The opening webinar of The Lawyer’s Smarter Working Week saw leaders from a broad range of different sized teams discuss their experiences over the past 12 months and how they will use these learnings to build back better and enhance the experience for their business.
In this webinar, Tony Randle, who leads Shoosmiths8 Connected Services and David Jackson, Head of Commercial, Shoosmiths were joined by Sarah Holford, Head of Legal and Compliance, Scania, Kenny Robertson, Head of Outsourcing, Technology and IP, NatWest and Mo Zain Ajaz, Founder, Lex360 and former Global Head of Legal Operational Excellence, National Grid. The conversation centred on the challenges presented by the pandemic and remote working, the positive learnings and how, by embracing smarter working practices, the disruption of the last year can drive the way forward and enable in house legal teams to build back better.
Enhancing the experience for the business
The anniversary of the first national lockdown provided an opportune time to reflect on the panellists’ experiences during the last 12 months. All agreed that, at the outset, it was extremely hard, particularly maintaining dialogue with key stakeholders when working remotely, while simultaneously dealing with the inevitable fire-fighting issues presented by the pandemic and trying to continue to drive forward team strategies and the innovation agenda. Sarah commented that it was ‘easy to feel siloed’ without the exposure to the business that comes with being in the office. There was also the challenge of overcoming the monotony of being sat before a screen each day.
On the positive side, Mo highlighted that it was great to see those traditionally averse to technology embracing virtual meetings, with general agreement amongst the panellists that there was a clear willingness of people to adapt; a reflection perhaps that teams show their best side when working under pressure.
So what helped? Sarah said having a matter management system in place was a huge asset – enabling her to have an instant overview of where her team were on matters and freeing up her time to focus on the pastoral side of things. It also enabled her to keep stakeholders across the business continually informed about matter progress, thereby keeping the legal team front of mind.
Kenny said having focussed on teamship prior to the pandemic was an advantage. When lockdown happened, team culture kicked in naturally as it was already part of his team’s DNA. He referenced again the appetite to adopt new tools (for example, to assist with design thinking sessions) which may have been more difficult to roll out pre-pandemic. Mo agreed, saying team leaders now have an opportunity to ‘press reset’ and ‘reacquaint themselves’ with the business and their teams and use these learnings to update service delivery strategies.
Keeping your team joined up like never before
How did the panellists overcome the silo challenge and ensure their teams remained joined up? Sarah introduced ‘office afternoons’, where every Thursday the legal team join a Teams call. While they continue to work on their own matters it helps instil a feeling of working as a team, provides visibility and an easy forum for junior members of the team to ask questions. The matter management system (Matters+) also assists as it enables the business to provide feedback on matters, and she believes this individual responsibility and accountability for matters helps the legal advisers in her team feel more in control.
For Kenny’s team there are ‘drop in’ calls at 5pm every Monday, Wednesday and Friday and it’s consensual whether you dial in or not. These focus on pastoral chat and, in his view, have provided a real opportunity to get to know people better as the conversation inevitably differs from the usual topics discussed in the office. Mo highlighted the importance of team leaders having an awareness of team dynamics and being conscious that everybody’s personal circumstances are different.
This led on to a discussion about the increasing importance of EQ skills in team leaders and being aligned to people’s needs. The expectations of the business on what the legal team can deliver are changing – and legal teams need to keep up. Adopting legal tech can help meet the expectations of the business, enabling the legal team to improve efficiencies and be more transparent.
Overcoming the obstacles to smarter working
Given the openness to adopt new tools post-lockdown, what are the obstacles to smarter working? Is lack of budget the main constraint or is there just too much choice?
Kenny acknowledged that when you have multiple vendors offering similar products, it is hard to choose between them, but this is where there are benefits to being part of the in house legal community – early adopters are usually very happy to share their experiences. In his view, budget is not generally a constraint providing you are clear on ROI.
In Mo’s opinion having a clear idea of your total legal costs can assist here – if you can show the tech proposition will deliver efficiencies and drive down total costs, you are in a position to make a good business case.
For Sarah it is a matter of starting on the tech journey. Having adopted the matter management system, she now has objective data on which to build a business case that supports investment in further tech. Kenny agreed that basing business decisions on “fact not folklore” was essential.
The session couldn’t close without a discussion about the ‘hybrid model’ and what post-lockdown working may look like.
The panellists agreed that having been exposed to a different work/life balance there will be appetite amongst some people to adopt a more flexible work pattern. While it will depend on the ‘fit’ within a particular organisation, the general view was that team leaders are open to trying new working models.
Sarah highlighted that younger members of the team benefit from being around their mentors and the importance of being accessible – between lockdowns her team returned to the office three days a week, but on the days when no-one was present, the team used lots of signage to indicate how the legal team could be contacted. Kenny and Mo commented on the democratizing effect on global teams – wholly virtual meetings make it a level playing field for all participants no matter where they are geographically located and dispel the feeling of isolation sometimes associated with satellite offices. Kenny will continue to use virtual meetings to capitalise on this.
It is clear we are at a lockstep of change. GCs and Heads of Legal have an exciting opportunity to take the learnings of the last 12 months and emerge with a new vision for smarter working. The future is yours to shape.
This article was first published on TheLawyer.com here.