Monday, January 10, 2022

Can Business Law Profs Be Change Leaders?

Yesterday evening, the 2022 Association of American Law Schools Annual Meeting concluded.  Hosted on a platform using Zoom, the conference spanned five days.  It was a meeting filled with super papers and discussion, many worthy honorees, and a little bot of networking and fellowship (not as satisfactory over Zoom, of course).

I was invited by BLPB co-blogger John Anderson and Martin Edwards to be part of an exciting discussion group: A Very Online Economy: Meme Trading, Bitcoin, and the Crisis of Trust and Value(s) – How Should the Law Respond?  [Editor's note: a hypertext link to John's earlier blog post was added post publication.]  Participants were asked to write short papers on the topic and share their theses during the session at the meeting. Initially, I planned to write on something involving substantive doctrinal law stemming from the meme stock phenomenon or my work in crowdfunding, blockchains, or insider trading.  But the more I thought about it (and the topic), and with the conference's programs honoring the life and legacy of Deborah Rhode in the foreground of my mind, the more I became convinced that I wanted to write/speak about lawyer leadership in this area at this time.

The short paper that resulted from that thinking, Leading as Lawyers in an Era of Rapid Technological Change, Limited Trust, and Individualism, can be found here.  It is not worth an SSRN post; it is just a thought piece.  But I am interested in your feedback, so I am sharing a link to it here.  The essential thesis is summarized in my conclusion paragraphs, pasted in below:

Lawyers and legal academics who desire to be change leaders have unique knowledge and experience relevant to the creation of a vision for legal or regulatory change that responds to ongoing business transformations. We know the existing legal and regulatory landscape and can observe its application in day-to-day business dealings. As businesses rapidly evolve in an increasingly digital world, the expertise of business lawyers and business law scholars is important to legal and regulatory change as well as legal and regulatory compliance.

Yet, successful, sustainable change in U.S. law and regulation has proven somewhat difficult. Among other things, we are living in an era of limited trust and increased individualism. These socio-political attributes of current life in the United States appear to be barriers to implementing even the most swell-reasoned legal arguments for change.

A possible way forward involves the use of proven patterns of efficacious change leadership that have been observed in private businesses and documented in a robust body of literature—especially academic literature authored by business management scholars. This literature deserves our attention and study, as does its application to effective processes of legal and regulatory change. There is no magic recipe for leading change, especially in the current environment. But merely having and sharing solid ideas for positive legal and regulatory change has never been enough to ensure the adoption and entrenchment of that change. If we want to be change leaders in the current, rapidly evolving business ecosystem, business lawyers and business law academics must consider and engage process. The ideas shared here are offered as a means of encouraging that consideration and engagement.

The paper admittedly results in part from the feeling that many worthy ideas for legal or regulatory change never get implemented because the right process was not employed.  Perhaps you also have felt this frustration at some point . . . .  As a result, in the paper, I end up encouraging the implementation of specific, staged, sequenced steps to make sustainable legal or regulatory change.

Among other things, I share a few pieces of the referenced academic literature on change leadership--a literature that I have used in other work.  It is a growing body of work.  And it keeps drawing me back.

The paper is five pages.  If any of what I have said in this post piques your interest and you deign to read the paper, let me know if you have any thoughts.  My idea is a simple idea; perhaps too simple . . . .

Conferences, Joan Heminway | Permalink


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