In our latest 60 second interview as part of the Legal Transformation Week, we heard from John Beckett, General Counsel Global Architectural Products and Global Business Services Division at Hunter Douglas, about the relationship between legal and compliance in 2024.

How do you think legal and compliance should work together? What is the best model for a relationship between the two?

The relationship between legal and compliance needs to be a close one, given the interlinking and interdependent issues that arise in both functions. At Hunter Douglas, we have legal and compliance specialists working side-by-side with some overlap, but I have seen smaller companies where all roles within the Legal and Compliance function cover both. Given that both legal and compliance roles have their own complexities, I prefer the separate model, with the heads of both functions reporting into the CEO (whether or not the head of compliance reports into the Group GC, I think it is important for him or her to have a dotted reporting line to another C-suite member).

Given the cross-over on many areas of our work – data security, GDPR, investigations, policies – I think it is essential for legal and compliance to collaborate and understand  each other’s work with visibility into what the other is doing, so that we can add value to each other’s work. I also think there’s a lot we can contribute to each other’s functional areas.

What are the greatest legal challenges you are preparing for in 2024?

Aside from managing legal risk in the course of daily work, the introduction of legal technology is the greatest challenge for 2024 for us. As a company, we have not historically utilised legal tech widely and in EMEA we have a big push now to change that situation so we do not fall behind other companies and fail to utilise tech in way that increases our efficiency and ability to perceive and prevent risk. This will most likely be in the area of AI (like many legal teams) and understanding how to use it to better interpret business and legal decisions we have taken in a wide range of our negotiated contracts, from supplier contracts to dealer agreements and others. Another area is managing our key contractual terms in way that they keep pace with the market, particularly our competitors, including warranties, delivery or payment terms, as the decision we make on these points often ends up affecting the bottom line.

Which skills do in-house legal teams need to grow and develop to address legal and compliance issues in 2024?

We see a trend gathering pace for lawyers and compliance experts wear more and more hats. To give a well cited example, the legal function has increasingly been asked to take ownership of ESG, not to mention compliance and co sec roles in many (especially private) companies. I imagine this trend will continue, particularly if the economy continues to splutter, with many CEOs and group GCs wanting to save budget on headcount. So being agile and capable of expanding our skillset and interest in a wide range of directions will help us continue to enjoy our work, provided that teams are not stretched too thinly to make that untenable.

Another challenge will be adjusting to solving legal and commercial problems creatively in a consistently tough market resulting in more (and potential higher value) disputes.  This happened after 2008 and I was involved in many disputes with customers and suppliers. As always, the goal will be to resolve problems without utilising formal dispute resolution mechanisms but the ability to achieve that goal will be decisively influenced by how well in-house teams can find solutions, use alternative dispute resolution mechanisms and persuade our businesses to adopt them.

Why did you choose to work in the legal sector?

I moved into law from a first career as an academic specializing in modern Japanese literature in Japan and later at Cambridge, mostly because I wanted to use my analytical skills to tackle real life issues. I had quite a few friends who were lawyers and I could relate to the way they constructed arguments and understood the way that I was required to understand and analyse large amounts of complex information was very similar to how many of them worked. I decided to train at the bar and enjoyed advocacy a great deal a barrister and enjoyed advocacy a great deal. I later moved into M&A at Freshfields (where I trained and worked) and have been a deal junkie ever since!

I have enjoyed working as a lawyer in the past 15 years, as I’ve been fortunate to have many opportunities to apply a skill-set built in academia and honed in law to (re)solve commercial issues both in-house and in private practice.