In Managed Legal Services, we talk about delivering value to in-house teams through right-sourcing. This means getting the work done by the right resource, at the right time at a price point that doesn’t make your eyes water. The overall alternative legal services market is growing by at least 20% compound year on year, according to Thomson Reuters, so the model must get something right.
Apply this agile, right-sourcing concept to an in-house lawyer. In an in-house team which combines people, processes and typically some tech, what’s the work the people should be doing? And how does that map to the work today’s in-house lawyers want to do?
In the article that follows, we asked assistant GCs about their roles and their futures. As with every aspect of change within the legal industry, it’s taking longer than we might have expected for tradition to release its grip.
What in-house lawyers want
Many want to be a ‘traditional’ GC, some want a large in-house team, our assistant GCs referred to senior in-house lawyers working with little access to their Board. There were mentions of ethics and compliance functions being made up of just lawyers and of crisis’ being what really puts legal in the boardroom.
At the same time, it was clear that all those assistant GCs who we spoke to are commercially savvy, providing advice that’s tailored entirely to business ambition. There was a feeling of fierce desire to protect the business as well as an interest in how lawyers can enable revenue generation. There was acknowledgement that lawyers within some in-house teams will become outnumbered by other legal professionals.
The push/pull between past and future states in our profession plays out in individual perceptions too.
Push/pull for legal transformation
Change is unsettling for many and the vision for a ‘transformed’ in-house lawyer isn’t clear.
It makes sense that legal transformation doesn’t happen overnight because every in-house team is having to imagine and then roadmap their journey from scratch. There are no blueprints for optimising the way legal advice is delivered to a single business because no two businesses are the same and the tools available to support legal delivery are constantly changing.
Lawyers considering change within their teams must also contend with a macroeconomic permacrisis, new laws, risks and ethical compliance in a way other functions don’t. Transformation is not easy.
Focus on continuous improvement
Legal transformation might be an unhelpful phrase. It implies legal teams will transform from their current state into something quite different, overnight, and then remain in that new state, like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis.
It’s not really like that. In-house teams who are sophisticated buyers of legal services might be well ahead on the journey to modernising their legal function, but they aren’t stopping, and they must never stop. The principle of right-sourcing can, by definition, never stand still as it will always create a legal delivery strategy which offers maximum value to the business at a point in time. In today’s economy, no business’s needs will stay the same for long.
So what does this mean for individuals? Perhaps that they won’t ‘transform’ either. Perhaps with agility, curiosity and openness to change, individuals will harness the intelligence they have on business risk and embark on their own journey to continuously maximise the value they offer to the business.
A future lawyer whose success isn’t stifled by tradition
In-house lawyers are keen to stick close to the business needs, build allies, ask questions and to ‘be part of something’. Assistant GCs are concerned about AI, data, cyber, ESG which one can imagine fall pretty high on most of the C-suite’s worry lists.
In-house lawyers are invested in the success of the businesses they work for and they should right-source themselves as business partners. Specific and deep legal specialism can be bought, scale and automation are increasingly available to release in-house lawyers from the BAU, and AI will transform workloads sooner or later. But nobody can apply knowledge and communicate with stakeholders or operational business functions like the in-house lawyer can.
While GCs are considering legal transformation, their in-house lawyers should free themselves to look forward. They shouldn’t be too busy looking down to think about the parts of their roles which can be right-sourced efficiently so that they focus on what makes them exceptionally valuable to the business. They must take this opportunity to re-imagine the lawyer they thought they would be and work out how to become the business partner that can never be replaced by anyone else or clever tech.