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Keep, It, Super, Simple: KISS is better with Mayo Ishigami

They say inspiration strikes in the strangest of places. For Mayo Ishigami, Senior Legal Counsel at Heritage Bank Limited, inspiration struck when she left her usual work habitat and ventured to the zoo where her approach to communication got turned on its head.

Strolling through the zoo one morning, Ishigami was stopped in her tracks when she came across upon the following sign: “Please do not irritate, annoy, bother, harass, badger, tease, provoke, madden toward anger, displease, bully, exasperate, rail, or vex lions.”

As a self-professed lover of words, Ishigami was at first delighted by the perplexing use of vocabulary. “I love the way this [sign] captures the narrow yet infinite spectrum of unpleasant emotions that the wrong act might provoke. But now, having read it many times, I think it would be better if it wasn’t such an exhaustive list.”

The sign sparked something of an epiphany in Ishigami and caused her to re-evaluate how she’d been leveraging her love of language in a business context. She concluded that in a sense she’d had things back to front.

“I love words, I love reading, and I think most lawyers would share these sentiments. And that’s why at work, our natural habitat is in word processing applications. The problem is that our clients probably don’t share these sentiments."

“I’ve spent far too much time writing and rewriting, agonizing over a piece of legal advice, cramming it with technical detail and what I thought was insightful analysis only to get the following response: Thanks, so can I do it? Or even worse, can you just tell me yes or no."

Going back to the sign, its problem is that to properly adhere to the sign, you need a nuanced understanding of animal behavior. What exactly is the difference between displeasing and vexing a lion, or provoking and maddening it? Even worse, what happens when you torment an animal so much it is provoked toward anger?

"Consider this," says Ishigami, "who is the audience for this sign? What’s the context in which they’re reading it? What’s the information, the level of detail that’s relevant to them? I put it to you that other than your average zoo going lawyer, most visitors probably won’t read this sign and lawyers might spend too much time reading it and over-analyzing it.”

Being one such lawyer, Ishigami spent a long time pondering the best way to simplify the sign so that it retained its message. She eventually settled for five words: Do not annoy the lions.  

“You no longer need to stop and think, is my behavior going to enrage an animal? Am I vexing a lion? In short, you’re no longer being asked to be an expert in animal behavior. Similarly, for most operational things the business doesn’t need an in-depth analysis of the law, what they need is a clear signpost about what they can and cannot do.”

Therein lies the epiphany. The business doesn’t need a Latin-laden, all-encompassing summary of a legal position to act or to know you’re an effective counsel. What they need is quick, consumable information which enables them to work at the pace required to deliver the value they must.

“In an environment of increasing regulatory complexity, the in-house legal team’s value is in its ability to give legal advice which cuts through that complexity. We should use our deep knowledge of the business to simplify what the law means to the business while enabling them to effectively manage their legal risks."

Unfortunately, the act of encapsulating the full breadth of the law into an easily consumed bite of information isn’t the easiest of tasks, especially in areas with a high degree of regulatory complexity.

“There is, however, an art form to conveying enough," says Ishigami. "Reframing isn’t just about simplifying your message, it’s also about presenting your advice in a way that’s easily absorbed by the business.”

As most lawyers know, adapting the law to match the pace and communication styles of a disruptive company takes innovation. For Ishigami, her inspiration is a source often regarded as the antithesis of agile businesses, TikTok and memes.

“The pace of business, the cycles of change, and the way we communicate is shorter and sharper. An effective way to achieve this is through visual representation - think memes and TikTok videos."

“Visual representation can often convey a concept more simply than a paragraph of text. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words. To help those of us who are less creatively minded, there’s now a range of tools and apps that are available at our fingertips.”

What Ishigami is suggesting is that in-house counsel should make their legal advice decidedly less… legal. Recognizing that as opposed to being an opportunity to flex your intellectual muscles, communication is instead an opportunity to test your knowledge and to see how much you can convey with little.

Ishigami’s approach has an obvious ancillary benefit too. The more approachable the information becomes, the more likely others within the organization will be to engage with simple legal matters. Users may come to you with solutions already prepared as opposed to a list of problems waiting to be solutionized, leaving more time for you to spend on difficult and engaging tasks.

“This means users are no longer overwhelmed by the size and length of the content. They no longer have to wade through the labyrinth of rules and actually make decisions about which one might apply to them. For the legal team, it’s meant less time reworking incorrectly applied schemas.”

And much like those zoo visitors, your users shouldn’t need to understand the full extent of a lion’s emotional state to know whether or not it is safe to put their arm in a cage.

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