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The Legal Update Trending

How to Future-Proof Your Career as Law Firms Evolve

Guest blogger Louisa van Eeden-Smit of LexisNexis UK follows her recent article on smart contracts with another future-gazing blog, this time looking at what you need to future proof your career for the law firm of the future.

What will the law firm of the future look like? It’s a reasonable question to ask considering how much the legal market has changed already, and the ever-increasing pace of change moving forwards.

PwC’s 2018 Law Firm Survey found that 100% of the top 10 firms cited technology as the key challenge to growth over the next two years, but there is an overall optimism about the direction the industry is heading and the ability to stay competitive. The key questions that seem to come up in our experience are: How much will technology change the face of legal service? Will the generalist die out? Will more firms merge, or will the niche outfit emerge triumphant? Will more lawyers become self-employed, providing virtual services to organisations?

Regardless of the outcomes, there are ways that legal professionals – be they part-time, returners, flexi-workers, or full-time in-house – can future-proof their careers.

Here are 5 key ways that legal professionals can move forwards in this changing world:

#1 Be flexible

A degree of agility and flexibility will be necessary regarding how lawyers deliver legal services. This is as true now, with the advent of new regulations and an increasingly tech-savvy and informed client base, as it will be in the future. A willingness to adapt will serve you well, as well as open-mindedness regarding alternatives to the traditional model of working that is fast becoming a relic. From portfolio careers to flexible working, there are more models than ever to suit professionals – and benefit both employer and employee.

#2 Listen to the client

Client loyalty isn’t a given in a market replete with so many options – it’s earned. Today’s client is more informed and tech-savvy than ever. They are willing to shop around and they are empowered. When clients demand efficient, tech-led services, for example, legal services providers should listen and adapt.  It’s also important to be proactive and show how the firm is anticipating future change and preparing to evolve services.

#3 Develop relationships

Client loyalty may not reign supreme anymore, so it has become critical that law firms prove themselves to the in-house legal teams they serve. Listening to what they need and learning the business from the inside out will allow them to stand out from the crowd by offering in-house counsel exactly what they want, exactly what they consider to be valuable. “Deep knowledge of the business is what really breeds loyalty,” according to Richard Harris, Chief Legal Officer at Robert Walters Group.

#4 Be more commercial

In addition to learning about the business in order to provide more nimble and forward-looking advice, a future-proof and commercial legal professional is one that acts proactively. If you can look ahead and anticipate what issues might impact your business and put forward relevant plans of action, you will prove yourself to be indispensable. Such advice is “worth its weight in gold”, says Dean Nash, Head of Legal and Compliance at Monzo Bank, and will allow you to retain business in a competitive market.

#5 Make technology your friend

In-house legal teams consider it to be a win-win. After all, with technology streamlining the service, the process becomes faster, and invoices get lower. Legal tools are just that – tools that can be used to support lawyers, not replace them. Harnessing them to provide efficient service is a no-brainer, especially considering the fact that it can free up lawyers to focus on the parts of their job they actually like.

Overall, legal professionals who are willing and able to jump in and run with the changes – namely, maintaining a lean, agile practice, one that uses technology and offers efficient, business-centric service – will find themselves in a good position – and way ahead of the curve.

It also seems there is a common prediction emerging – part hope, part anticipation based on current trends – that law firms will be more holistic in the future. This applies to both client service and employee care. There is a hope that law firms will take a broader look at the service they provide; addressing the whole commercial picture of the business, as opposed to offering discrete pieces of legal advice, for example.

Similarly, more holistic practices with regards to employee care, respecting work-life balance and acknowledging their varying needs, are expected. As Alison Unsted, head of global diversity, inclusion and wellbeing at Hogan Lovells, said in a recent LexisNexis piece on the perks and benefits future law firms might provide: “As the make-up of our people changes over time, as a firm we need to ensure that we are agile in our response, so that our benefit offering continues to attract and retain talent.”

For consultants or legal professionals moving into this sphere, or laterally moving within it, there are more opportunities than ever to have the kind of career you want. The legal market is constantly evolving and allowing for more diverse working opportunities – the only question remains: what does the legal team or law firm of your future look like?

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The Legal Update

Demystifying Smart Contracts: Disrupt or Be Disrupted

We are delighted to have Louisa Van Eeden of Lexis Nexis UK join us as a guest blogger on The Attic. Her first post took a look at how millennials are shaping the future of the legal industry. This article tackles blockchain-powered smart contracts.

The fast pace of change in the legal industry can make those returning to the market wary, those already working in the industry stressed, and those entering the market feeling a need to race to keep up. It can be overwhelming. As technology advances and more tools become available, it seems that traditional modes of working are being replaced, or at least challenged. From contract management systems to shared databases, e-billing to electronic signatures, many of the benefits of the increased uses of technology are clear, with increased transparency, speed, and efficiency being just a few. But the rate of change can be dizzying.

In amongst the tech-related chatter, you might have heard about smart contracts. That’s right – the smart revolution, known for smartphones and smart televisions, is now sweeping through the legal profession. Powered by blockchain technology, these are contracts that do not need to rely on human verification or interpretation. Taken at its most basic, these things aren’t new – just look at direct debits – but they are raising interesting questions and challenges, including relating to the significant expansion of such systems’ sophistication and scope. We are in the early stages of our understanding and implementation of these, but as with anything new in the current market, it’s a case of disrupt or be disrupted. Namely, educate yourself and ride, if not get ahead of, the revolutionary wave.

What lawyers need to lead the way on smart contracts

The rate of innovation across the market will vary widely, however. As Simon Rhodes, Director of Knowledge and Learning at Herbert Smith Freehills LLP explains in a recent LexisNexis report, Smart Contracts – A View From the Legal Industry: “We believe a number of AI tools will be commonplace in the next three to five years hence our piloting a number of varied technologies. For us, ultimately, it’s always about the clients. So any developments must be linked to how we support our customer needs. Our definition of artificial intelligence (AI) is wide; we see it as a broad ecosystem of technologies that can improve our efficiencies and value offering by either replacing or enhancing human involvement. Therefore we must innovate collaboratively with our clients in offering holistic, technology-backed services.”

  • Remember: Technology for, not instead of, people

“Technology-backed services” is an interesting way for lawyers to look at smart contracts and other new tools. They are, in essence, ways for legal professional to automatically execute various business processes across organisational boundaries. They are tools to be used by legal professionals; not tools that will necessarily replace the individual. As Charles Radclyffe, CEO at the technology company, NetKernal, explains in the report: “Organisations need a distributed computing platform that can help them automate. With an operating system for automation in place, literally any business process, financial instrument or legal document can be automatically executed.”

  • Client buy in is key

Proactively speaking with clients ahead of change is an advisable step towards adopting any new technology. Not only will this make them more supportive of any change, but it kickstarts conversations around the business of the client. An intimate knowledge of the client’s business means you can look down the road and anticipate what the possibilities of automation might be – and what, if any, legal issues you might encounter.

  • Begin ongoing reviews of processes now

Furthermore, moving forwards legal professionals will need to be more tech-savvy. With smart contracts in mind, lawyers should – as Kit Burden, Partner and Global Co-Head of Technology at DLA Piper advises – be “reviewing their practice areas and considering what functions or transactions (or parts of transactions) could be simplified or commoditised so as to be rendered into a blockchain-friendly form.”

Considering your current processes and its potential is also an important step, as Kit identifies, towards developing smart contracts because it’s unlikely to be lawyers devising the technology. Instead, it will be coders and programmers. But that’s just the “how” of the issue. In larger companies, lawyers will be able to provide the “why” and explain “what” needs to be achieved from such blockchain-based processes if they have done the advanced preparatory work. They can be “heavily engaged” in the formation of such new processes. After all, as Kit goes on to explain, it’s “the historical province of the lawyer, ie to ask the ‘what if…’ question, and then craft the contract terms to try to deal with it.”

It is also imperative for lawyers to arm themselves with knowledge early on in the process precisely because so much remains to be established in this area, especially with regards to more significant and B2B-focused smart contract regimes. It will enable lawyers to “fully consider the workings of the proposed regime and highlight the points of potential legal challenge (e.g. as to the intended points of binding contract formation, the ownership of newly created rights, use of data, governing laws and dispute forums, etc.).”

The vast expanse of possibilities engendered by the advance of technology into the legal sphere is a thrilling, yet sometimes overwhelming prospect – but forewarned is forearmed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Making Work, Work Trending

Why the Rise of Flexible Working Will Accelerate in 2019

We already know the modern work paradigm is shifting; sitting at a desk in an office from 9 to 5 is no longer the default, and the rise of flexible working is gaining more attention. A recent YouGov survey has revealed that only 6% of working Britons now put in those hours. Instead, 73% work either part-time or with some form of flexible working arrangement (Deloitte and Timewise study).

Flexible working is no longer just a special condition for some people in work. Essentially it’s a way of working that suits the needs of employees of all kinds. This could mean starting and leaving the office earlier or working from home a few days a week. But as Anna Whitehouse of Mother Pukka Flex Appeal campaign explained: “Flexible working doesn’t mean working less or slacking off, it means finding hours that suit your life and how you best work. And it’s not just an issue for parents, either – it’s one of the few issues that both the unionists of the TUC and the employers at the CBI agree on: flexible working is better for staff, and it’s better for profits.”

The benefits are indeed tangible and wide ranging. Vodafone conducted a global survey about flexible working back in 2016, revealing that companies who had implemented agile strategies:

  • Increased company profits (according to 61% of respondents);
  • Improved productivity (83%);
  • Positively impacted company reputation (58%); and
  • Improved staff morale (76%).

Flexi-work also has a knock-on effect on recruitment. As Clare Butler, recruitment expert and Global Managing Director of Lawrence Simmons Recruitment, revealed to Catherine Gleave in our recent piece on “The Future’s Flexi”, employers need to be open-minded about their approach to flexible working going forward because it can make all the difference when it comes to talent acquisition, with many contracts won and lost over this very issue. There is a push towards respecting the work-life balance across the legal profession and if companies push back, they risk losing out on some serious talent. This is especially true regarding working parents and millennials for whom workplace culture, of which this plays a part, is often more important than traditional status indicators, like salary.

Rights to Flexible Working

Companies may not actively offer it as part of recruitment, but after six months in a job, every employee in the UK has the right to request flexible working. While companies aren’t obliged to acquiesce to a request, they are obliged to consider it “in a reasonable manner”. Are you thinking of pitching the case for flexi working to your boss or trying negotiate (or even lay the groundwork for the future) on accepting a new position? Read the LexisNexis piece on the Flex Appeal and #BeBoldforChange here. It’s got the answers to two of the most common – and increasingly outdated – objections: “If we did it for you, we’d have to do it for everyone!” and “You’ll be less productive.”

Even though some companies might dig in their heels, relying on the predictable old arguments for not implementing agile working policies, flexible working is on the rise – both in the country, and in the legal profession, marking a significant turning point for the industry in 2019. As more companies are working agile policies into their contracts, the legal market as a whole is thriving, with even more talented individuals either entering or returning to the workforce. As Catherine Gleave notes: “Not only do women feel more empowered to return to the workplace on their own terms, the rising popularity of flexible working means that a varied work structure is the standard rather than a special requirement, thus preventing any bias against candidates who require a more flexible work schedule.”

Working Smarter

In addition to injecting even more talent into the marketplace, flexible working is just one of the ways the modern legal workforce can work smarter, rather than harder. And it’s being facilitated largely by the advance of technology. Taken at its most basic, laptops and smartphones mean that lawyers can be online and contactable 24/7, no matter where they are in the world. But add to that the plethora of cutting-edge legal tools, such as case management software, and it’s clear that legal professionals can remain connected to both their clients and colleagues without being physically present in the office. They can execute tasks, securely access shared files, issue and review contracts, send out invoices, and much more.

There’s no more putting it off: the legal market is evolving and the traditional working model is going to diminish. As the market changes, different, more agile working models are on the rise, from portfolio careers to flexible working. These models can benefit both employee and employer, as companies are beginning to realise and act upon, and as seen in the continued success of organisations such as Obelisk Support, which recently joined the FT Future 100 UK list as a diversity leader – the only legal company to do so.

But for those considering taking a flexible approach to work, there are undoubtedly challenges, from the risk of succumbing to procrastination to figuring out how to engender trust at work and stay on top of client care. But at its core there are certain things to do in the run up to taking the leap:

  • Be realistic about what you can do on a flexible schedule and take the time to figure out how and where.
  • Find a forward-looking company with a positive work culture.
  • Research the right tools and technology to facilitate working efficiently out of the office.
  • Discuss it with your team, both full-time in-house and other flexible workers, to make sure there’s buy-in and understanding.
  • Stay flexible and carry out reviews of your arrangement. Be prepared to adjust and change as you go.

For more practical, easy-to-implement solutions and suggestions, read the LexisNexis article on the Future of Law – “Flexible Working for Lawyers: How Far Can You Flex?

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Making Work, Work Trending

The Impact of Millennials on The Legal Industry

We are delighted to have Louisa Van Eeden of Lexis Nexis UK join us as a guest blogger on The Attic. Her first post takes a look at how millennials are shaping the future of the legal industry.

Millennials. They’re the generation that everybody loves to blame for, well, pretty much anything. They are branded as “snowflakes”, and written off as a problem that either needs to be overcome, or ignored until they ‘grow up’ and become more like the older generations. But who are they really, and what impact are they having on the legal industry?

Much like Generation X back in the 1990s, the term millennial is often used in the media to refer to anything related to a youth culture that other generations generally don’t understand that well. Unlike Generation X, the Millennial Generation was typically born between the early 1980s and the late 1990s, and grew up in a dramatically different landscape to their forebears. The world has changed: the internet dominates our lives, job security and home ownership are not a certainty; the future of the planet is at risk through climate change; and it’s becoming rapidly apparent that continuing with a business as usual attitude, just because that’s the way it’s always been, is untenable.

Consequently, millennials simply aren’t as compelled by traditional practices as previous generations, both in life and work. They are who they are. Where previous high achievers would chase salary, millennials now typically look for a company that aligns with their values. For the millennial, culture reigns supreme. In fact, a study recently conducted by Fidelity showed that millennials are willing to give up (up to) £7,600 in salary every year for a job that gave them a better environment and culture.

The Millennial Takeover

Considering that millennials now form the backbone of staff and client bases, making up to 35% of our current workforce, with that set to increase to 50% of the workforce by 2020, this is not a demographic to underestimate. Millennials are not just a vague notion of youth culture, they are real people progressing into management positions, and are shaping the technological and cultural landscape of every industry, including the law.

The “The Millennial Takeover”, identifies three key areas where the legal industry is seeing the impact of millennials:

#1 Talent Acquisition

This is a key battleground for law firms and one which millennials are well-positioned to approach and understand, especially because, as the Financial Times continues to report, firms are struggling to source and retain talent in today’s rapidly changing marketplace. Attracting the best and brightest young talent is more important than ever before, and harder than ever before, with this generation taking a markedly different approach to their careers. Millennials are key to helping law firms communicate their vision of the future, enabling firms to modernise with an eye to the demands of new talent and driving a competitive edge.

#2 The Ability to Drive the Profession Forward

Law firms are already changing with the millennial worker in mind. As the Law Journal Newsletter reports: “A number of firms have moved, remodelled or completely overhauled their physical workplaces with millennials in mind, favouring common areas, for example, over large corner offices.” But it’s not just physical changes, but more fundamental ones as well. As one of the co-founders of the Legal A-Team asserts, the partnership model – one of the traditional prestige markers in law firms – is no longer the aim: “Millennials want what they want and they want it now. The patience factor is not one of their fortes — they’re not going to stand around for 12 years.” In order to retain and attract millennial talent (and not lose them to agile, tech-forward start-ups), law firms will need to significantly adapt their culture and perhaps even their company structure.

#3 A Creative Approach to Business Practices

Law firms and lawyers need to think more creatively about their working practices in light of the rise of consumerism in today’s legal market. Client power is increasingly dominant, with billing and efficiency becoming ever more important. New and agile practices, from social media to technology, are areas where millennials excel. They also prefer to work collaboratively rather than as a silo, which may well serve firms well moving forwards. Being open to change and engaging in a dialogue with junior members of the team may be beneficial here, in order to ensure that the firm remains stimulated and doesn’t fall behind.

Millennials and Legal Tech

While all three areas are important to understand, technology is the one that underpins them all. The agile working practices and lateral knowledge-sharing solutions favoured by millennial legal professionals and legal start-ups are all enabled by technology. Indeed, there are already reports that legal tools are being used with increasing regularity. A recent LexisNexis In-house Insights report, ‘Legal Technology – Looking Past the Hype’ found that 85% of in-house legal teams surveyed have introduced multiple technology types and almost three quarters (73%) of respondents who have already introduced legal technology tools are making plans to expand their implementation. It is very likely that the next generation of lawyers will practise law in very different ways.

As Head of the Global Cyber Security Practice at Herbert Smith Freehills Andrew Moir suggests, lawyers have an obligation to stay up to date with legal developments and new technologies: ‘There have always been areas where an understanding of both the law and technology is helpful, such as patents, IT contractual disputes or cyber security. But now we’re increasingly being instructed on the legal aspects of cutting edge technology such as blockchain, electronic signatures, artificial intelligence, and data analytics, to name a few. Before we can advise on these sorts of developments, we really need as lawyers to understand the technology behind them.’

The Flexible Generation

Technology is undoubtedly changing the legal profession, and it’s likely that the next generation of lawyers will practise law in very different ways. Indeed, there is already a growing section of the workplace – populated by those who have different life demands and values – who no longer fit the traditional working model. This has led to an increase in portfolio careers as well as flexible working models designed to benefit both employee and employer. This can be seen in the continued success of organisations such as Obelisk Support, which recently joined the FT Future 100 UK list as a diversity leader – the only legal company to do so.

This trend is likely to continue to increase and evolve as more millennials dominate the workforce, bringing with them their approach to work-life balance, their use of technology as a natural enabler, the importance they place on purposeful business (one which looks beyond the profit line), their desire for flexibility, and their alternative definitions of success.

We are entering an exciting era for the legal industry, one in which we wait in watchful anticipation to see who will accept and accelerate this new approach to working culture, and what impact it will have across the legal profession and wider society.

For more insights on how young lawyers are best positioning themselves to weather the upcoming changes, check out our post on “The Legal Profession for Millennials”.