Catrin Griffiths, editor, The Lawyer: Let’s talk about externally driven change. The concept of resilience is increasingly used, but when you talk about resilience, do you mean coping with the pure amount of work, or whether there’s something else added to that, and I’m wondering if you can pinpoint it?
Emma Chee, head of wealth – UK legal, HSBC: One of the things I’ve done in the past year or so is become a mindfulness champion, so you teach people about mindfulness, which I think is really important. With my background, in years gone by, where I was pulling all-nighters and finding it difficult to have a life outside of the office, there was a moment where I hit a wall, and felt I needed to be able to manage what I was doing in a different way. I’ve been on a journey, and I think it’s really important for us lawyers that the amount of pressure on us to provide advice is recognised and results in action by the business; it is in the commercial interest.
It is really critical. We need to be able to build mental resilience that enables us to deal with the amount of pressure that is put on a legal team which is being stretched in all different directions.
It’s about being able to recognise where the priority is and being confident that we can build relationships. It is also about having an open dialogue with shareholders that means we don’t feel guilty about not touching on so many different parts.
I think that resilience comes across in many different ways: the ability to deal with different transactional matters, but also dealing with the sheer volume of information overload in our working environment today. I think probably from a financial services perspective, the concern comes from the pressure of not getting it wrong as the consequences are so great in a highly regulated environment, so you have to be able to cut through that noise and manage it accordingly. Having the tools to be resilient is as important as a good working environment.
Griffiths: So how do you empower your juniors to speak to that and give them the confidence to say something if they are struggling?
Chee: Relationships are really important in that respect, so that my team knows to escalate to me early enough if they’re fearful something will go wrong. They can come back to me, and I already know the conversations.
Segan Osuntokun, managing partner, BCLP: I think the question of resilience is interesting with regards to change.
There’s change all around us – how do you sit with that much ambiguity and uncertainty? There are five generations of colleagues in the office – we’ve got generations Y, X and millennials, along with baby boomers. We’ve got all of those coping with change in their own personal and professional lives. It’s interesting seeing how each of them copes.
Rebecca Danby, assistant general counsel, GSK Consumer Healthcare: I get a bit frustrated with the concept of resilience. It seems to be sometimes that we say, “we’ll give you all this training to be a resilient person, now we can do whatever we like to you”, because they’re more resilient. We need to help our teams to be resilient; it’s a very important thing, but I don’t think that should mean that the companies have no responsibility. There’s a good way and a bad way of helping people manage change. And there’s still an onus on the wider business to help people through these periods of change.
Marc Anderson, senior legal counsel, Royal London Group: You have to ask the question about whether change is about adding value to a business. We can’t do absolutely everything. I think resilience can be helped through by the adoption of tech solutions out there. Adoption of tech has meant smarter, agile and leaner ways of working.
Osuntokun: There is a generational change. Growing up as a trainee back in the early 1990s, I remember the excitement of getting a computer and sending the first email outside the firm. There’s a difference between that sort of change happening early on in your career as opposed to something you’ve grown up with.
There’s also a change in aspiration. A surprising amount of young lawyers still want to be partners, but they’ve also been brought into an environment where the portfolio career is much more common. It’s so multifaceted; tech, political change.
Griffiths: Is sociological change driving tech change or vice versa? All of the research says, actually millennials are no different from twentysomethings. It’s just that the flux you’re aware of is now enabled and socialised through tech. They’re saying if I can’t buy a house, then I am going to travel and I am going to do other things. But tech is certainly advancing – Mike Woodfine, your experience working with United Lex is a massive change project.
Mike Woodfine, VP legal UKIIMEA, DXC Technology: This is a transaction that has been publicised and well recognised. We entered into a strategic partner relationship with a disruptive entrant into the market, and we have a very close working relationship where we use them for legal services and they provide those services on an exclusive basis. Many of them are old colleagues, and colleagues that have been in the team for many years.
It’s new and we are still learning, but in terms of the impact of the business, not a lot of difference has been noticed. It’s a huge change for the economics of our department and our budget. We’ve brought costs down quite significantly and we’ve got access to better technology.
Danby: Could the ease of the transition be that the lawyers you’re outsourcing to already know the company?
Mike Woodfine: It’s a good question, I think it’s down to a few things. They’ve hired new people since the agreement – so there’s a mix of people. Good lawyers are good lawyers wherever they sit.
I think they’re quite careful on the selection and recruitment process. The market is changing rapidly, and I think we’re probably at the front end of that.
Tom Hill, legal manager and company secretary, RIT Capital Partners plc: We’re a very traditional and old-fashioned industry generally; we should embrace change, and I think part of the reason we don’t embrace change is because we’re worried about the threat it might have to our existence. You’ve got to think about whether what you are doing can be outsourced or done by AI, because we are, in essence, a cost.
Danby: I think it depends on the role you have in-house. We have people who trained with us. We have scientists who have gone into legal and they are excellent. Some of the best people in the junior ranks of the legal team were trained by us.
The training you get in a City law firm with different sorts of deals and different sorts of clients is helpful if you’re in the corporate bit of the business, whereas if you’re commercial lawyers, I don’t think there’s any benefit to having come from a City practice.
Hill: There’s the collegiate element to the City background; you’re battle-hardened and ready to get stuck in even if you’ve never come across a certain area of law before.
John Rowland, senior legal counsel, Network Rail: I’m not really sure that’s true. Lots of City lawyers won’t take on things as they’re in specialist areas. If you’re a construction lawyer you’re not going to start doing litigation.
Christian Fahey, VP legal affairs, Inmarsat plc: There’s the risk element to take into account as well. If you’re doing a lot of the day-to-day work managing people, and dealing with change and resilience and everything else, it’s quite easy to just go to a lawyer that’s come from the City, because they’ve had that training already.
I would be inclined to take people in from apprenticeships – there’s a lot of effort given by them day-to-day and I’d be happy taking any of them on. You’re more likely to get people from different backgrounds that way.
Anderson: There are a lot of alternative career paths offered now, like legal technicians, or legal project management. That shows the extent of alternative thinking and how far things have moved in the space of seven or eight years. What will it look like in another 10 years? The role of the in-house lawyer will have changed a lot.
Woodfine: One of the things we try to do to help people is to help them train themselves and become more digitally enabled, because they’re going to need to be. And we’ve all had to do it. We’re trying to create opportunities for people to train, and not just in legal – to do something different from their core activity. We call it cross-training – so people in litigation might go and do a transaction, or vice versa, to help people become more well-rounded.
Osuntokun: There is a question of whether all legal training is that relevant to their futures, and whether some things should be an option or compulsory.
Hill: If you train in a firm you are very much more well-rounded. In-house lawyers can get siloed – I think the US is completely different in terms of the kinds of lawyers that are expected. It would be interesting to see if that does change.
Paul Ferguson, EMEA general counsel, Bloomberg: I’m now more likely to go directly to the Bar to get advice; that’s an interesting change.
Danby: I’m quite interested in what place trainees have in the future in law. In-house, I can see that there’s still junior work for them to do. The expectation using external advice is that type of work would go to an alternative legal provider – you don’t want to get your law firm to provide that kind of work – you want the expertise. So what is the future for trainees there?
Chee: You can’t replace people with technology. You have to ask: what is the tech you’re bringing in trying to achieve? GCs are interpreters – you need someone that understands both sides of the business, and if you don’t understand both the sides what’s the point? It has to be a dialogue.