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The evolution of the legal team – an Ashurst Advance perspective

January 2020 | Christopher Georgiou, Partner & Head of Ashurst Advance

The pace of transformation in the legal services market continues to accelerate and we’re seeing a growing enthusiasm from in-house legal teams to embrace this change. There are a growing number of opportunities to develop skillsets and embrace alternative legal careers, as well as to be at the forefront of this evolution by driving change and encouraging genuine thought leadership. In this blog we focus on the people aspects, including how the pressure to upskill teams may affect individuals in different ways; the diversification and introduction of new roles and skills, and an increased focus on wellbeing.

The lawyer of the future: One size doesn’t fit all

‘Strategic’, ‘commercial’, ‘flexible’. According to in-house legal teams, these are the key attributes needed by the future lawyer to succeed. Are the days when lawyers were expected to know the law and only the law now in the past?

With many organisations aligning their legal teams to business areas, lawyers are under pressure to become more strategic and flexible; equipped to respond to queries across multiple legal disciplines and having the commercial knowledge to support this advice and provide tangible solutions. Add to this the need to consider legal tech within these solutions, provide thorough project management and become data literate, and you can see that the role of the in-house lawyer is under immense pressure to evolve. Many lawyers are embracing this challenge with enthusiasm, hungry to be learn new skills and discover alternative career pathways. Where though does this leave those lawyers who want to remain in a specialist position and don’t have the appetite to develop further skills? Is there still a place for them in the in-house legal team structure? We recently discussed this question with a group of clients, and the answer was a resounding yes. These people are in fact integral to the success of the legal team and we need to acknowledge the value they bring to the function. Whilst they may not wish to bring new skills to the table, they too can be part of this transformation solely by adapting their mindsets and becoming more inquisitive. By challenging the status quo, identifying alternative approaches to tasks and asking colleagues if certain tasks could be done more efficiently, they will add a huge amount to the legal transformation agenda.

Whichever ‘change bucket’ you’re in, the key is to appreciate the different perspectives each individual can bring, recognising that some may be more subtle than others.

From forming to storming: The changing role of the in-house legal team

The evolution of the in-house legal team is starting to gain pace and we are seeing new areas of expertise developing. The rise of the ‘legal operations’ role is a prime example; this is now a key senior role in many firms and does not necessarily have to be performed by someone with a legal background. Rather, business, financial and strategic skill sets are key to be able to identify opportunities to maximise value for money of external legal spend and deploying strategies to make efficiency and cost savings.

Given the demands on the in-house legal function to manage complex regulatory change projects, streamline high-volume legal processes as well as perform the role of the firm’s trusted legal expert and minimise risk, we are increasingly asked by our clients whether they should be looking to hire their own legal project managers or legal technology experts to support them. The answer to this is not clear cut. It depends on the size of the organisation and the appetite for keeping the work in-house rather than leveraging law firm’s expertise in these areas. Regardless of this, if you are considering it the first step is to fully engage with these roles and understand the value they would bring to your organisation, taking into account the behavioural change which would need to be adopted to ensure the full integration of the team.

Our view is that the in-house legal function’s transformation journey is, to quote Tuckman’s group development model (forming, storming, norming and performing), currently in the ‘forming’ stage where team members with differing skills will act independently of each other. To move to the next stage of maturity, ‘storming’ where the group start to work towards the common strategic goals will require people to embrace conflict and change in order to succeed. Actions speak louder than words: a refreshing approach to mental health.

Alongside the maturing landscape of the legal services market has come the recognition that the legal industry needs to be doing more around mental health. A leadership focus on this topic, and employee wellbeing more generally, has seen this become one of the key priorities this year. Two refreshing aspects which we have seen regularly are worthy of highlighting:

1. Pledges alone are not seen as enough. Operational and behavioural change need to align to deliver the improved outcomes underpinning those pledges; and

2. A movement away from sticking plaster solutions to the problems when they arise, and much more determination to address the root causes. We expect to see this remaining a key agenda topic in coming years ahead, with an increasingly strong focus both on leadership and actions, not just words.

All in all, this is an exciting time to be in the law! New career paths, brand new roles, and new opportunities for people with diverse skills. But what is clear is that traditional roles and legal expertise still very much have a central place in this broader NewLaw community, and integration and collaboration are key to the progression of the industry.


About Ashurt Advance

Ashurst Advance combines NewLaw expertise, a positive approach, collaborative working and thinking beyond the immediate deliverables, to help solve our clients’ business challenges and create value for our clients. We bring together the firm’s legal and industry experts, our process and technology capability, and a scalable range of cost-effective resourcing options in a fully integrated, managed and quality assured offering to deliver results which are aligned with our clients’ needs. Ashurst Advance has acted successfully for over 400 clients on nearly 1300 matters across 55 workstreams globally.

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