30. October 2018

Corporate Counsel’s Day 2018

Last week’s Corporate Counsel’s Day focused on innovation and digitalization in legal departments. A line-up of twelve speakers from the UK, Germany and Switzerland openly shared their experience of projects they had successfully implemented, or at least of what they had tried to do so far, in order to improve their services to internal customers.

Looking at surveys in the UK and the US, it does not come as a surprise that General Counsel (GC) have high expectations of law firms. They expect lower fees and an increase in both service quality and turnaround time. However, it seems that spoon-feeding of GC remains a serious topic; in the UK every second GC expects law firms to advise them on which technology to use. Nevertheless, law firms do not really seem eager to meet price- and customer-driven demands. They are not serious about changing their delivery model to provide greater value to clients since, inter alia, they do not (yet) feel enough economic pain. Customers do not seem to articulate their needs clearly; instead, one speaker explained he would “vote with his feet” and not consider any further those law firms which were unwilling to help him in a proactive way.

The participants of the conference received plenty of new ideas and were inspired to follow them up themselves. However, what they appreciated most was the fact that speakers also shared failures when trying to innovate. Because failures go straight to the heart of, and constitute an important part of, innovations; it is a fact that not all ideas are implemented successfully. Therefore the purpose of innovation is at least to try and appreciate the projects that work well and produce a positive outcome and benefit. One speaker underlined the fact that there is no real alternative to innovation by quoting Bob Dylan: “You better start swimming, or you’ll sink like a stone.”

The speakers presented many interesting ideas for innovation in legal departments such as dealing with moving legal drafting onto a technology-based platform to avoid lengthy and unproductive contract drafting, improving project management skills and building a global legal platform to serve in-house counsel with easy to access information, tools and templates. Not surprisingly, the audience also learnt that new ideas are sometimes blocked not only by the firm’s own team, but by workers’ councils and data protection concerns.

Another speaker explained that they wanted to increase efficiency in the legal department by implementing a form for internal customers to complete before approaching the legal department. The customers, however, did not appreciate it. Consequently, this project failed. One reason might have been that the solution proposed by the legal department was thought “inside-out” with a focus on their own needs, instead of looking at the internal customers’ needs.

Another speaker described how their legal department changed the organization set-up and recently implemented a holocracy model, by means of which the lawyers will now organize themselves. It will be interesting to hear how successful they were, considering that leading a team of lawyers is sometimes compared to “herding cats”.

There was an overall agreement that innovation always means change as well and that human beings are not really good at embracing change, and that lawyers may be even worse at it (to serve a common stereotype). Therefore the question is how a legal team can be motivated to become more innovative. There were different answers to the questions raised during the conference. One company implemented a kind of incubator to think more openly about new ideas, and all employees could apply to become part of this team. Surprisingly, although this task is considered to cause extra work for an employee, there were many requests from the team to join, incidentally across all age levels (this was not just a Generation Y thing). A different legal department created a think tank and even took some lawyers out of their daily work full-time; this team is now free to think openly about processes and how to change lawyers’ mindset, knowing that lawyers are still trained in a conservative way.

The speakers agreed that it would take time and extra efforts for such fundamental changes. They suggested the following measures to help support changes: sharing success stories, talking about mistakes, offering job rotation to learn from each other, changing the tone at the top and providing transparency.

Innovation is here to stay. It will be interesting to see how legal departments and other legal services providers such as law firms will adapt to stay relevant to customers.

Speakers were: Rhian Bliss (HSBC Bank); Martin de Grijp (ABB); Kai Jacob (SAP); Dr. Andreas Lenk, LL.M. (Boehringer Ingelheim Europe); Philippe Lucet (Nestlé); Hans Matthysen (BASF); Patrick Muff (Postfinance); @Michael Romer (Orion Rechtsschutz-Versicherung); Peter Schichl (Deutsche Telekom); Maurus Schreyvogel (Novartis); Nora Teuwsen (SBB); Michael R. Winkler (Daimler)

After the last Corporate Counsel’s Day is before the next Corporate Counsel’s Day. Therefore please already SAVE THE DATE: 24 October 2019 in Zurich.


Picture by Sabrina Weiss 


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About the author
Prof. Dr. Bruno Mascello Academic Director Law & Management of the Executive School of Management, Technology and Law at the University of St.Gallen, Director of the executive programme for lawyers “Management for the Legal Profession (MLP-HSG)”, attorney at law, lecturer and author dealing with various topics at the intersection of law and management.