‘Multi-disciplinary’ is increasingly the word on many people’s lips as we see businesses looking for ‘one stop shops’ to improve efficiencies. And during this pandemic we’ve seen companies turning to their lawyers for advice on how to navigate these unchartered waters and improve efficiencies. This has given many lawyers new responsibilities – advising not just on the letter of the law, but also giving advice on strategic matters and COVID-19 regulations. The Financial Times’ Asia-Pacific Innovative Lawyers recent report pointed to many lawyers in the region becoming ‘trusted advisers and problem solvers’ at this time of the pandemic.
Evolution of this sort makes the in-house role particularly exciting and very important. And while we are seeing businesses recognise the vital role GCs and their team play in the wider company, this switch in perception does not necessarily mean smooth sailing for lawyers– in fact, we often see the opposite. Rather than seeing legal budgets increased due to this bigger, more holistic role within the business, we’re increasingly seeing these teams having to do more with less.
How to Deliver More with Less?
Increasingly, we’re seeing lawyers turning to a few different solutions to ease the pressure on them and ensure they’re well supported to deliver the holistic advice needed.
Firstly, unsurprisingly, technology is being utilised by lawyers more and more to help fill gaps and complete jobs more efficiently and effectively.
Often the in-house legal team would be left behind when a business invested in its technology infrastructure, with the assumption being that the finance or HR team would benefit more acutely from better technology. Those days are over. Now we are seeing innovations like artificial intelligence shake-up the legal profession to a significant degree and the efficiencies this sort of technology can offer is important. Investing in this technology can free-up time for a GC and their team by offloading some of the more routine but time-consuming legal work to tech.
However, there is so much legaltech available, it can be a challenge to find the right option to solve every eventuality. Often it is left up to the lawyers themselves to make these decisions, but of course, busy lawyers are not often the best placed to keep up with all legaltech developments so consultancy around best solutions should be encouraged.
Another point to consider is ensuring once the technology is brought in, how to properly utilise it and understand the return on investment in detail. Often ensuring best practice to roll out new solutions needs to be properly project managed, which leads on to my next point.
We’re increasingly seeing legal project managers hired to apply the principles, processes and practices of project management to the delivery of legal services to ensure the successful delivery of in-house legal team’s projects.
The legal project manager is a fairly new role to the legal industry in Hong Kong, and indeed in-house legal teams around the world. Whilst project managers have been the norm across many business departments for a number of years, it’s a new but growing trend to see legal teams utilising these professionals.
Whilst by their very nature lots of lawyers are highly trained project managers, we’re seeing new challenges and tighter financial and time pressures than ever before. Where once the legal department only advised on legal risk, it is now expected to be profitable too, supporting the business to deliver its strategic objectives. The pressure of the pandemic has compounded issues felt already by very stretched in-house teams and with new issues to contend with, such as renegotiating existing contracts with struggling suppliers and making sure the business is complying with the latest pandemic regulations on a local and global level, the in-house legal team in many companies has been overloaded, under- resourced and they are now at a tipping point.
This is where a legal project manager can help to ensure the right resources are distributed, expectations are managed and the end goal is reached in the most efficient manner. These specialists can also be a point of contact between the department and the business, ultimately freeing up the lawyers to do the legal work and develop those important creative and innovative solutions that could help the business be more profitable.
Across Asia and specifically in Hong Kong, we’re also seeing more and more in-house teams looking to utilise legal consultants. A shrunken budget also means an in-house team has to do more work with less people. Working with legal consultants can be a good way to increase the team’s capacity without having to ask for an increased budget to cover ongoing staff costs. A legal consultant can be brought in to cover particularly busy times of year for example, and by working with a provider like Pinsent Masons Vario, GCs also don’t have to devote time to ensuring they hire a quality candidate as this work is done by the provider.