“Innovate, innovate, innovate.” That was the emphatic message for general counsel (GCs) everywhere from Catherine Johnson, Group General Counsel of London Stock Exchange Group, at the THE LAWYER In-House Financial Services Conference in London.
Her rallying cry was a response to everything that has changed, and is changing, about the role of GCs. Gone are the days of legal specialists deployed to protect the business and its reputation. This is the era of business enablement, of proactive commercial decision-making, and corporate leadership. And, in an era of expanded responsibility, complex markets, and exacting commercial targets, an innovative approach to the business and practice of law is critical to success.
For Johnson, innovation meant:
- Being more customer-centric by pushing boundaries with a mindset committed to growth.
- Speeding up time to value by investing in transformative technology capable of automating low-value tasks and transforming underperforming processes.
- Building to evolve by hiring talent from diverse, multi-disciplinary backgrounds, and focussing on building an inclusive business that’s driven to perform.
- Liberating teams by empowering them to deploy their acumen earlier on in the business development cycle.
Lead by example
Following the keynote, Lisa Ardley-Price, Managing Legal Counsel at Transaction Banking, NatWest, opened a panel discussion on ethical leadership by reiterating the need for GCs to lead by example. She invited delegates that wanted to create and sustain a more dynamic function to demonstrate a learning, adaptive, and strategic mindset capable of steering the business “to do the right thing.” The panellists agreed, and encouraged lawyers to “take a step back to connect the dots” — to think about their function horizontally rather than vertically, and across the business rather than through it. They also advised GCs to deploy their acumen at the intersection of what could be done versus what should be done to help the business flush out risk and opportunity as early as possible.
When it came to building a horizontal function, Peter McCusker, Interim Group General Counsel at Royal London, encouraged GCs and their teams to host compliance and risk meetings for their businesses and find simple ways to enshrine the legal function as a force for neutral, strategic insight around the organisation.
Power performance with diversity
Diversity, and importantly inclusion, should be a business imperative for GCs that want to not only lead by example, but create a proactive and strategic legal function.
Johnson referenced the messaging from well-known McKinsey studies that “diversity equals performance” — that drawing upon a diverse pool of talent helped ideation, creative thinking, digital literacy, and adaptability. In her experience, a diverse team with inclusive leadership meant the legal function got ahead of trends, exceeded targets, built better relationships, and helped the business enter new markets efficiently and competitively.
Make sound investment in technology
In the panel session focussed on digital transformation and automation, DISCO’s Tripp Hemphill, VP Enterprise Markets, EMEA, asked Lara Oyensanya, Group General Counsel, Company Secretary, and C-Suite Executive at WorldRemit, James Rember, General Counsel at AXA Partners CLP, and Dr. Solomon Osagie, General Counsel and Company Secretary at Cashplus Bank for their advice on approaching automation “in the golden age of legal technology.” The panellists had seven pieces of advice:
- Talk to other departments and try to centralise procurement in order to save time and effort.
- Strike a balance between automation and commercialisation and be aware that it is impossible to push all your regulatory responsibilities to technology.
- Look for tools that enable or facilitate collaboration no matter the size of your team or business.
- Be persuasive when asking for investment in technology by identifying solutions that integrate with the wider business and working with providers that could demonstrate ROI.
- Know whether your solution understands jurisdictional and cultural nuance and what level of customisation is available, and how much effort it requires to implement.
- Pinpoint the problem you’re trying to solve or the outcome you’re trying to achieve before investing in technology.
- Leverage your IT department to codify your problem statement and help align it with a solution that effectively solves the issue.
As the panel drew to a close, Hemphill asked, “So what does success look like?”
For the speakers, great legal technology had three distinguishing features:
- Easy to use — as easy as accessing emails
- Accessible — data was available when and where you needed it
- Enjoyable — teams were happy and empowered using it
Oyensanya ended the morning sessions with one final piece of advice for GCs: “Don’t underestimate technology!”
We couldn’t agree more!
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