What I am trying to say is that I am an anarchist!
Alix Devendra blurts this out halfway through our Skype interview, taking Legal Geek quite by surprise. Because up until this point Alix Devendra didn’t seem to be an anarchist at all.
She seemed to Legal Geek to be a diligent, softly spoken, lawyer-turned-consultant who is slowly changing the way the legal world works for the better.
Well, we were half right. For she is all of those things, BUT she is also deeply upset at the fact that the pace of change is so slow. Her background may be of the American legal establishment – graduating first in class from Case Western Reserve University School of Law in Ohio before going on to practice at a Global 100 law firm in San Francisco – but her gargantuan passion for changing the legal sector is full-on anarchic.
Legal Geek likes her, a lot.
Devendra’s drive for change has partly been fuelled by having encountered the traditional side of the law – the side which digs its heels in and resists change – and been deeply frustrated by it.
Upon leaving Nixon Peabody in 2015, she threw herself into legal design fired up by the conviction that litigators should use typography and graphic design in the same way publishing houses do, and her intention was to teach these techniques to lawyers. Yet, in her own words, “that didn’t work out how I had hoped. I had to come to the hard realisation that I can’t go out there and start selling my services as the market just wasn’t there then.”
So Devendra re-trained her sights from legal design to organisational design “because how the team functions is so crucial to making change happen” adding that “now I am using my legal knowledge to help purpose-driven organisations align their legal processes with their vision for how they want to operate.”
What does this mean in real terms you may ask? Devendra comes armed with real-world examples. Such as a Rules & Procedures e-booklet she drafted for FairClaims, an online dispute resolution platform, which at a succinct 8 pages can be digested in under 10 minutes.
She commented: “If you are an organisation who wants to operate differently then a standard rules and procedures booklet that never gets read is not going to cut it. Yet how do you include the important legal parts that need to be in there? You make a booklet that is a real guide forward and that doesn’t sit in a drawer.”
Whilst making change happen is one thing, Devendra’s career journey has also pressed home the importance of shouting about change when it does occur.
“I was talking to someone in contract simplification recently and he spoke of ‘learned helplessness’, where you just accept terms and conditions without understanding them. It made me realise that if you just change but don’t broadcast that change, people won’t know that you have done anything differently.
“This is why I am trying to find other people who are doing what I am doing. To help establish the market.”
It’s at this point in the interview Devendra states her case for being an anarchist, following it up by saying:
“I believe in direct action. Not in the sense of everyman for himself but in the sense that everyone counts and can make a difference. But I’m also aware you can’t argue your way to what you want to achieve. It is about story telling. We are all hard wired for stories and that is the way to convince people that what you are doing is worthwhile.”
Devendra’s own story is certainly compelling and includes other adventures we don’t have time to delve into here such as living in Zimbabwe, learning to speak fluent French and being a former jazz trombonist.
Her story also has a dividend of learning that holds relevance for the entire legal industry. It is summed up best by her: “I try to remember that quote by Buckminster Fuller: ‘You never change things by fighting against the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the old model obsolete.’
“In my career so far I have shifted from making changes within legal, to how I can help people who are outside it trying to make a paradigm shift.”
Alix Devendra is an independent consultant based in Portland, Oregon. She is also an advisory board member to machine-learning platform Legal Robot. She was previously an associate at law firm Nixon Peabody for 3 and a half years.