I was fortunate to spend time recently with over 100 General Counsel at The Lawyer General Counsel Strategy Summit in Alicante, Spain. Billed as providing a forum for some of the UK and Europe's most influential GCs to share experiences, the focus of the Summit was "leadership in a time of change".
Below are my reflections on some of the conversations that took place and the insights they provide on emerging trends in corporate legal services delivery.
1. In-house teams are at markedly different stages of maturity and sophistication when it comes to their application of technology and process.
While this is self-evident to anyone with more than just a passing interest in the state of in-house legal departments, a gap appears to be developing between the most and least sophisticated departments. Some departments (think BT) have moved well beyond establishing principle based portals for the intake and triage of legal work and are now mining the data these systems provide to ensure continuous improvement and virtuous cycles. This includes reducing outside counsel cost, better matter governance and reduced levels of risk. At the same time, the approaches taken by other in-house teams appear largely unchanged from how they were operating three to five years ago. Interestingly, this bifurcation appears not to be along the lines of department size (headcount) or legal budget. Fantastic examples of boundary breaking innovation can be found from across the spectrum of corporate legal functions (shout out to Kevin Athow at BSH!). In the understandable excitement to explore what's possible at the vanguard of legal tech, we must ensure these developments are accessible and suitable for all legal departments.
2. Those who will be most successful in the reconfigured legal sector of tomorrow are individuals, teams and cultures that embrace 'networks of mutual assistance'; placing a primacy on connectivity and open systems.
In practice, this will mean a continued blurring of the lines between in-house, private practice, law companies, legal tech suppliers and other alternative providers. 'Collaborative working' will evolve from the 'I did my bit, now you do your bit' approach that characterises some current arrangements to something that is a more authentic representation of the integration of specialists. Indeed, some General Counsel are already exploring how they can weave together into a virtual team the best individuals for a matter or project from across their panel of preferred suppliers. These networks of mutual assistance will demand new, creative responses to how value is created, recognised and rewarded and risk is shared. Orchestrating these networks so they deliver something greater than the sum of their parts will also demand new ways of thinking and operating from in-house lawyers.
3. Effective leadership – or more to the point – effective leader development is a work in progress.
While there is clarity in some areas around WHAT needs to be different (e.g platform integration of legal tech as opposed to a series of single point solutions), what is oftentimes missing is the detail around HOW we are going to lead our teams, organisations and the entire legal sector through the change curve. Dan Kayne (Network Rail) and Timo Spitzer (Banco Santander) led standout sessions at the Summit on the topic of leadership in which they attempted to fill some of these gaps and referenced – respectively – the need for the more rounded development of lawyers and the potential factors behind a decline in leadership effectiveness.
Building on their contributions, we can perhaps take both an interpersonal and intrapersonal perspective on lawyer / leader development. The interpersonal dimension demands a greater focus on developing the skills that will enable in-house lawyers to thrive in the reconfigured, networked legal sector as it emerges. This is not limited just to aspects of emotional intelligence (EQ) but also includes developing the skills necessary to combine a clear vision and strategy with disciplined execution in a way that inspires and motivates others.
The intrapersonal aspect requires serious focus too. Here we need to build on recent developments in the fields of the Neurobiology of Interpersonal Relationships and the Neurobiology of Mindfulness to equip tomorrow's leaders with the tools and processes to develop a depth of awareness that brings about increased personal effectiveness and self-regulation.
4. Tensions persist around the scoping and pricing of legal work.
A theme identified at the Summit was whether in-house lawyers would benefit from more training around how to communicate a clearer brief / scope of work when instructing law firms and other providers of legal services. In fairness, a number of in-house teams have adopted project management methodologies in recent years to good effect. The next opportunity to drive even more value in this space might be for in-house teams, their business colleagues and external suppliers to work collaboratively to reframe perceived tensions through 'human centred' and / or 'experience centred' approaches. These approaches – used to good effect in other sectors – can help surface potential areas of tension and ensure costs are more accurately hard-baked into transactions. Capturing and then regularly reviewing the data provided by these methods then creates iterative improvements over time, meaning less variance between scope and outcome. Which neatly brings us to point five…
5. In-house teams need to be (much) better with data!
There is a correlation between in-house teams that are perceived by their internal clients to 'add value' and the ease with which these teams are able to store, surface, manipulate and interpret data from the systems they use. Too many in-house teams are still making important decisions in a vacuum of reliable data. While progress has been made in some areas (e.g. e-billing), many General Counsel, legal ops professionals and other leaders of legal functions are having to ‘take a view’ on heavyweight issues (such as the optimum headcount of their department or the 'value add' of their external suppliers) with a paucity of data.
…a plea that we please drop from the discourse the 'self-limiting' generalisations that 'lawyers don't do numbers' (they do – and if you don't you need to); and 'lawyers are risk averse' (they're not, they take smart risks).