? Human behavior is most often determined by stick or carrot – or some combination of the two. So what does it take to achieve legal technology adoption? Christine hits the nail on the head: “90% of the time it’s the stick. The catalyst for change or implementation is an external driver – a deadline, a demand, compliance, or a need to respond to a requirement. 90% of the time, this is what drives the budget decision and without it, it’s a much longer conversation.”
You quickly come to realize that Christine is a can do, hands on the wheel kind of person focused on the future, not simply tending the past. The legal industry faces the same choice – and the consequences are growing. There is a land grab going on in the legal sphere as we speak – a once-in-a-lifetime re-thinking and re-allocation of the legal space – in which new providers, new methods and new technology is coming to the fore. Says Christine: “The opportunity cost of holding onto the past and inefficient work methods is vast. Even beyond the benefits of automation, clients are starting to realize the benefits of data analytics. Value in output exceeds perception of value in rote processes. Data value trumps process value. Clients are increasingly focused on outcomes.”
Looking to the future, we considered the question of what is the greatest change, the greatest challenge and the greatest opportunity of the next 3-5 years. I rather liked how Christine approached this.
The greatest challenge? “To change our collective mindset. And once changed, to make it happen.”
The greatest change? “The altered mindset that trickles down into the broader body of the legal industry. A conscious and intentional distillation of “can do” and “let’s do” from today’s legal leadership and corporate clients – to law firms open to changing.”
The greatest opportunity? “To move the legal industry “from process to purpose”. To have the legal industry see and experience the hope and possibility for the individual that lies in a better future state. There is an opportunity here to let people “break free” of very monotonous work to once again find a higher calling that is both economically and spiritually rewarding.”
As we wrapped up our discussion, I was struck by the healthy confidence in Christine’s outlook – but it’s not just blind optimism. It’s built on solid foundations and a grounded view of where the industry is heading. For clients facing choices in a busy, often noisy marketplace, she would be a go-to person for me. The quiet voice of calm and experience will be invaluable in the storm of change that is coming upon the legal industry – as it surely is.