Can in-house lawyers ‘Work Out Loud’?

‘Working Out Loud’ (WOL) is a way of working which advocates sharing work-in-progress across a network or community of people and getting (and giving) feedback to help improve the outcome.

Steve Bynghall on 12/11/18

Lawyers don’t have a reputation as people who are necessarily open to sharing what they are working on with others or exposing work-in-progress to wider scrutiny, of course, that absolutely needs to be the case because of strict confidentiality, and because outputs must be authoritative and final, not “in draft”. Therefore, on face value, there seems little in the philosophy of that might be attractive for in-house legal teams.

What is Working Out Loud?

WOL is a movement which has gained popularity over the last three years. It advocates building up networks and closer collaboration with colleagues, largely through sharing work-in-progress with others for input and being transparent about what is being worked upon. The use of social media tools such as blogs, both internal - and external-facing, is often regarded as helping facilitate WOL, but the use of face-to-face meetings is also encouraged.

Perhaps the most prominent exponent of WOL is John Stepper, a consultant who worked at Deutsche Bank for many years, and whose book “Working Out Loud”  advocates five main pillars of WOL:

  • Make your work visible
  • Lead with generosity
  • Build a social network
  • Make it purposeful
  • Have a growth mindset

Stepper’s book is well worth a read particularly for its pragmatic application of WOL. He’s piloted the idea of “Circles” – small private groups where you can share work in a safe (and confidential) space which help people to develop WOL-related habits.  The book also rescues WOL from being a bit of a woolly concept to one which is much more about personal development.

Working out Loud for in-house lawyers

At first glance, WOL for in-house legal teams, can look like a non-starter. There’s also the highly off-putting name which I personally don’t like, but I think WOL is worth having a closer look at.  Here are six areas in which WOL could be of value to in-house lawyers.

Breaking down siloes with colleagues

Professionally speaking, in-house legal teams can find themselves relatively isolated and misunderstood. That can be down to the specialist professional activities they are involved in and even fueled by wider perceptions about lawyers. WOL provides methods of working which can help to break down siloes with colleagues from other professions by encouraging networking but also provide a working style which undermines negative perception of ‘high-powered’ lawyers. A more open and transparent way of working is quite possibly not what your colleagues are expecting.

Adding value to the business

In many of the knowledge articles on CLL’s website we’ve stressed the valuable contribution which in-house lawyers provide to organisations, even though there can be a perception that in-house lawyers are resolutely un-commercial and lack awareness in this area. WOL is an opportunity to completely break that perception.

Inviting feedback on an idea that actually demonstrates creative thinking, commercial acumen and also shows you are easy to work with, can help in-house legal teams add value to the business.

Improving team dynamics

Within larger in-house teams, but even in smaller teams too, WOL can help to alter team dynamics and provide a more cohesive process where all team members feel they are adding value.  Breaking down hierarchies in a controlled way can help junior staff feel valued, improve trust and transparency and, in the end, produce better outcomes. WOL doesn’t need to undermine reporting lines or existing review processes as long as it is framed in the right way.  

Driving learning for individuals and teams

The 70-20-10 learning model suggests that 70 percent of learning and development comes from on the job experience, with 20 per cent from learning form peers and 10 per cent from more formal training. Arguably WOL can present a structured learning opportunity for the 20 percent which comes from learning with peers. I think this is particularly the case for more junior members of a team, but senior in-house legal professionals may also find themselves pleasantly surprised that they are gaining new perspectives, fresh ideas and learning techniques from others.

Building bridges with employees

Arguably, in-house lawyers have a role to play in helping to educate employees on how to minimise risks for the organisation they work for. Working out Loud with the rest of your organisation to help minimise risk can provide both interesting input but also drive buy-in.

Further personal and professional development

It’s not always easy being an in-house counsel, particularly if you are the sole person, or if you’re in your first role just coming out of a legal firm. For example, Imposter Syndrome can be a symptom of not feeling supported, or of inexperience. WOL can really help to build up a support network either with other in-house teams or your colleagues in other support functions.

A problem shared is better than a problem that festers, and you may get a pragmatic perspective on your position. Similarly the feedback you give to others – and the feeling that you’ve added value yourself- can be remarkably powerful.

Take a look at Working Out Loud

Working Out Loud isn’t for everybody, but there may be some aspects of it which you find interesting and valuable. It’s worth Googling away, reading the book by John Stepper and seeing if it can work for you.

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