We’ve had disruption. We’ve had innovation. Now, in 2017, we’re about to get collaboration. I’m sure I’m not the only person to confess lexical and conceptual fatigue, but let’s consider another one: support. Not manufactured, corporatised, human-resourced support, but energy and comradeship of the sort to be found among the Disruptive GC (DGC) group, which projects editor Natasha Bernal examines this week.
The DGC group has attracted enormous interest since The Lawyer first revealed its existence last year. Following our report, Lisa Gan Tomlins at made.com and Matt Wilson at Uber, the prime movers, were bombarded with requests to join. There is currently a waiting list, but in broad terms if you’re not working at a tech-related company in its pre-IPO phase, you don’t have much of shot. If that sounds like an East London coterie, then think again. Many of the members, from companies such as WorldRemit, Property Partner and Graze, had never met before joining the group. Sure, quite a few of them so have that caffeinated, Shoreditch sheen, but what unites them is the pressures of being a lawyer in a start-up.
I have three observations to make about the DGCs. The first is that they have learned how to tell their company’s story to good effect. Many of them work (and occasionally battle) with the regulator in a greenfield business environment. Uber is a good example, but this also applies to peer-to-peer lenders such as Ratesetter and Funding Circle, whose legal and regulatory contribution is helping to shape the very business in which they operate.
The second observation relates to their collaborative practices. The dynamic here is not the collaboration that centres around how different law firms can combine to work for the client; it’s about bypassing private practice altogether. The DGCs communicate privately on Slack to discuss anything from share options to external counsel recommendations to how to put a case together to expand the legal team. It’s open-source lawyering based around speed of response and flexibility.
Furthermore, there are no financial incentives within the DGC collaboration; this is a circulation not of referrals or fees but of information, advice and support, so members are less likely to act as competitive opportunists. The DGCs rely on a strikingly high level of trust. Because a large group – it numbers 30 – view the comments, peer-review is built in. It is, you could argue, an unconscious replication of an ideal partnership, in which information flows freely for the benefit of all.
My third observation is directed at envious in-housers who itch to be part of such a support network. I was with another group of general counsel recently who were fascinated to hear about the group dynamic of the DGCs. But within five minutes the discussion had turned to why it couldn’t be done in their sector. Who would run the group? What about competition concerns? Would everyone participate fully and honestly? The yearning for comradeship and information-sharing was there, but so was timidity and the lowering of the imaginative shutters. The final lesson, then, is this: don’t ask for permission. Open-source your support.