Ahead of the In-house Financial Services Virtual Conference, Axiom’s Lewis Bowman and Nicola Dyke talk to The Lawyer about resilience, finding a different way of working in legal and how to successfully disrupt processes in a change-resistant sector like legal.

What positives can you see emerging from this current crisis?

We believe the current crisis is a tipping point for the legal industry, the point at which lawyers and legal organisations realised there is a different way to work in legal. It is possible.

We have witnessed growing confidence that high-calibre legal services can be delivered remotely and from home. We have also observed a growing population of lawyers embrace a more flexible career path. Smart in-house leaders will act quickly to utilise this growing talent network to reduce their external legal spend.

The pace of change in the legal industry is accelerating. In the past few months, legal functions have implemented new technologies to deliver smarter, new ways of working, at a pace never imagined pre-crisis. We have also been surprised at our adaptability, both at an individual and a team level. It’s this adaptability – actually, this resilience – that will give us confidence to be bolder in driving through the industry change we know, now more than ever, is necessary.

During the crisis, businesses had to pivot really quickly and change their focus within days; risk tolerance was also higher, with most companies practising a “let’s just do it” mentality. How do you then move away from this mentality to a more risk-based approach?

In the early stages of the crisis, legal functions were rightly focused on business continuity and incident management. But as businesses faced enormous, unprecedented challenges to adapt, legal teams have had to carefully juggle how they support business goals as both revenue driver and risk manager. The challenge for any legal function is wearing both hats simultaneously and effectively.

The impact of risk not properly managed during the “let’s just do it” phase won’t be fully understood for some time, so is unlikely to serve as a catalyst for transitioning back to a more risk-based approach. We can, however, draw on our experiences of past financial crises to remember that in times like these, where there are inevitably winners and losers, the blame game will begin in earnest once this pandemic is over. Until then, much like our emergence from full lockdown, the shift to rebalance mindsets to a more risk-based approach may need to be gradual.

In your opinion, what will the “new normal” look like (post-pandemic)?

Beyond the obvious mobilisation of a remote workforce, the pandemic hasn’t caused legal departments to transform overnight. General Counsel have understandably been prioritising urgent matters triggered by the social and economic crisis – the alligator closest to the canoe – rather than rethinking the way departments are structured and how work is delivered. However, we can comfortably predict that changes from the unplanned work-from-home revolution are here to stay.

Beyond this, we expect both legal departments and law firms will emerge from the pandemic leaner and more agile. One driver of this will be a preference for a more variable cost base, so that businesses can quickly respond to new business opportunities without carrying long-term fixed cost. This will fuel already-rising demand for flexible legal talent. Greater mobility and flexibility within the industry will be more accepted (and sought after by top legal talent), further enabled by remote working and greater adoption of technology.

Everyone in the legal industry is talking about disrupting the traditional way of doing things. How do you successfully achieve this in such a change-resistant sector as legal?

If you look back over the last 20 years that Axiom has been around, the legal industry has evolved slowly. We think you must accept industry-level change won’t happen naturally overnight. To successfully achieve change, you’ve got to persevere, and believe that what you’re doing is transformative and solves an industry problem. The decisions that our clients and lawyers make every day to choose Axiom validate our belief.

Amidst this slow change, you’ve got these inflection points. The evolutionary equivalent would be a leap moment. The financial crisis was a leap moment. We saw a lot of change immediately after. We think this is another big leap moment. The most obvious example is how legal departments have had to mobilise work-from-home overnight – impressive for a change-resistant industry.

Change is driven by external factors (for example, in the form of reduced budgets), but also from within the legal department. The lockdown will have altered attitudes and long-held beliefs about the way work can be delivered. Traditional arguments will struggle to find merit. Legal leaders will sooner embrace new ways of delivering services. This is good news for all those persevering through the usually slow pace of disruption.

Lewis Bowman and Nicola Dyke are part of the 30+ speakers making up this year’s speaker line-up at The Lawyer’s In-house Financial Services virtual event taking place between 30 June – 2nd July. For more information on the conference, a copy of the agenda, or to register for any of the 10+ sessions available, please visit the event website.