I have been in the business of law for a LONG time, coming up to 30 years in fact. For 28 of those 30 years I was a “traditional” lawyer who drafted contracts for a living before eventually running a team of 55 that drafted lots of contracts for clients in many sectors. For the remaining 2 years of my career I have been the Commercial Director at Mindcrest, the world’s first Alternative Legal Service Provider, purchased by the DWF Group just before the first COVID lockdown and now providing standalone and integrated solutions to law firms and legal teams.
Even as a “traditional” lawyer I always exhibited “new law” traits. For example, as a process driven control freak, I have always fostered a nerdy desire to perform work as efficiently as possible. Back in 2003 I transformed the procurement team of one client using what I called common sense (which turned out to be basic six sigma techniques). I created simple templates and negotiation guides, training modules and escalation rules for contract negotiation. We even brought in a ….. get this ….. DATABASE to keep contracts in a central repository so we could monitor renewals easier (crazy I know).
The other thing that made me think that I was built differently was that I was frequently embarrassed by my profession who seemed to be most expert at simply dragging things out. It often felt like there was a conspiracy to maximise law firm profits by one side pumping out a grotesquely unreasonably first draft for the opposing party to spend hours redlining whilst noting how disappointed they were at the starting point. The originator would be disappointed at the extensiveness of the mark up and thus the “pendulum of disappointment” would start its slow, swaying journey to the sensible middle ground, ending up exactly where we thought it would. Like minded colleagues would observe similar frustrations in the world of real estate, corporate, banking etc with sensible behaviours being observed only when the opposition was on a “tight fee”.
Despite having a predisposition for doing things differently and embracing new techniques it is safe to say that I have learned more about the changing business of law in my new role that I did in the previous 28 years practising “old law”. It turns out that I was just and enthusiastic amateur who was playing around the edges! Really innovative businesses and disruptors have totally reimagined and redesigned some portfolio work types pulling the different levers of people, process and technology to create new approaches, new technology and new products. In house teams and creative firms have conceived and developed One NDA, effectively removing the pendulum of disappointment from this very frequently used document. Legal teams are being spoilt by a huge smorgasbord of opportunity from alternative suppliers with unique services, AI hacks, game changing applications and an insatiable appetite for optimisation and better outcomes.
The result? Overwhelming confusion! I have plenty of anecdotal evidence to back up this view from over 300 meetings I had with clients over the last 18 months. Moreover the confusion is apparent from the RFI’s and RFP’s my organisation has responded to in recent times many of which read like non-specific cries for help. With a small number of notable exceptions most in house legal teams don’t know how to ask for support and are struggling to articulate the journey they want to go on. The same number have yet to assess what role legal operations and tech has in delivering sustainable value to their business.
When I was a contracts lawyer I struggled to get meetings with GCs as most were being well serviced by their existing firms. When I moved roles I found that the door was open for a conversation around things like: “what are other teams doing?”; “how do we compare with others in our sector”; “what technology have you seen that is game changing / shiny”; and, my favourite, “please can you just transform us into what we need to be?”. The problem with these questions is that they don’t address the client’s own situational needs or pain points. Attempting to solve a non-existent issue is not innovation, it’s a waste of time and resources and trying to copy someone else’s journey will simply guarantee you start from the wrong point.
My first piece of advice is therefore pretty simple. Stop worrying about what everyone else is doing and what people have to sell you and instead start to work out what specific problems you are trying to solve and what your priorities are for your team and your business. [We’ll look at this more closely in the coming months].