The Lawyer, in association with PwC, hosted a roundtable focusing on the transformation challenges faced by in-house teams


Andrew Giverin, partner and co-head of NewLaw, PwC
Catrin Griffiths, editor, The Lawyer
Craig McKeown, partner, forensic services, PwC

Round the table

John Abramson, general counsel Europe, Travelers
Sabine Chalmers, group general counsel, BT
Laurence Cook, legal counsel and legal operations manager, Markerstudy
Rachael Davidson, UK general counsel and company secretary, National Grid Ventures
John Dockery, head of legal operations, Nokia
Jamie Fraser, director of legal operations and innovation, Smiths Group
Brian Hanlon, head of UK legal operations and development, Sky UK
Michael Harrats, senior counsel (head of pensions legal team), LGIM
Sally-Ann James, general counsel, Metro Bank
David McCahon, general counsel, global head of commercial, innovation and technology, Barclays
Maria Passemard, head of legal operations, John Lewis
Mark Turner, COO legal, compliance and risk, TP ICAP

Q Catrin Griffiths: Can you give us some sense of where you all are on the transformation journey – particularly the pain points and what problems need solving?

John Dockery: I’m striving to understand what operations are about and also what our priorities are internally. I think we’re fairly mature. We have had an initiative going on for more than a year, where we try to create and deploy AI for certain types of our contractual processes, but in many ways we are still immature. The key things on my mind are demand and deployment management. There’s an antipathy towards in-house time tracking.

However, if we’re talking about how to deploy available resources, what are the creative ways to figure out what our departments are doing?

Automation is key for us, as well as finding more areas and opportunities to automate. Change management is top in my mind. Laurence Cook: We’ve gone on to a journey from selecting a contract management platform to looking at a self-service tool, which the business can use to generate its own templates. We also have to develop a legal portal for the team, enabling them to select work, track performance, and an interface with the business, to improve instructions to legal. We’ve been very active with lots of acquisitions and manage more than 100 companies, but it is difficult to carry out this change going forward.

David McCahon: There’s so much work to be done in terms of what is the right approach. We have a lot of technology within legal at Barclays, but the question is: how do we implement a more programmatic approach around that and enable ourselves to work out what direction to take as a platform going forward?

Q Griffiths: One theme appears to be scepticism around tech as a magic bullet at any point. Culture is still a huge thing, including how to explain what the lawyers do and understanding what the processes are. How would you advise a head of legal or legal ops person in a department that doesn’t necessarily have access to process experts?

Andrew Giverin: The key point is process mapping to drill down what the requirements are and identifying the problem you are trying to solve. Our most successful projects have been when we’ve process-mapped an end-to-end solution into the business.

Maria Passemard: Firms often have process mappers that you can borrow for business workshops.

Giverin: I think you have to view it as a philosophical exercise. It’s great if there is a dedicated project manager, but you must approach this from the perspective of justifying what you’ve got. That’s the only way you can take a fresh look, before you’ve adopted or used a particular technology platform that you’re effectively stuck with integrating over a period of time.

John Abramson: Make sure you insist upon a sandbox, not just a trial period or demo, but actually have a live instance of whatever tool you’re going to buy in a small contained space. That helps to visualise what you’re doing before carrying out a global deployment. Also attempt to get as much of that in the selection process. I haven’t tried it before, but it seems to make great intuitive sense to me. You have to grapple with a process and lay out what yours is as much as you can. Therefore, when you first make contact with your tech provider, at least you have settled those big points.

Rachael Davidson: If you have functions operating independently without a complete partnership, it’s pointless selecting the best process if a business doesn’t understand how to use the service, or if it still expects legal to take responsibility for things we think should be done in the business.

Sabine Chalmers: It is also recognising that often the solution you are looking for already exists somewhere else in the business. At my former company, we had a gigantic operation in Brazil with a big back-office centre that served the rest of the organisation. We ended up with the technological solution that finance had already used for tax provisioning and just blowing that out to the legal and litigation management. In fact, the provider was not a legal services one, but they worked with us to create it. The other example was in the compliance team. We ended up using what marketing was doing around data analytics to spot patterns within compliance.

Mark Turner: We have used some of our cost-reduction strategy. So, for example, at the beginning, we put in place a matter management system and we’ve enjoyed major cost savings. That has given us a real opportunity to explore interesting areas, which allows and manages cost avoidance in sectors such as litigation or other types of solutions, which otherwise we would not have the business case for.

Brian Hanlon: We found that long-term transformation was about our people. For quite a few years, we were training lawyers to push back on the business and say no. This was to shift a mindset from private practice to in-house work so they could work in a more sustainable way. We had a lot of success with that, but discovered it could only take us so far. Essentially, we were only looking at one side of the equation and were changing the behaviours of our lawyers.

We found that by putting operational processes in place, structurally changing the way the business engages with legal addresses the other side of the equation.

Giverin: What do you think they get in return for that? It must be irritating, because presumably, they now have to sit in the queue.

Hanlon: As part of the portal, we have a lot of self-serve options for their templates, or previously given advice, to automate the process. It’s all available on the portal and we’re adding to those as quickly as possible.

We said: “If you need to engage your lawyer in this process, then we are rolling out this portal, but we’re also giving you a lot of self-help tools.” By being able to take some of those means they can work in the state they want and immediately get responses for those requests. When it comes to the lawyers, there is no guaranteed response time.

Craig McKeown: There are some very quick wins in operations. But in terms of putting the technology in place, sometimes a lot of quick wins come from tech that already exists. There is a move to have more of an enterprise-wide solution or a legal operating system in the market. So we are building matter management, knowledge management, contract life-cycle management and so on into one platform.

Jamie Fraser: I think there is a tech backlash on the way, as people have failed technology with painful implementations. The interesting thing I’ve seen lately is this rise of other small, medium or big consultancies – kind of legal engineers. There are people who can help us with procurement and implementation and we have probably got rather good procurement functions – I’m comfortable with that. But choice is where we will potentially slip up – I would be a big advocate for spending more money for a third party to look after that.

Sally-Ann James: Bringing in a third party for a broad overview of what options are out there can be useful for lawyers, as we are keen to know the answers to everything. I would be very interested in understanding who those organisations are, otherwise I’m going to end up with nine or 10 pieces of tech, or whatever fits. Often I have found that there is somebody within the legal team who is technology-focused, so he or she will be the one who drives these efforts.

Griffiths: Thank you everyone. I think one of the interesting points raised is this idea of lateral knowledge sharing. Years ago I remember writing an article on the disruptor GCs. They got together because they were all in start-ups and didn’t have the budget to ask for investments.

It is rather a golden age for legal operations heads – it is a positive experience born out of disruption and challenge that pushes everyone to talk to each other about the problems they share.

The 3 things best in-house legal teams do

Observations from roundtable sponsor PwC

Legal environments are getting ever more complex and at the same time law departments are coming under relentless ongoing pressure to reduce costs.

We heard from all of the panellists that in recent years they had made concerted efforts to reduce their costs footprint year on year but that they found it challenging to deal with law department headcount and other cost savings targets strategically. Instead in many cases they had to “salami slice” to meet targets quickly (for example by imposing recruitment freezes, closing “open” vacancies and selective headcount reduction). Often cuts had been made where it had been “easiest” to do so rather than where they were most needed.

In our view, what’s really required to crack this problem is greater emphasis on the right set of priorities for the legal function. The best support functions are relentlessly focused on supporting the core business mission and strategic priorities and doing so by leveraging a high performing and scalable delivery model that is cost effective. In our experience, GCs need support and buy-in from their functional counterparts to develop the road map and transform the way that legal services get delivered most effectively.

In particular, we discussed that the best in-house legal departments have three things in common:

1. They focus on building shared trust between Legal and the business units they support.
2. They focus on business strategy and outcomes and they measure their own success that way.
3. They focus on continuously improving the way in which legal services are delivered and the associated cost base. often leveraging what’s worked in other parts of the business.

They do these things by articulating the value of change upfront, by understanding and streamlining their current processes, by tuning the dials on legal service levels, by thinking creatively about where and how legal services get delivered and by putting the right people, processes and systems in place to ensure that work is done efficiently. They also actively challenge themselves as to what work they should be doing.

Everyone agreed that there was no “one size fits all” approach to legal department transformation. However, companies who start with a shared vision between the CEO, CFO and GC as well as a roadmap that begins with the principles set out above can fundamentally change the way in which their legal teams deliver services to the business and re-frame the value that they deliver.

Andrew Giverin
Partner, NewLaw Services, PwC