Who will be the first Chief Justice Officer?

We badly need a more inclusive approach to business

Fear is increasing exponentially nowadays. While our globalized, open and digitized world has brought huge progress to many, a broadly shared fear can be felt when reading the newspaper or watching the news. Will globalization reverse due to a lack of inclusiveness? Can open borders be sustained in a time of increasing migration and terrorism? Do the large opportunities of BIG data and internet of things outweigh the privacy risks? What are the prospects of the average bank employee or craftsman when they are replaced by robots and automated services take over routine work? Will crucial institutions such as the EU survive the wave of populist politicians? While these questions sound a bit apocalyptic, they do relate to real developments and emotional perceptions broadly surfacing across our society.

The central issue underlying this fear is justice. It is not complicated to see the linkage between all the mentioned developments and recent political events such as the Dutch Ukraine referendum, Brexit and the election of Donald Trump. If one endures to listen to the rhetoric’s surrounding these campaigns, there is a central recurring theme. This theme is the divide between the haves and the have not’s. They blame the so-called elite of gross self-interest and plea that their followers are merely confronted with the negative consequences of the societal trends without sufficient protection. While these rhetoric’s might lack any nuance, they do point at an important shift in perspective. In contrast to the broadly shared conviction in recent decades that economic growth was the best means to benefit all and might even lift billions out of poverty, this can rightfully be doubted in the face of growing inequality and dismantled social security systems. If one acknowledges this reality the perspective shifts. Merely economic growth becomes insufficient. The question becomes: how can we make growth inclusive and what is a fair division of cost and benefits of globalization and technological progress between the different societal stakeholders. The central question thus becomes a matter of justice.

We need justice innovation to move out of the zero-sum game

Treating justice as a liability is a root cause of this dynamic. When we talk about justice the most often surfacing words in the corporate world are “risk”, “legal” and “compliance”. There is a general tendency to treat these matters as a risk. While businesses have learned to treat “green sustainability matters” more and more as an opportunity, this is still in strong contrast to the social justice approach. Then we start talking about “doing due diligence” and “providing access to remedy”, which implies a mindset of unsolvable issues that needs to be dealt with or even worse which we need to evade or exclude. There is a strong parallel with the issues facing the societal justice at large. While in some regions of the world justice systems are “legitimate” and “robust”, they in almost all cases lack accessibility and are not effective in solving the underlying issues and contributing to restoring relations (read Sam Muller’s recent diagnose here for more inspiration in this regard).

Switching towards a more innovative approach to justice can leverage possible solutions. The good news is that we have seen an emerging movement of social entrepreneurs that contribute to more accessible and effective solutions to justice issues. In essence they apply three principles which open many alternative perspectives to achieving justice:

1. They see justice as a need of people (and organizations) and consider alternative approaches to issues based on their legitimacy, but also accessibility and effectiveness (in structurally solving the issues)

2. They are flexible and creative to apply alternative approaches when they are more effective. For example, mediation based approaches are often more effective than traditional procedures

3. They embrace the opportunities of technology to leverage access and effectiveness of justice. An example is LegalZoom which might be considered “the Uber of the legal sector”

Applying these principles across the “justice value chain” from rulemaking to solving conflicts create many opportunities to innovate. We are honored to be able to support a considerable number of justice innovations in co-developing the Innovating Justice Accelerator. The impact of these innovations has however until recently mainly impacted the public and non-profit sector. Considering however the inclusiveness challenge the corporate sector faces, there is a strong case to extend this innovative approach also to their sphere of influence.

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Moving from General Counsel to Chief Justice Officer

Now that inclusive business is the next big challenge, the Chief Justice Officer is likely to be the next addition to the boardroom composition. Following the examples of the Chief Sustainability, Chief Innovation and Chief Technology Officer, his or her task is to make the approach towards justice more strategic. In essence this is about how corporates can innovative towards inclusive business models that have a justice based competitive advantage. These business models harness the power of trust in all the relations with corporate stakeholders and apply innovation to lower the cost and impact of lack of trust (such as low engagement, low retention, extensive bureaucracy and conflicts). Basically there are three tasks on the top of his or her agenda: (1) integrate justice innovation in the strategy, (2) develop strategic intelligence to measure justice performance in all relations and (3) develop a portfolio of experiments with alternative approaches. One might for example think of alternative modes to manage employment contracts such that flexibility provides equal advantages for employer and employee or strategic approaches to build trust with stakeholder surrounding infrastructural asset development.

We are waiting for the first corporate lawyer or general counsel which sees the opportunity to leverage his or her impact and strategic relevance by embracing this opportunity. No doubt taking up this role as first ever provides for a daunting effort and frightening task of releasing the certainties of the traditional legal approach to justice matters. The advantages of this shared value based approach however provide advantages on all levels: for the legal department (strongly increased strategic relevance), the corporate (trust based competitive advantage) and society (more inclusive society).

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