ILANZ, In-House Lawyers Association of New Zealand


Curiosity might not be great for cats but what about in-house lawyers?

Curiosity might not be great for cats but what about in-house lawyers?

By Gabrielle O’Brien, GM Law Reform and Sections (acting)| September 4, 2020 at 12:37 AM

Last week I had the chance to listen to two inspiring speakers who spend their time contemplating “what’s next?”  Not just what’s for lunch in my rather sad ‘working from home’ restaurant but what’s on the horizon for the next 10 to 20 years.  Lesley Shannon, Head of Ecosystem and Trend Scouting at Nokia gave ILANZ members a glimpse of the developments in the virtual and augmented reality worlds that will be keeping in-house legal teams on their toes.


Stephen Scheeler, former CEO for Facebook Australia and New Zealand and now a thought leader and influencer with several global companies, will be speaking at the ILANZ Conference in 2021.  I was lucky enough to experience a taster session, sitting in on a webinar for Australian in-house lawyers (thanks ACC Australia) where he talked about life beyond the pandemic.  


As well as touching on some of the developments in AI, the way these will change professional roles and ultimately see the demise of some whole classes of work (eg. in the United States, 30% of males drive as a job), Stephen talked about corporate social responsibility and the need for leadership over the next 20-30 years in preparation for this scale of change.


Curiosity was encouraged and in-house lawyers were urged to turn the people around them into teachers.  Stephen recommended working on projects in parts of the business you don't have a deep understanding of.  This included taking a genuine interest not just in what others do, but how they do it. 


Dexterity with data was also a key recommended skill.  Stephen noted that very few of us are trained in the use of data.  For organisations, the ability to understand the data available and the toolbox to analyse it were increasingly important when looking to develop a strategic advantage.  As an in-house lawyer, you might have experts to call upon but the capacity to understand what they are telling you and then translate it into your work doesn’t come without some continual upskilling and some good old-fashioned curiosity. 


Stephen talked about how important translators are in business.   He saw an in-house lawyer, who is not just a subject matter expert but who is able to translate their knowledge and expertise for those who have no background in the subject, as the trusted advisor that companies need both now and in the future.  Being a bridge between disciplines was also an asset, which comes back to that sense of curiosity and eagerness to learn.  This also worked to avoid the trap of falling into our own in-house language and paradigms.


Stephen finished off his talk by focussing on data, consumer trust and data sovereignty.  Describing the current situation as the “wild west” of data, he predicted a future where individuals will have more tools, including AI options, to protect their personalised data, a change driven both by regulation and consumer action.  He posed the question: With so much data now stored in the cloud, what is data sovereignty?


Suffice to say there will be plenty of regulatory, ethical and privacy questions to keep lawyers occupied for some time to come!


Gabrielle O’Brien

GM Law Reform and Sections (acting)