Inside Perspective: Change

Dan Harper is vice president, corporate counsel and secretary for Océ North America, Inc., a Canon Group Co.  He is also president of the Chicago Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel. The views expressed herein are the opinions of the author and do not reflect the position or viewpoint of Océ North America Inc., Canon Inc. or any of the Océ or Canon companies.


If your time to you

Is worth savin’

Then you better start swimmin’

Or you’ll sink like a stone

For the times they are a-changin’…

As the present now

Will later be past

The order is

Rapidly fadin’

And the first one now

Will later be last

For the times they are a-changin’.

Bob Dylan

We talk a lot about “change.”  As is my usual course, I looked up the definition of “change” before I started to write this column.  “To make the form, nature, content, future course, etc., of (something) different from what it is or from what it would be if left alone.”  After some reflection on the meaning of the word, I realized that “change” is a very scary proposition whether it be at home, in the community or at work.  So, how do we get past the scary and embrace the idea of change?

First, we must accept that change is inevitable and is constant.  It is the nature of the universe that all things change all the time.  Once the certainty of change is accepted, then a decision must be made – how do I react?  Do I accept the outcome?  Do I try to influence the expected outcome to a different outcome?  One option not available is outright rejection.  Lawyers tend to be the type of people who effectuate change.  We are go-getters, problem solvers, advocates.  That being said, it might be particularly difficult for lawyers to accept that we cannot influence every outcome.  There are simply some things over which we do not have control and acceptance of that reality is necessary if one is to move forward under those circumstances.  Accepting that there are things over which we have no control is a liberating experience.

Once the fact of change has been accepted, one must determine if he or she has any influence over the outcome.  If no, then a course of action must be plotted to deal with the change.  If the outcome can be influenced, the lawyer must decide if changing the outcome is a worthy project and, if so, an action plan must be developed to do so.

When my former company filed bankruptcy in 2003, I had no control over the changes that occurred.  I could not hide in the corner and fret about them.  I needed to assess how the changes affected my company, the way that I practiced and the substantive areas in which I practiced.  I also had to evaluate the future of my company from a personal perspective – what did the bankruptcy filing mean to me personally, my career and my future?  I knew that I could not change the future of my company, but I could influence my own future and I planned and acted accordingly.

Change is not always as dramatic as that arising out of a corporate bankruptcy.  I have been reading a bit about how the new media (is it still new?) has changed the way we communicate.  My kids get mad at me if I phone them on their electronic devices, preferring instead the less personal text message.  So I text them, phoning only when I have no other choice.  If I did not affect this change, I would not be able to communicate as much with my kids.  It is just a fact that I have to accept.

I have a friend who refuses to open a Facebook account.  He has taken a stand against the impersonal way of communicating with his friends and family.  God bless him for taking a stand.  However, I probably know more about what is going on in his college daughter’s life that he does, simply because she is my friend on Facebook and I have access to those things she chooses to publish about herself.

A few weeks ago I attended a leadership development program sponsored by the Association of Corporate Counsel.  The speaker repeatedly honed in on the usefulness of Twitter and LinkedIn accounts to spread the word about what the local chapter is doing.  Never in a million years could I have foreseen that a 140 character tweet would have any value to an in-house lawyer.  The jury is still out for me on that point.  However, in the interest of making an informed decision on whether those tools are good for my association or for me personally, I have opened an account to try to better understand how they work.  The point is that we cannot resist change even if we do not understand it or see no reason for it to occur.  So – accept it and move on.

Adaptability is a valuable trait to the in-house lawyer.  How many of you were amazed the first time you received a “copy” of a document through the phone lines (circa 1984-87), rather than have the document messengered over to the office?  Well, those that can’t remember those days probably think very little about how we can now send high quality digital documents instantly through the internet and likely cannot appreciate the way that this has changed the practice of law.  Where would you be if you resisted these changes and refused to use fax machines or the Internet?

For in-house counsel to continue to be relevant, we must be early adaptors of change within our practice and businesses.  As the 20th century poet quoted above puts it, you have two choices  – swim or sink.  We must be open to new ways of conducting business and delivering services to our clients.  We must not fall prey to the urge to resist change and to do things the way they have always been done.  We must be creative and open-minded.  If not, we will no longer be first in line; we will be last, cast upon the scrap heap with the fax machines and dial telephones.

“Father, give us courage to change what must be altered, serenity to accept what cannot be helped, and the insight to know the one from the other.”   Karl Paul Reinhold Niebuhr


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