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Webinar report: Future proofing the legal team - skills and mindsets for tomorrow

‘AQ is the new IQ’

Our professional development webinar series with Victoria Swedjemark continued in June. This session looked at the why and the how of future-proofing the in-house legal function.

Victoria is a partner at strategy and management consulting firm, Venturis Consulting Group and the founder of Glowmind, the business that helps legal leaders develop their teams and departments. She has over 20 years' experience both in private practice and in-house as a General Counsel.

Why future proof the legal department?

The world is changing. Fast. Businesses are going through large-scale transformations driven by digital opportunities and sustainability imperatives. Globalisation is adding complexity across all business disciplines and regulatory pressures are increasing. 

In this rapidly evolving business climate, the traditional model for in-house is  increasingly insufficient to keep pace.

Too often, for example, legal operates in a silo, measuring itself against its own performance criteria rather than the wider goals of the organisation. It can be slow, particularly when looked at in the context of the business acceleration we see now. Compounding that is a lack of scalability, meaning legal struggles to keep up when the workload increases, as Legal keeps relying too much on the old school way to scale, i.e. recruiting more lawyers to the team or increasingly using external counsel - which is also not a sustainable strategy as legal teams are pushed by enterprise cost pressure to do more with less.

All of this creates a need to find new ways to adapt and reframe the legal function. In the process there is a need to level up the people of the team.
There are currently three main drivers for the need to look at team development: 

  • New generation lawyering - attracting and retaining new generations of people whose expectations of in-house legal leadership have been shaped by changes in the economic and social climate;
  • Adaptability and flexibility – adjusting to constant change by finding new ways to organise workflows and teams; and
  • Planning ahead – future-proofing by assessing what the legal team needs tomorrow in terms of competencies, mindsets and innovative approaches.

And because we live in an unpredictable world, leaders are becoming more aware that dealing with uncertainty is a skill in itself. Termed Adaptability Quotient (AQ), this quality - for many - is the new IQ.

What’s our starting point?

To establish a baseline, Victoria set out some characteristics often seen in lawyers:

  • Lawyers are great at solving problems;
  • Lawyers crave state of the art, perfection even;
  • Lawyers love to control things; and
  • Lawyers don’t like failure.  

These characteristics have been helpful to lawyers in the past, but moving into the future they can also act as traps, why lawyers need to identify their programming and understand when they need to navigating away from it, into something that is more future-fit. 

This gives us pointers as to what we can take into the future – and what we can leave behind. 

The O shaped lawyer…

There are many examples of concepts trying to capture what the future lawyer will look like. One framework, devised by a group of GCs in 2019 and known as the O shaped lawyer, encapsulates the following traits of a successful in-house lawyer:

  • Opportunism – where the lawyer is a business partner, not a business blocker;
  • Ownership – lawyers take accountability for outcomes instead of simply giving advice and then shying away from difficult decisions;
  • Open mindedness – lawyers develop a growth mindset and embrace learning and development programmes;
  • Opportunities – with a focus on business opportunities, not risk avoidance; and
  • Originality – lawyers move away from what they’ve always done and get creative in their approach to problems.

… and the T shaped professional 

Another way to visualise the combination of specialist and generalist skills is through the concept of the T shaped professional. The idea is that the vertical stroke of an upper-case T represents a person’s specialist – or deep and narrow – skills.

Overlaid on top via the horizontal stroke are the wider general skills that almost all senior in-house lawyers need to develop.
These include:

  • Process improvement;
  • Technological and data-related competencies;
  • Communication and collaboration;
  • Legal service design thinking – particularly around user centricity; and
  • Project and change management.

Complementary skillsets 

You may also look to develop business skills and behaviours to further future-proof your in-house legal function. Great ones for this are:

  • Strategic thinking – look at the legal function itself as well as the business as a whole;
  • Business acumen – what brings value? How do we classify and manage risk in a business-fit way?
  • Cross-functional collaboration – work with other teams to find new ways of co-creating solutionsGetting involved at the start – too often legal is involved at end of a project for a ‘quick look over and sign-off’. Look to get involved and make a meaningful contribution from the outset;
  • Continuous improvement - finding ways to make incremental improvement on a day-to-day basis. How can you do something better next time? Remember, not all improvement needs to be transformational. Small day-day improvements add up over time, save that in addition to this we also need to make bigger, bolder, more transformational change.
  • Creativity and innovation – reimagining how we do legal work, what great perferformance in legal looks like and how legal solutions are created, made available and used. 
  • Self-leadership – learning as an individual how to navigate change and uncertainty and be able to prioritize – and reprioritize – on a daily basis, based on a fundamental understanding of what brings value, and with tools that helps you manage other people’s expectations. 

What are people saying about legal?

Think too about how people across your organisation see legal and, where possible, set out to reverse negative perceptions. 

If people think legal adds complexity – position legal as reducer of complexity.

If colleagues say legal always complicates things – make legal the driver of simplicity.

If they find legal difficult to understand – commit to clarity.

If they warn others that things get stuck in legal - offer speed and convenience, possibly through self-serve options. 

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