Gowling WLG’s head of commercial, employment, pensions and projects Michael Luckman talks to The Lawyer about the evolving expectations of clients, the steps in-housers should take to be more strategic and the skills that will be in demand for the law department of the future ahead of his session at this year’s In-house Counsel as Business Partner conference in association with EY.

What are the biggest trends and changes you are seeing with your clients?

Michael Luckman

Clients have become much more sophisticated buyers of legal services. They decide whether work is better insourced or outsourced; they might operate a number of flexible resource solutions to manage peaks and troughs; they will challenge hourly billing in favour of a budgeted approach and will expect to pay much less for commodity work but accept more for specialist or real value add advice. Clients are going through their own digital and technology revolutions in their industries and getting to grips with the implications for their businesses and strategy (think auto and electric AVs). In the legal context, all but the biggest clients are looking to their external firms to develop and provide the technical and process improvement solutions that will drive efficiency and value.

How can in-house lawyers be more strategic in their role?

First, the lawyers need to believe it is part of their role to be strategic. Second, they should invest in understanding their own business and sector from inside out – from the point of view of all its stakeholders eg bankers, shareholders, directors, customers, suppliers. In-house lawyers are really well-placed to do this. Third, they need to use their copious analytical and synthetical skills to distill the product of their attention to detail into high level principles and themes about the values, direction, and operation of the business. Finally, using this well-spring of knowledge and experience, they should nurture the trust and confidence of the senior executives responsible for strategy that enables them to test, challenge, and ultimately shape the business strategy around which the entire business will need to align.

How essential are performance metrics to the legal function?

I am a big believer that data is important when managing a business but it needs to be sensibly applied. There are two truisms about performance metrics. First, many valuable things are not measurable. Second, you get what you measure. Those doing the longest hours do not always make the most valuable contributions. Equally, focusing on one or two performance criteria capable of measurement may drive behaviour that comes at the cost of valuable behaviours incapable of calculating. In private practice, a focus on billable time can drive lawyers away from investment in relationship building or thought leadership, especially if that is not necessarily financially valued by the client.

What does the law department of the future look like and what skills will be valued most?

Technology and AI is with us now and will only increase in importance. This will remove much of the grunt work involved in document generation and provide useful analysis of contractual data. Non-legal analysis and/or processing skills will be brought into the department or outsourced to other departments as support services. Value added thinking within a broader business context will be in demand with an emphasis on future spotting, risk management, value preservation, and compliance. Recruiting for these skills will be competitive and training for them a challenge.

If you could have dinner with one person, dead or alive, who would it be?

My father, to make up for all the conversations we never had when I was a stroppy youth.

The In-house Counsel as Business Partner conference in association with EY is being held at the Hilton London Tower Bridge Hotel on the 5-6 November. If you’d like more information on the event, including the full agenda and speaker line-up as well as how you can register to attend, please contact Kenan Balli on +44(0) 20 7970 4017.