Sitting there working on the latest contract that came across your desk, your manager walks in and tells you that you have been hand picked. Hand picked to provide counsel to a new group of forward thinkers. Your company is going social and mobile in a big way. The executives want to be relevant and timely to your customers and users. Never turning down a good opportunity, you thank them and close your door and wonder, what next.
The folks that seem to have gravitated towards this space inside brands generally are the lawyers that have always been tasked with the new shiny thing. These were the folks that took up the mantle of providing counsel to your brand’s new web initiative, integration of e-mail for business, using phones to talk with customers and wondering about what laws applied to telegrams sent across the wire. If you work in this space, you are what I call an emerging technologies lawyer.
Now you are in this group, and you are looking at what you need to do and learn to be effective in your new role. Here are some thoughts from someone who has been there and done that.
1. Use New Technology
Does your phone flip? Do you have to hit the ‘3’ key twice to put an ‘e’ in your text? If you answered yes to these questions, it is time to get a new smart phone. In the tech field, it is calling ‘eating your own dog food.’ If you do not have a phone that allows you to use the new mobile app that your folks are seeking counsel on, you need to. You need to use the technology to understand what you are hearing when you follow rule 3 below.
This also provides a great benefit to your developers, a user group of one. Being an advocate of true user feedback, you can be that. Plus you are using the app in the exact same ways that your users will be. You will also be looking in nooks and crannies that normal folks won’t. Look around the app.
The same goes with social technologies. A colleague of mine calls it ‘going to the scene.’ It means having at least a passing familiarity with the social networks your brands operate on. Get a Facebook account, get a Twitter account, sign up for Pinterest, etc. Joss Whedon sung about going to the scene on This American Life. Not terribly on-point for this post, but I love Joss Whedon, so watch the video if you like him, too:
2. Attend Project Meetings
Lawyers hate attending meetings. Get over that. Be there at the beginning of projects to see what the groups are trying to accomplish. Understand their pain points and revel in their successes. I will talk about being a member of the team later, but if you don’t show up, those teams will never accept you as one of them. Showing up only to bring up the latest legal SNAFU will ensure that you are always an outsider.
Some of you may resist this advice and say that you already have too much work to do. Consider this an investment for the future. The less you are part of those meetings, the more the issues (and work) you are addressing will press on your time in the future. So you can ‘pay now or pay later’ as a Fram Oil Filter commercial from the early 80’s warns us.
3. Listen … A LOT!!!
When you are attending those project meetings, keep your mouth shut. Like we errantly tell some kids to only speak when spoken to, you should only open your mouth when asked to. Until you have earned the right to talk, don’t. Replace ‘be nice’ from Patrick Swayze’s speech in Road House with ‘listen’ and you get the point (WARNING: language is NSFW). The project team will let you know when they accept you enough for you to stop listening and engaging. If you already have their permission, pat yourself on the back and work hard to never lose that permission.
4. Be Dogged
Working in this space is different than most other areas of the law, to my mind. New laws in totally new areas don’t come along too often. Most of the time all we have are variations to old laws that you need to adapt to. In this area, you are not just adapting, you are adopting. There are new platforms to learn, new laws around privacy to deal with, and new technologies to embrace. Do you think Glass is still just something that allows the sunrise to stream into your room? If you do, please go to this wikipedia page and read a little.
I read a great article on thesalesblog.com about rain dances this morning. I love the conclusion of the post that observed that the rain dance always worked because the dancers didn’t stop until it rained. That is a lot of dancing in South Texas every summer these last few years.
5. Be Water on a Stone
As counsel for a brand, remember that ‘it’s the business’ that really matters. So when you are being persistent, be persistent in working with your technology teams to modify their plans to meet whatever regulations are applicable. Look also at where those regulations can be interpreted differently. As you talk to the teams about the legal issues, be the water that slowly erodes the stone. Don’t be the dynamite. Dynamite is a tool, but it should be reserved for the gravest of situations, not everyday business. Emulate the slow eroding effect of the sea water on the shore rocks in this video:
The move towards more social business will provide more and more opportunities for new folks to work in this space. My opening scenario will be played out more than a few times in the coming years. These are just some of my thoughts on how you can do this effectively.