The Legal Update Trending

5 ways COVID-19 could unlock the future of law

Last week, we joined two different online events that tackled the impact of COVID-19 and the future of the legal profession from different angles. The first event, focused on law firms, featured Mark Cohen and Richard Susskind in a LegalGeek webinar, while the second was organised by Ari Kaplan with Bob Ambrogi as guest speaker in a relaxed lunch & learn format. What did we learn?

#1 Tech is every legal team’s best friend

It’s a fact: the legal workforce has become a remote workforce in the span of a week. All over the world, legal teams have had no choice but to adapt to lockdown restrictions forcing them out of office buildings. As Robert Ambrogi recently wrote, the speed at which lawyers were able to get up and running outside of their office was staggering with 90% of lawyers making the transition in a week or less and 46% in a day or less. For in-house legal teams already using Microsoft tools, Microsoft Teams has become the go-to meeting spot while others have jumped onto the Zoom or Google Meet bandwagon.

However, tech adoption hasn’t been equal everywhere with in-house legal teams leading the tech revolution and law firms lagging behind, despite claims to the contrary. As a general counsel said, “we’ve worked with legal clients for 25 years, and the gap in understanding remote working communication technology was already widening in the past 5 to 10 years. [The Covid crisis] has just sped up the mindset shift from those who were already starting to embrace technology. The shift has now moved from accepting that the tech is required to understanding how best to integrate it over the longer term with support.”

Whatever the tech solution, the number one take away from the crisis is that latent technologies already existed to collaborate in new ways and have enabled us to understand that traditional models are no longer necessary. Lawyers can work remotely in an integrated fashion. The nature of legal practice has changed to the extent that it could possibly be malpractice to not be technically capable, as tech access, data security, data movement, etc are all part of modern legal services.

#2 Medicine and law may have a lot more in common than previously thought

Ultimately, law is the business of knowledge, much like medicine is the business of health. Like lawyers, doctors were hit full force by the COVID-19 tsunami and remote medicine became the new normal but that is not where similarities stop. In an analogy with the medical sector, Ari Kaplan argues that the legal system needs to move on to a triage system where when you have a problem, you don’t start with a specialist. In medicine, you start with a GP and then move onwards. We might be headed to a legal ecosystem of tools that will help companies sort out more of their own issues, have access to more standardised processes and involve fewer lawyers doing the work.

For Mark Cohen too, the current legal business model is outdated and legal buyers have access to more information than ever before. In the future, law will be a marketplace where it won’t be about pedigree or brand or Oxbridge or Magic Circle but about competency, metrics of customer satisfaction and skills. Taken a step further, this model means that legal buyers will eventually not need legal practitioners to be licensed. Not all future practitioners will be certified lawyers and that is a good thing. If GCs are buying legal knowledge, do they need a qualified solicitor when a legal engineer can do the job as efficiently?

Inevitably, this will reshape the landscape of legal education and training. Up until 20 years ago, legal expertise was the only thing that lawyers needed to succeed. Today, lawyers need augmented skills such as project management, understanding of supply chains, basics of data management and analytics. Lawyers have to be able to read a balance sheet. In addition, they need to master the basics of technology and understand how tech is used in the legal marketplace.

The lawyers of tomorrow will be tech-enhanced multi-disciplinary advisers, which gives a big leg up to millennials and Gen Z who choose virtual environments wherever possible and who as digital natives, are already comfortable with tech
. As Mark Cohen once said, law is not about lawyers anymore but about legal professionals.

#3 Pricing, pricing, pricing

For law firms, the billable hour is the biggest part of the business model that needs to change. Robert Ambrogi went as far as saying that it’s the greatest obstacle to innovation in law firms as it’s founded on the premise of inefficiency.

  • Most participants agreed that restructuring fees would be an opportunity for tech-savvy lawyers who would be able to create digital offers and reach their clients more efficiently.
  • For the time-being, law firms should be putting out COVID-19 pricing or flat rates during hard times.
  • Past the COVID-19 crisis, lawyers would start charging based on the result delivered. If clients are charged for value delivered, it doesn’t matter where the work is done or how long it takes.
  • Others suggested rendering legal services by subscription as a way to offer “more for less” legal services.
  • For multi-month contracts, legal suppliers could offer a flat, monthly retainer that makes it easier to plan and budget for clients, while realigning the focus of suppliers on deliverables.

#4 Law is a buyer’s market

According to Mark Cohen, “consumers are now driving the legal bus and that will accelerate post-covid.” For a few years, GCs have already been experiencing the future of legal with the “doing more with less” challenge, adhering to budgets and considering where they buy their legal services. Until now, long relationships forged between traditional legal providers and companies have somewhat shaped legal buying but with stricter budget controls, clients will realise that they can get the same value from a range of different providers” ie Big 4, companies like Obelisk Support, managed service providers etc.

The COVID crisis is effectively empowering big corporations to set demands and we recently saw an example of that when BT announced to their legal panel that they would look at things like expertise, experience, culture, approach to innovation, and diversity and inclusion to select their legal suppliers. In incentivising the panel firms to adhere to the principles of a charter signed by the client, BT is forcing cultural changes within their supply chain.

#5 Metrics vs Values

Based on Mark Cohen’s observations on US law firm culture, metrics like profit-per-partner (PPP), profit origination are the measures of success and drivers of law firm culture. Law’s scorecard in how it treats its own profession is currently very low – including higher rates of suicide, divorce, drug abuse, and alcoholism than many other professions. Every metric of despair points to the fact that lawyers are doing well financially as a group but yet they’re not very happy.

Yet in the UK, pointed Richard Susskind, there is a growing concern about profit versus purpose. This COVID-19 period is a fundamental challenge to values. Law firms that responded in the first two weeks saying they cared about people and two weeks later, fired them, will have a problem. They’ll be seen as purely profit-making companies.

The virus has given us an opportunity to look at how legal services can be delivered differently and that is the greatest impact of the virus on the legal world. The crisis offers an opportunity to step back and contemplate what’s important to us, noting that it’s hard to change values as you move along. 
Sooner than later, vendor profiles won’t just include security profiles and corporate history. Clients will start asking about in-depth work from home measures, commitment to gender and diversity equality, as evidenced in the report Built to last? A blueprint for developing future-proof in-house teams.

Making Work, Work Trending

The Rise of Legal Ops: Aine Lyons, VMware Head of Worldwide Legal Operations

At Obelisk Support, we work more and more with legal operations departments in companies and recently attended a CLOC event in London. There, we met Aine Lyons, head of Worldwide Legal Operations and Chief of Staff for VMware’s General Counsel. VMware is a global leader in cloud infrastructure & digital workspace technology. In addition to her day job, Aine is also a regular speaker and writer for the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) on legal operations topics and is the founding member of, and European lead for, the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC).

Aine graciously agreed to share her experience and words of wisdom on what it means to work in legal ops in 2018, as well as how businesses can benefit from a legal ops infrastructure.

What Do You Do and How Long Have You Been Doing It?

Aine Lyons: I’ve been in-house counsel at several technology companies. Until recently, I served in traditional lawyer roles: substantive legal issues and business advice. VMware hired me for my legal expertise in 2007. But, in 2010, while I was serving as the GC for EMEA our new GC asked if I was interested in a legal ops role, and I responded: “absolutely not.” I was concerned about moving into a career path that was still in the nascent stages for the industry.

VMware is headquartered in Palo Alto. The GC was based there and knew that the legal ops role was emerging in Silicon Valley. I was, and remain, in Ireland. At the time, I’d only vaguely heard of legal ops and did not know much about the scope or impact of the role.

My GC asked that I come over on a fact-finding mission. That’s when I encountered the core of what would become CLOC. In the beginning, there were only 10 to 12 of us, but it was clear to me that my GC had identified something transformative. My hard No turned into an emphatic Yes. We created a global legal ops role. I founded a team. We now design and deliver the strategy and critical infrastructure for a 167-person legal function spread across 26 different locations around the world to deliver innovative legal services that truly drive’s company success.

What is Legal Ops?

AL: Legal ops is the professionalisation of management within a legal department. It is a multi-disciplinary role responsible for optimising legal service delivery. Or, in common shorthand, we’re the ones who run legal like a business and find ways to do more with less. Essentially, we are change agents that transform legal functions by convincing them to operate differently. We disrupt the status quo and are the urgency drivers for GCs to transform their departments.

Legal ops’ core premise is that legal expertise is essential to business outcomes—there are no legal problems, only business problems with legal dimensions. GAP is a business challenge that Legal helps the business to navigate. Our mandate is to leverage that expertise through process and technology so we, as a legal function, can meet the intertwined business challenges of scale and complexity. We ensure lawyers are put to their highest and best use – that requires being a catalyst for change.

Legal ops professionals are systems engineers: We’re designing the legal department of the future. We’re finding ways to eliminate drudgery and maximise yield from available resources. Again, legal ops is multidisciplinary – it includes leveraging business intelligence, managing outside spend, allocating internal resources, and creating technology-infused, scalable solutions that can bend the legal cost curve.

How Does Legal Ops Fare in a Global Tech Company?

AL: I’ve been in role now for six years and I’m loving it. The key of successful legal ops is being able to influence other senior leaders and create buy-in. You can’t do legal ops on your own. Achieving operational excellence is a team sport.

I’m responsible for maintaining and iterating on the department’s long-term strategic vision. Two years ago, we had a big reflection on our identity. Who are we? We changed our mantra to ‘fearless legal innovators.’ We wanted everybody in the department to have the same DNA around law. We wanted to break the mould.

My sense is that the audacity of ambition is easier at a tech company. Innovation is a core competency here. Experimentation is inherently valued, but that still doesn’t make it easy. We’ve had the good fortune to win several industry awards. Awards, however, can be misleading – they are highlight reels, they obscure a messy reality.

Part of that reality is that successful tech companies, despite all the unique cultural attributes emanating from Silicon Valley, operate with rigor and discipline. We have an acute focus on the bottom line. Every quarter, we get a specific budget and are asked to become more efficient. Each following budget has to be +/- 2% from the previous budget. This forces us to think outside the box and to use new technologies.

As guidance each year, we take the CEO’s goals and see how they can be applied to the legal department. One such goal was to improve the customer experience, so in legal we took it as improving the legal contracting experience. Many business functions wanted to understand what we’d agreed to with their partners. The legal team broke down the core revenue contracts into their component parts and rebuilt them as modular templates. This led to contract automation for standard contracts and now, we have handed this aspect of the business over to other departments. As a result, the legal team works on non-standard contracts and has worked hard to develop a robust, automated contract workflow that has cut drafting times in half and reduced escalations by 74%.

Our overarching goal is to bring value to the business and contribute to the global growth. Without goals, it’s difficult to articulate what we bring to the business. Everything we do in legal is aligned to our business priorities.

What’s a Typical Day at Work?

AL: My typical day starts around 10am because I may not finish until 9pm at night. A lot of my team are in the U.S. or other jurisdictions.

First comes email triage. If you get lost in emails immediately, you can lose several hours. But some emails are urgent. I respond to those immediately and come back to others later.

Based on what was in my inbox, I update my diary—a list of things I need to get done on a daily, weekly, and quarterly basis. Every quarter, our team prioritises. We really do have a plan and we know what success looks like. If we don’t achieve it, we address it.

In the morning, I also talk to our outsourcer. Managed by two lawyers based in New York, we consider these 44 people to be an extended arm of our team.

Assuming there are no fires to be put out, I move on to strategic projects. Recently, for example, we created a self-service NDA portal with electronic signature for our 22,000 employees. Next quarter, we will use AI technology to read NDAs on paper, comparing customer NDAs to our templates and playbooks. The NDA will be tagged with different colours – green for ‘not review’, yellow for ‘needs annotated’ and red for ‘needs review’. I try to spend the early part of the day making sure I am pushing the ball forward on those types of major initiatives—the kind of things that never get done if you leave them until later.

I also spend a fair amount of time on calls with other VPs reviewing goals, success metrics, and budgets.

In addition, I am responsible for talent development. Inside the legal team, we need to be more multidisciplinary. Most people on the team are not traditional lawyers and we need to train them to use more tech and tools. Do our people have a mentor, where do we see them going, do we need to upskill or expand their skills? We just launched a new training plan. In May, we’ll bring 167 people together in Palo Alto for team-building activities and a two-day leadership event.

Finally, I keep informed on the industry. CLOC and ACC are essential for that. What are other in-house legal teams doing? What are the new technology offers?

What is Your Take on the Rise of Legal Ops in the UK & CLOC?

AL: Legal ops is one of the most exciting areas in the legal market. More than half of law departments now report having a legal ops role. This year at the Las Vegas CLOC event in April, we’ll have over 2,000 people.

CLOC Board

I’m a founding member of CLOC in Europe. I’d been part of the US group and was offered to expand in Europe on behalf of CLOC. We’ve had four meetings so far. I really appreciate the willingness of these GCs, such as Katie from Lloyds who’s very active on diversity issues. Since the Europe CLOC conference in January, we’ve had lots of new contacts. For instance, The Law Society is asking about training for new lawyers/lawyers of the future.

All GCs are feeling the pressure. I mean, look at the regulations in the legal industry. GDPR is coming in May. All this complexity is combined with the pressure from CFOs to manage legal resources effectively and do things differently. As a result, a lot of GCs see the value of a legal ops role.

In the UK, they are starting to hire for the role. Thanks to CLOC, I’ve discovered colleagues who I didn’t know were already doing it. Getting our collective voice heard is great for the industry. The emergence of this role shows that the shift in legal service delivery is real. It demonstrates that the legal industry is changing. For years, IT and HR seemed to have transformed themselves while legal remained stagnant. It turned out there was all manner of innovation happening beneath the surface in law departments.

What about law firms? Some are starting to hire transformation leads. But clients remain the urgency drivers. If the client is telling a law firm that they need to change, that helps the law firm transformation lead overcome the traditional resistance to innovation, which absolutely has to happen.

Last Question, Because We All Need our Daily Source of Energy. Coffee or Tea? 

AL: I aspire to be an herbal tea drinker – roasted rice green tea is my favorite – but I often give in to a creamy latte!

Making Work, Work Trending

Mark Maurice-Jones, General Counsel at Nestlé UK & Ireland, discusses Flexible Working

The Attic recently caught up with Mark Maurice-Jones, General Counsel at Nestlé UK & Ireland, to discuss legal team management and flexible working. With 15 members working with the company’s United Kingdom and Ireland divisions, Maurice-Jones’ legal team focuses on internal business partnerships to proactively shape and challenge the company’s business agenda. For Maurice-Jones, flexible working is a common sense work arrangement for modern lawyers – here, he tells us why.

Defining Flexible Work

Starting with the basics, we wanted to know how flexible working was defined at Nestlé UK & Ireland. As it is such a recruitment buzzword, it’s important to know what the phrase encompasses.

“At Nestlé,” said Mark Maurice-Jones, “we have a policy that discusses the various elements of flexible work, whether it’s a number of working hours, a reduction of working hours, a reduction of number of days or working from outside the office. All these are part of the flexible working policy, a policy that’s updated regularly (the current policy dates from 2014) and that applies to all employees in the United Kingdom and Ireland.”

Why Flexible Working?

When you factor in that any of the team do not live close to the location of Nestlé UK & Ireland close to Gatwick Airport, work flexibility becomes a powerful employment tool as well as a driver for a better work-life balance. Indeed, the goal of the flexible working policy at Nestle was to address diversity and inclusion, and also to make sure that people enjoyed a good work-life balance.

In the legal department, several people take advantage of it, particularly when it comes to working in different locations. For two members of the legal team (male and female), working a 4-day week helps them achieve a better work-life balance. Commute is also a big incentive to take up remote working: Issues with public transport? Working from home solves the problem. In this particular instance, work flexibility helps reduce levels of stress.

Last but not least, the type of work they do in the legal depart lends itself to flexible working options. Law is about talking to people; it’s a lot of email correspondence and meetings. “You don’t necessarily have to be located in any one place to do these things,” says Maurice-Jones.

Successes and Challenges of the Flexible Working Lawyer

For Maurice-Jones, flexible working makes a positive difference for everybody. “With the train problems from London to Brighton over the last year,” says Maurice-Jones, “The policy has helped my team on the days that there were strikes.” He adds that working from home has also helped in other instances. “Our office has an open plan environment and it can get a bit noisy. If people need to focus and write something, it is more efficient for them to work from home.”

The feedback on flexible working is very positive and people are appreciative of its impact on their work-life balance.

However, flexible working can only work as long as Maurice-Jones and other lawyers on the legal team continue to have cohesivity within the team and with people working remotely. “I come into the office most of the time,” says Maurice-Jones. “If you come on a Tuesday and you don’t connect with your colleagues until Thursday and you’re working on a joint project, then this can be problematic.”

How to Ensure Seamless Communication within the Team

To keep abreast of everybody’s work, it’s important to get everybody around a table in person on a regular basis. Monthly team meetings plus shorter weekly meetings bridge the gap on smaller topics with team members at the office. Some topics tend not be discussed remotely, but rather when the whole team is together during meetings. Indeed, each of the lawyers tends to be working with their business unit and team meetings are a great venue to update the rest of the team, on projects that are vertical or transversal.

Beyond team meetings, the right communication tools are essential to communication channels flowing both ways. Between telephones, email and Skype, keeping in touch on everyday tasks is not difficult. You can find a lot of information from your iPhone without having to be there and you don’t need to visit the library for legal texts either. While we take this access to information for granted nowadays, it was impossible 10 years ago and shows how much the world of in-house legal professionals has evolved.

A Trust-Based Team Organisation

To naysayers who argue that flexible working doesn’t mean equal pay, Maurice-Jones counters that his team lawyers are judged on their work output and not input. He says, “provided that everyone has very clear objectives to achieve, it doesn’t matter where or when the objectives are completed. People should only be judged on their output.”

To young general counsels or team leaders, Maurice-Jones recommends to try flexible working. “Go for it,” he says, “people find it motivating. It allows for work-life balance and it generates trust. It’s a very good thing to do. If you want to attract the best people, you need to offer flexible work options, otherwise you’ll be ruling out a lot of people and miss out on talent.”

On legal team topics, Bjarne Philip Tellman’s Building an Outstanding Legal Team: Battle-Tested Strategies from a General Counsel provides great insights for in-house legal professionals.

Handling Deadlines Within a Flexible Legal Team

Nestlé’s legal team members are expected to hit their deadlines wherever they are based. They are not dictated by how often people are in the office, but by the demands of the business. The deadline doesn’t change just because so-and-so is working from home.

When the press reports that Nestlé leads the way in terms of work flexibility, our interview with Maurice-Jones confirms that this is certainly true in the United Kingdom and Ireland even for one of the most traditional of corporate areas, the sacrosanct legal department. Who says that lawyers resist change?

Mark Maurice-Jones joined Nestlé as General Counsel and Head of Legal Services of Nestlé UK and Ireland in May 2015. Prior to joining Nestle Mark worked for 15 years at the US FMCG multinational Kimberly-Clark where he held a number of leadership positions in the EMEA Legal Department. He originally trained and practised as a competition lawyer with international law firms in London and Brussels.

In his current role, Mark heads up the Legal Department supporting all of Nestlé’s businesses in
the UK and Ireland which have a turnover of £ 2.4 billion and employ 8000 people across 20 sites. He
is passionate about developing legal teams that pro-actively shape and challenge the wider business
agenda and drive a culture of compliance and integrity.

Obelisk In Action

Friday Live Workshop: The in house perspective from Telefónica UK Limited

At our February Friday Live workshop, ‘Helping me, helping you – how to partner with the in house team’ Sophie Atkinson, Head of Digital UK – Legal Team, Telefónica UK Limited gave us an excellent insight into how an in house team works in terms of its relationship to its client, the business, and what they are looking for when they get external legal support. This is so important for any external legal advisers to understand – particularly for consultants. So what are the key messages and how can consultants hit the ground running?

The central message, whilst obvious, is worth re-stating: businesses value an experienced pair of helping hands who can get the job done and add value to them. They need clear, commercially-focused legal advice tailored to their particular business circumstances.

What in house teams love:

  • Commercial advice – they need opinion and solutions – certainly flag risks, but put it in the context of their business (likelihood of it happening, value involved etc.).
  • They need executive summary points that can be sent to the board not a detailed letter of advice, or worse a cut/paste of legislation.
  • Understanding the context of where the advice fits – so be curious. Ask where the advice sits within the business.
  • Getting the balance of ‘precision and polish’ correct for the work involved.

What drives them mad?

  • Being overly legalistic.
  • Copy-and-pasting statutes.
  • No summary, no application to facts.
  • Late advice for contracts – speed is vital.
  • Talking over clients’ heads and not engaging – need to instill trust and confidence in the client across the business- wide range of legal experience (or not).
  • Not taking a view – don’t sit on the fence. Take a position and give recommendations.

What knowledge and skills do you need to advise in the Telecoms sector?

  • Great personal skills are vital for client relationships, intellectual curiosity and an approachable manner.
  • The ability to translate complex legal concepts into plain language and vice versa – such as translating the impact of contract for the business.
  • Understanding of the wider business imperatives such as budgets, targets and how a year is structured within a business.
  • A thorough understanding the regulated sector environment.
  • Financial services, other payment services, impact of block chain developments.
  • Contract law and all the other aspects such as competition law, data protection.
  • They need geeks! People who know how apps, APIs etc. work.

Impact of the evolving legal services market:

  • Definitive move away from just instructing traditional law firms.
  • In house teams are leading the way in working out who they need to do what work when.
  • Fixed fees and clarity of scope of work are the order of the day.
Obelisk In Action Trending

Lawyers’ independence En Garde

A question was put to the legal sector this week that echoed around the whole of the City – do institutional clients threaten lawyer independence?

This eyebrow-raising question is at the heart of a piece of research commissioned by the Solicitors Regulatory Authority in the wake of the Tomlinson Report, which raised serious concerns about how major financial institutions can influence their law firms.

The answer – presented to an audience of lawyers, academics and regulators at UCL’s Centre for Ethics and Law on Wednesday evening – came from the very man who was brought in by the SRA to carry out the study, Dr Steven Vaughan.

Dr Vaughan (pictured above) is an academic from the Law School at the University of Birmingham. After spending the best part of ten years as a City lawyer advising multinational companies, governments, the UN and the World Bank, he now carries out research into the legal sector and corporate finance.

In this study for the SRA there is no doubting Dr Vaughan’s findings and certainly no evidence of him sitting on the fence. Do institutional clients threaten lawyer independence? In a word, yes.

Professor Richard Moorhead from UCL invited Dr. Vaughan to set out his findings to the audience in detail, which was followed by a discussion with Enid Rowlands, Chair of the SRA, and Alasdair Douglas, Chairman of the City of London Law Society.

Dr Vaughan said the relationship between large commercial law firms and their large clients, with the impact these relationships can have on professional independence and therefore ethics, standards and risk, is critical in delivering effective regulation across the legal profession.

He said his findings essentially point to a shift in the dynamic of lawyer-client relationships inside large firms, whereby the client can hold significant power over the lawyers they instruct.

There are a series of complex factors behind this, which have all developed at a “staggering” pace in recent years;

  • increasing competition for legal services
  • the growth of General Counsel
  • the relative size of clients to the law firms they work with
  • and the ongoing impact of the financial crisis.

In particular, Dr Vaughan highlighted the private regulation of professional lawyers via contract. This relates to law firm panels and outside counsel guidelines seeking to impose their own terms of engagement on law firms, and the practice of what Dr Vaughan calls ‘shadow clients’, where third parties – namely borrowers – pay the fees of, and have a powerful voice in the appointment of, their lender’s lawyers.

  • Dr Vaughan’s insights and observations – which are based on interviews with lawyers working in this space – outline the tension between the existing state framework on one hand and the commercial imperative of being close to clients on the other
  • The lawyers he talked to lamented the loss of their professional advisor status, which has now changed to being one of a service provider in the light of de-regulation of the legal services market
  • Dr Vaughan described how some see the Compliance Officers for Legal Practice (COLP) as the ‘holders’ of professional values for the whole firm – potentially eroding the essential concept of individual professionalism.

And the research suggests a somewhat “insidious” increase in the kind of risks some firms are prepared to take, especially wrapping liability of third party advisers working on an uncapped liability basis and signing indemnities.

The SRA commissioned Dr Vaughan’s research to get a better understanding of these kind of client relationships as it works to evolve the existing regulatory framework.

Summing up, Dr Vaughan said the current principle of ‘independence’ and associated guidance as set out in the SRA handbook does not match the realities of what is happening practice. These principles could be better framed, whilst the area of ‘shadow clients’ should be addressed head on.

Next up was SRA chair, Enid Rowland, who said lawyer-client relationships are indeed a complex area, and the SRA understands that commercial pressures do not operate in a ‘bubble’. She commended Dr Vaughan’s report as a great read and singled out the role of lawyer secondees as being of particular interest.

Ms Rowland told the audience that the SRA’s aim is to have as free a market as possible for legal services, and her organisation’s emphasis was on professional standards rather than more regulations. The standards, she said, just need a sharper, clearer definition.

The SRA chair suggested a great way to raise standards in the profession is to share and champion good practice, and there is a role for the SRA in this. She cited three key things to focus on;

  • the need for lawyers to ‘push back’ against client pressure to avoid compromising their professional independence
  • review the work and the impact of the office of COLPs
  • more research.

Alasdair Douglas, Chairman of the City of London Law Society, then took to the floor, with a somewhat different view on lawyer-client relationships and the perceived threat of lawyer independence.

Drawing on his 35 years in the legal sector, Mr Douglas emphasised that lawyers, regardless of commercial pressures, knew their personal and professional independence was key to both their reputation and the firm’s reputation.

He looked instead to Government policy, such as the proposed 1% tax, and legislative reforms in legal aid, judicial review and the suggestion of ‘lawyer free’ judicial hearings as far greater challenges to lawyer independence.

The debate made for very interesting listening, and led to a number of thought provoking questions and observations from the audience, all under Chatham House rules.

Dr. Vaughan said further research will look at the in-house picture. On the point of who is responsible for ethical training and professional independence standards, Prof. Moorhead confirmed there is currently no comprehensive training for lawyers, and this is essentially the practitioner’s role rather than academics.

I was struck by this situation in the context of planned relaxations to the CPD rules and my experience of there being an absence of any formal ethical training programme in law firms.  It will be interesting to see how this plays out. It was certainly something we discussed informally over a glass or two of UCL’s hospitality.

It was great to see a number of Obelisk Support’s consultants at this event. As a business driven by change and innovation, Obelisk and its community of consultants, is always keen to listen to and understand the latest thinking. I commend these UCL events to all our readers. The next one takes place on 1st March, examining the impact and role of COLP’s in the post ABS-world.

See for details.