Ashurst’s Rachel Barnes speaks to The Lawyer about creating a collaborative mindset, getting the buy-in and maneuvering obstacles in the way of working with other firms in our latest interview in the Business Leadership Series.

How do you shift the dial from a competitive to a collaborative mindset?

Rachel Barnes
Rachel Barnes

I see the future as being a collaborative ecosystem of multi-disciplinary stakeholders in the legal sector all working towards common goals.  There are so many non-proprietary areas where we could all collaborate for the greater good – to create sector-wide process efficiencies or to make clients’ lives easier.  It is just a matter of identifying those initiatives and pulling a team together of like-minded enthusiasts.

That’s just what we did around creating an industry-wide protocol on the use of online dispute resolution tools in arbitration.  Ashurst, together with Herbert Smith Freehills, Latham & Watkins, CMS, DLA Piper and Hogan Lovells have been collaborating to produce guidance that will help to foster greater understanding of and a consistent approach within the arbitration community. We launched the protocol for wider public consultation on 1st July, with the aim of releasing a post-consultation draft later in the year.  The driver was how the use of technology and digitisation in arbitration is changing how dispute resolution practices operate and Arbitral tribunals’ greater focus on enhanced cybersecurity and data protection measures.

Identifying the challenge and bringing a team together who buy into it and have the buy-in of their firm is the key.  Working together was fantastic and the energy, ideas and enthusiasm of what we could build together was really inspirational.  I think it is about giving people the opportunity to get involved.

In your opinion, what are the main obstacles in the way of collaboration?

The legal sector is naturally risk averse and, in general, not naturally open to the creative approach of: define, ideate, test, learn, develop, test.  Getting buy-in and prioritisation for initiatives that are new, might fail and may, or may not take us to the future, is the challenge.  All the possible things which may go wrong and the problems which may come up are the first hurdle to overcome.  Then there is time required to achieve this.

Ashurst has addressed this by building NewLaw (or the future of law) into our strategic goals, as well as into our values and purpose.  We are working with clients and third party partnerships to take ownership of the future and how law firms will evolve to deliver their services.  That’s why a new role was created in Ashurst Advance – my role of Head of Collaborations – to be integral in taking that forward.

What is the main change you predict in law firms as a result of the way they have operated during the lockdown period?

In my opinion, there will be a deeper embedding of more creative approaches to client challenges, leveraging all the tools at a lawyer’s disposal, from technology to alternative delivery methods, to legal project management.  We are all going to be impacted by the economic effects of Covid-19 and partnering with clients to pass on efficiencies or help them transform is going to be a crucial part of a law firm’s role.  So, all lawyers will need to arm themselves with a much broader toolkit than they may have previously relied on, so they can respond to their clients’ more holistic needs.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

Running a project to develop a series of client oriented tools, which involved collaboration with a truly multi-disciplinary team, including clients.  We worked with the clients to identify real needs and then designed, tested, prototyped, tested and developed the products to meet those needs (yes lots of testing!).  Other industries might consider this approach relatively normal, but the legal industry is still getting there!  The other highlight was when a client asked for me to be added to their relationship management team – wonderful to have your work as a non-lawyer recognised!