What tomorrow may bring the law

What do corporate clients expect from the law firm of tomorrow and what steps are firms taking to meet those expectations?


Law sculpture

What are the concerns of today’s corporate counsel and how will law firms meet them? Talking to in-house lawyers reveals a clear refrain of concern.

Stathis Mithos, president of the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC), Europe, and an in-house counsel at Pfizer, cites managing the “legal and ethical complexities related to growing a company’s business” as a key concern.

While “cost containment” is important, he says, “in a heavily regulated environment, we feel it is critical that day in, day out we help our employers navigate the regulatory seas”. In the ACC’s 2015 Chief Legal Officer Survey, almost 1,300 general counsel said compliance and ethics were their top concerns.

Nina Barakzai, an in-house privacy lawyer at BSkyB, agrees. In-house lawyers must assess “legal risk on various scenarios and be able to give advice on the options most appropriate to the organisation’s risk appetite”, she says.

The speed at which their advice needs to be delivered has increased, says Ms Barakzai. Globalisation means that a project once spread over several months may now take place in a matter of hours.

To her, “the intensity at which corporate counsel delivers [their work] also necessitates a concentrated level of engagement with their external advisers”. Law firms, take note.

Alistair Morris, president of the Law Society of Scotland, says: “Solicitors have a long history of adapting to change in order to develop and maintain successful businesses. That still holds even in the fast-changing legal services landscape we operate in today.”

Eduardo Leite, chairman of Baker & McKenzie, agrees. Lawyers are becoming “more mature businesses… which more closely reflect the genuinely international businesses of their clients”, he says.

Addressing their issues appropriately calls for understanding, says Hogan Lovell’s chief executive Steven Immelt. “We understand what our clients need and react to those issues in a rapidly changing world.  Each client has their own set of issues and bespoke needs,” he says.

Solicitors have a long history of adapting to change in order to develop and maintain successful businesses

Jeremy Hoyland, Simmons & Simmons managing partner, feels “clients are evermore sophisticated in the way they interact, both in terms of the method of delivery of advice and in terms of how they select their law firms”. He adds: “We are developing our specialisations to ensure they are market leading and are not seeking to be all things to all people.”

Mr Immelt notes: “There is not an oversupply of lawyers with the right skillsets that clients value. The future needs lawyers who can adapt and work at certain locations for the client according to the needs they have, and who can be flexible about where and how they are working.”

Andrew Caplen, president of the Law Society of England & Wales, agrees. “There will be much greater use of technology, including mobile technologies to drive back-office efficiency, communicate more efficiently with clients and collaborate with business partners in a way that suits all parties,” he says.

Mr Caplen sees all sizes of firm adopting flexible working patterns, better communication and case management systems, which will mean clients’ work is undertaken much more efficiently and they will be kept fully informed.

As Mr Leite adds: “Clients rightly expect their advisers to be nimble, responsive and able to deliver a seamless service wherever they are in the world. Technology is an enabler for that. Firms that fail to invest will increasingly be left behind.”

TECHNOLOGY AND CHANGE

However, Mr Immelt cautions: “You have to ask yourself how you can make technology work for you and not be bulldozed by technology.”

For Mr Hoyland, matter deconstruction is becoming increasingly sophisticated.  “We are interacting with our clients through a wider range of media and partnering with them to develop tailored solutions,” he says. These include “online services to enable our fund and bank clients to access up-to-date tailored solutions, available whenever they need them”.

Aligning human capital with technological support and close client relationships will drive the law firm of tomorrow, says Mr Immelt. “We can’t always anticipate what is round the corner, but with the appropriate level of engagement, we can ensure our people are responding to what tomorrow may bring, understand what it means and are able to react accordingly,” he says.

Understanding how clients have changed themselves can be inspirational. Andrew Leaitherland, managing partner of DWF, says his firm look beyond their peers, and take ideas and inspiration from business leaders such as Apple and Amazon.

“We’re in an increasingly competitive market so to strengthen our position and win market share, we’re continually looking at other sectors to see how successful businesses do things. It’s about disrupting to progress.”

Mr Morris concludes: “The size of the firm or even where it is based is no deterrent to success. Firms need to focus on the needs of clients and be very clear about what they are offering in a busy legal services market.”