Partnering to practice law at the speed of techPath 2

Partnering to practice law at the speed of tech

by Ashley Fischer

November 06, 2019

To drive innovation, H-E-B has adopted a relentless dissatisfaction with the present. 

This mindset challenges leaders throughout the business to constantly reevaluate what success looks like, question their assumptions, and test new ideas and concepts. 

To bring about all that change, it can also require leaders to constantly check in with legal. My job is to ensure this step is seen as mission-critical, not mission-crushing.

The technology space has been defined by a drive to “move fast and break things,” and companies undergoing digital transformation often need to move even faster to recalibrate their business and push the process forward. 

Lawyers, by contrast, don’t have that reputation. We tend to be seen as conservative, adversarial, and potential roadblocks to a business’ ability to try new things. As a technology attorney, my aim is to help the H-E-B Digital team drive transformation, not stop it in its tracks. I strive to provide practical advice and help solve the challenges new technologies bring. I’m here to protect our own IP, our sensitive customer data and our proprietary business insights—and to ensure we’re upholding the standards our customers trust. My focus, just like the Digital team’s, is the H-E-B customer, and we work together to enhance the customer’s H-E-B digital experience. 

"My job is to ensure [legal review] is seen as mission-critical, not mission-crushing."

The key there is “work together”: it is essential that I understand the Digital team’s goals and timelines and truly partner with them to meet those requirements. 

That’s the fun part—balancing the law’s directives with the needs of customers and internal stakeholders to allow the greatest use of any technology. I’m an advocate for everyone involved, working to find balance in new ideas and using my background to help them work even smarter. 

My guiding light is remembering why H-E-B wants to transform the digital experience. We want to create an agile, successful company that can remain a leader in the industry, and, most importantly, that can serve the customer as the customer expects to be served. That edict helps make me be a better advisor and business partner to the Digital team. It helps me think through how to take an idea and put it into practice within the bounds of the law—and how to leverage my expertise to help create an even better solution.

How we pull off that transformation can be a bit more difficult. I do my my part to be seen as just another member of the Digital team. I’m based in San Antonio, but I spend several days a week working in Austin at our Eastside Tech Hub and building connections with the Partners there. I’m a colleague—not an outside counsel who bills Digital stakeholders when we grab coffee. That proximity has taught me how to work at their speed. I take up issues as they come, often provide real-time advice, and have an open-door policy. Tech timelines can be vastly accelerated, and sometimes that means more legwork for me. But that’s part of being on the team. I listen to feedback and adjust my approach as best I can. Agility is a business mandate, so my process has to evolve the same way our products do.

"That’s the fun part—balancing the law’s directives with the needs of customers and internal stakeholders to allow the greatest use of any technology."

Change often leads to growing pains, especially when you’re challenging the status quo. Part of my role is to mitigate those pains. I want to be a trusted advisor and solution provider, not someone teams hope to sneak things past. I make the Digital team’s problems my problems, and work with them to find solutions. I take pride in their successes and value the lessons learned through facing challenges. 

H-E-B’s Digital team is made up of great talent, and it’s truly exciting to work with them on new and innovative concepts. While the lawyer in me would prefer we move fast without breaking things, I understand that evolution is required for any business trying to defend itself against competitors and continue to make the lives of our partners, customers, and their communities better. As I work with the Digital team, I take pride in the fact that I’m contributing to H-E-B’s relentless dissatisfaction mindset and allowing H-E-B to innovate, transform, and remain the industry leader it is—while adhering to all local, state, and federal laws, of course.

Ashley Fischer is Managing Counsel at H-E-B. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.

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