Crystal ball: The lawyer of the future? Lawyer 2B investigates a new type of legal employer
27 November 2013 | By Becky Waller-Davies
27 November 2013
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With no office and a variety of time zones, Kate Robinson is loving the mobile, multicultural lifestyle that working for legal process outsourcer Integreon provides
Two years ago, Kate Robinson was working at City law firm CMS Cameron McKenna. Now, she’s a one-woman team travelling around Australia and working with groups across China, India, the Philippines and South Africa, as part of her work for legal outsourcer Integreon.
Australian-born Robinson joined Integreon unintentionally: she was one of many staff shifted across from CMS when Integreon bought a large portion of the business in 2010, agreeing to provide the firm’s business support services.
However, Robinson believes that she represents a new type of lawyer, one that will become more prevalent as the legal industry changes and the elite law firms, known as ‘BigLaw’ in the US and Australia, react to that change.
“I qualified as a lawyer in Australia,” Robinson says. “I then went into the government’s legal arm and worked there for several years before wanting to do the ‘living in London’ thing that all Australians seem to do.”
She made the move to London in 2009 and worked at the Ministry of Justice for a short while, pondering whether to join a private practice firm or continue working as a government lawyer. Her stay in London coincided with the worst year of the recession for the legal industry, and Robinson found that permanent jobs, both in London and Sydney, were scarce.
Luckily for her, she “fell into” a role at CMS Cameron McKenna as an international business support lawyer, deciding how best to train and support CMS staff in Eastern European offices.
At the time of the CMS-Integreon deal, Robinson became a member of Integreon staff but worked purely on CMS projects.
However, during the transition, her role became more communications and project management-based. Working within Integreon gave her more exposure to other parts of the business and in 2012 she was given the opportunity to start working in legal process outsourcing (LPO).
“LPO often focuses on high-volume, low-risk work,” Robinson says. “It will always work with an iterative process that you can then streamline through an LPO provider.”
Her first project was to assess how Integreon should collaborate with an LPO, a law firm and a law firm’s client. It was through this project that she was able to return to her native Australia in January 2013, having identified opportunities in the market there.
Robinson’s new working culture could not be more different to her desk job in London. She has gone from sitting at one of hundreds of desks in a City office to having no office at all in Sydney.
“It’s very mobile,” she says. “More and more, I am less at my desk and more on the road because the nature of the job at the moment involves quite a lot of travel and it is often easier to go to the client’s premises and meet with firms and the in-house counsel.”
Being mobile is not without its challenges, however. Robinson might not have to deal with the
ordeals of face-time culture but her working hours are becoming more fluid as her client base expands over different time zones.
“Now I’m in Australia I’m the only staff member here and we’re very much a global business,” she says. “There’s no set time zone – I’m working with delivery centres in India and the Philippines. I’m tapping into the knowledge of staff in the UK arm of the business and the US.
“You are talking to people all over the globe, and dealing with different cultures which sometimes have a different way of communicating and you are learning to interact and work effectively in that way.
“Being a lawyer you are used to working longer hours than 9am to 5pm. But I’m trying to implement a system where I’m flexible when I need to be. On a Friday night, my US colleagues are all coming online so by Saturday morning I have a full inbox. There’s that fluidity with the time zones of the US and the UK. It does mean that sometimes I have 10.30pm or midnight calls.”
Unpredictable hours are a feature in law firms too, but Robinson believes the vastly different working culture that alternative employers can provide makes for a more rewarding experience in the long run.
“I’m seeing more and more of my former colleagues, particularly females, hit a ceiling in firms,” she admits. “It’s very, very difficult if they want to go and have children and come back. It’s virtually unheard of in a corporate law firm. I definitely think that this type of working will have a positive impact on that.
“I think it is positive that people are starting to think more broadly about what they might do rather than thinking they will track through a firm and make partner.”
The message that in a decade’s time the legal career path will be far broader than the traditional model of getting a training contract, securing a newly qualified position, billing crazy hours while an associate and finally making partner, may not be what many law students want to hear, but Robinson feels it is an important message nonetheless.
“[The expansion of the legal market] is so new and that’s why I wanted to get my story out there, as I’m very much in the minority at the moment,” she says. “In hindsight, I would have liked to have that feedback – to be told what the legal market will look like in the future.”
Even if students are open to change, as the legal landscape unfolds to reveal something dramatically different to what their studies prepared them for, the question of how well-equipped they will be to work as the lawyers of the future is a difficult one to answer.
“There’s a divide between what students are trained to do and the types of jobs they end up doing,” Robinson says. “My job has taken me into business development a lot more, but I like that. I have identified that contact with people, the networking and the building relationships, as one of my skills.
“I see the project management side of things as a potential game-changer,” she adds. “A lot of firms are receptive to the idea that building your own capability in terms of project management is a good thing. And project management is not usually something you are prepared for at law school.”
Robinson believes companies such as Integreon will start training their own lawyers as the market changes. “We will need to address the training capability,” she says, adding that all good lawyers minimise risk and training is key to that.
Although Robinson’s journey to Integreon was unintended, her willingness to embrace change and strike out on her own in Australia stems from her excitement at the way the legal market is changing.
“I have seen, and I keep hearing, that BigLaw has got to change – and it will change and there is no way to avoid change,” she says. “I find it really exciting that there’s something new in the legal sector.”
Kate Robinson, Integreon
2013: Integreon, account manager
2012-13: Integreon, LPO project/change manager
2009-12: CMS Cameron McKenna, international business support lawyer
2009-09: UK Ministry of Justice, advisory and research lawyer
2006-09: Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, senior policy officer
2000-05: University of Adelaide, law with commerce
What is legal process outsourcing and why does it exist?
Legal process outsourcing (LPO) involves transferring work that would traditionally have been done within a law firm to another company outside of that firm.
A law firm can employ a bigger team of people to work on a project temporarily than it could afford to employ permanently. This means the firm saves time – as the job can be done faster by a big team than a small one – and money – as an external lawyer, especially one working outside of the UK or US, will be paid less to do the work than an in-house lawyer.
Infrastructure cost will also be less, as the firm will not have to pay to ‘house’ a lawyer in its high-rent office. As workflows are increasingly difficult to predict for big law firms, outsourcing is becoming an increasingly popular option.