CURIOUS MINDS: Baker McKenzie’s Jae Um on Influences, Creativity, and the Legal Industry’s Big Question

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Curious Minds

We continue our new column, “Curious Minds” created and written by Rose Ors to tap into the minds of legal innovators, disrupters, and out-of-the-box thinkers and learn what influences and inspires their work. In this installment, Rose speaks with Jae Um, Director of Pricing Strategy at Baker McKenzie, about the scholars and books who have influenced her work and her big picture question for the legal industry.

Rose Ors: Who are the thinkers outside of the legal industry that have influenced your work?

Jae Um: I am a business strategist by trade so the thinkers that I draw upon tend to be business scholars or business leaders. Top of mind is Roger Martin. Martin is a longtime strategy consultant to CEOs and the former dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. His work is primarily focused on how to find out what the customer wants, how to create value for the customer, and then how to align and resource the activities of a company to execute on that goal.

Martin’s work in strategy has been influential in my thinking because of the consistent focus on the customer. This is a sharp departure from older schools of thought in strategy, which tend to be firm-centric in thinking about resources, or market-oriented in thinking about positioning. While both are important, I think Martin’s design-driven approach to strategy is much more consistent in helping generate high-impact insights about how to compete by becoming a company that is better at creating value rather than a company that is better at management.

Rose Ors: What books have influenced your work?

Jae Um: The two books that have most influenced my work are Roger Martin’s The Design of Business and Playing to Win, the lattercowritten with Proctor & Gamble’s famed CEO, A.G. Lafley. The Design of Business expanded design thinking from a product-oriented discipline to broader applications in business models and business strategy. Playing to Win presents a strategy framework based on five questions: What is our winning aspiration? Where will we play? How will we win where we have chosen to play? What capabilities must be in place? and, What management systems are required?

curious minds

Jae Um

Strategy happens when organizations make decisions and act on them, so decision-making is important to my work. Two of my favorite books on decision-making are Thinking Slow and Fast by Daniel Kahneman, who won the Nobel Prize in Economics, and, Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts, by Annie Duke, a World Series of Poker champion. The focus of both books is about decision-making amid uncertainty.

I also love reference books. I have a stack of reference books that I keep on my desk and flip through them for inspiration. Business Model Generation is one of them. Value Proposition Design is another one. So is Ten Types of Innovation. Each of these books are almost encyclopedic compilations that break down an area into its component parts. I think of them as manuals for thinking.

Rose Ors: Where do you get your most creative ideas?

Jae Um: I get creative ideas by mixing and matching ideas that I think are sound from different disciplines. So, I read very broadly.

But my most creative ideas come from working a specific problem. When I worked at Seyfarth Shaw, Pete Miller, now the firm’s managing partner and chairman, said that when I work a problem, I go deep. It took me a long time to appreciate what he was saying.

As a business strategist it is important to recognize patterns quickly, but to actually understand a particular problem — its texture, shape and size — you have to go out and do some fact-finding. You have to talk to the people involved or look at the specific processes or look at the specific failures of the system in place. You need these steps to connect the dots — the dots are the facts and the lines are the insights.

Rose Ors: What’s a key big picture question facing the legal industry?

Jae Um: Who should be responsible for the training of young lawyers? Law schools, using the Socratic method, teach law students how to think like lawyers. Law firms, using the apprenticeship model, teach newly minted lawyers the practice of law. These traditional learning models have their benefits, but they are no longer enough.

Lawyers have long had better tools at their disposal, but now those tools are advancing to the point where they can and likely should influence the cognitive methods lawyers use when working with data and information.

Today, clients expect that their lawyers have a new suite of skills across legal analysis and service delivery as well as a much higher level of business acumen.

This interview has been edited and condensed by Rose Ors.