Norton Rose Fulbright innovation director Kate Tomlinson talks to The Lawyer ahead of her session at the Business Leadership Summit in Association with Propero about the need for a wider range of experts in law firms, about whether the current partnership model will continue to attract talent and what other changes are on the horizon for law firms.
Kate Tomlinson
Kate Tomlinson

Will the future bring new roles in law firms that we haven’t seen before?

In the longer term, absolutely. In the short term, there is already a shift in the skill-sets as well as the mind-set, required to deliver successful projects. For the solutions we’re building with our clients, we look for input from multiple experts within the firm (IT, pricing, project management, legal), who need to work together and talk the same language; to break down old silos and work well as a team. When our non-legal and legal teams collaborate on projects, the collective efforts serve as a catalyst for greater legal innovation.  Ideas are raised, encouraged, considered, and developed or dismissed quickly with the right input.
Combine that with our expanding team of graduates in our legal process hub, Newcastle – who, every day delight me with their “can do” approach and their small incremental but valuable changes to a process – you can understand why a firm like us is changing the way we provide legal services.  Clients want to see all our experts and many of these will be non-legal.
How can we improve? Legal staff need to be better at communicating their requirements in a structured way and non-lawyers need to be freed up to unlock the value of their skills.
Is the current partnership model still attractive to new recruits? Will it stay attractive? 
For some, it is. For an increasing number, it isn’t and law firms are losing top talent due to lifestyle preferences. Encouraging flexibility and various new ways of working to help employees with family or other commitments is increasingly a significant consideration.
We are working on collaborative long-term projects with clients rather than on discrete matters for clients. The projects are more structured than traditional law, which helps promote flexible working yet with access to quality work. Traditional law is being turned on its head; we will be contracting legal skills to provide the legal framework to a new way of working, deliver content or build templates and leaving the delivery to a dedicated and service driven unit.
Increasingly, our staff are interested in having more “skin in the game” at an earlier point in their career. For others who are interested in the new roles appearing in law firms, we need to be able to articulate a different and compelling career track that values their contribution and their lifestyle preferences. The reality is that there are only small pools of experienced legal project managers, legal business analysts, and legal technologists and so we are developing our own.  Our Newcastle Hub is becoming our nucleus for this new talent.
There are some new roles being created around strategy and innovation, what changes will these bring to law firms?
Before these roles were blended with project teams, it was a case of whoever shouted the loudest received IT resource to build a new piece of tech.
Now with dedicated roles focused solely on innovation and strategy, ideas can be developed and nurtured and a business rationale imposed. We can actually deliver innovation by successfully merging an optimised process with technology and the right team deployed to operate it.   With these new roles come the budgets and resources to experiment with less conventional ideas, new technologies and to develop new capabilities in-house.  Combining the output from innovation teams, with a commercial team to promote, is the underlying narrative of all our recent success stories.
Who has been the most influential person in your career?
For a number of years, I worked with Mark Bankes, a corporate mining lawyer.  We discussed the “better ways” of working continuously, particularly during the course of a deal in Africa when laboriously working through the night replicating execution copies of transaction documents for a formal signing ceremony, dealing with mosquitos and no broadband.  It was certainly a memorable experience.
Mark has always encouraged flexible working, pushing for change 14 years ago when ‘face time’ was an important part of law and agile working less so. Today, I work outside of the office more than in it and still have the best work to do.
Kate Tomlinson is part of the 120+ managing partners, C-level executives and business services leaders gathering on the 25 September 2018 at the Business Leadership Summit in association with Propero to spend a day focusing on defining your law firm strategy in a tech-driven future. For more information on the conference, a copy of the agenda, or to inquire about attending, please contact Nathan Graham on +44(0) 20 7970 4672.