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“To do more with less” isn’t sustainable

Axiom’s Lewis Bowman talks to The Lawyer ahead of his session at the In-house Financial Services conference about how the sector needs to adapt rapidly to be sustainable in today’s environment.

How can financial services companies remain sustainable in a fluctuating economy?

Lewis Bowman

The world for financial services is not just fluctuating, it’s faster paced, more regulated and those fluctuations are less predictable than ever. To be sustainable in this environment you need to be able to rapidly adapt. How many general counsels could efficiently respond to the next recession or sudden explosive product growth? An HBR survey of GCs in 2018 found that 89 per cent of them say their best remedy to solve increased unpredictability is to make people work harder:  to “do more with less”. However, doing this indefinitely isn’t sustainable.

The good news is that there are now more tools and a more sophisticated legal services market available to GCs to do “better with less.” Organisations should avoid embedding fixed costs and instead be thoughtful about how to create cost and capability variability to move at light speed. Given that 95 per cent of legal expenditure is on people, the challenge for legal to variabalise cost requires a rethink to the historically binary choice between in-house and external counsel. There is top legal talent available flexibly to help GCs deal with all types of work. Axiom can strategically partner with GCs to re-evaluate options and help identify the right way to approach specific challenges. For many, this has already begun but there is still more work needed across the sector.

What do you think the legal employment model of the future will be?

The legal employment model of the future is about uniting top legal talent with the future of work. The means models that embrace control, choice and flexibility. Outside of the law, there’s been a generational-led insistence on providing employees more career-self-determination and more ability to work on their own terms. There have been some providers in the market (shameless plug), like Axiom, who have been well ahead of that curve. But, in aggregate, the legal industry has been sluggish to respond to the shifting headwinds of a new workforce. That will change. The legal employment model of the future will embrace a shift to more on-demand work.  It will do so because elite legal talent demands it. It will do so because GCs will come to understand that having a flexible layer of legal talent that can respond to the peaks and valleys of their workload or their variable specialized expertise needs…is a game changer. It allows them to remove fixed costs while being more responsive to business needs and stakeholders.

What are the top three skills the in-house lawyer of the future will need?

Commercial and operational readiness: The next generation of in-house lawyer will need to be commercially-ready and have a grounding in good operations management (like managing projects and understanding processes). That means a keen understanding of the business goals driving organisational legal needs. It means understanding their organisation’s risk-appetite and responding to it. It means embedding in the business to not only be a legal partner, but a business enabler.

Fluency in emerging areas of law: They’ll need a fluency in emerging areas of the law. Some we know already, like data privacy. Some are still on the horizon.

A tech-enabled mindset: Lawyers of the future will need to more fully embrace the technology that improves their practice of the law, that connects them as a community of talent, and that engages them with their client/employer/additional opportunities.

If you were to study again, what course would you choose and why?

For me, it’s not so much what I would have studied differently, but what I would have liked to study more of or in addition to. And that’s an easy (if broad) answer: enterprise technology. You can no longer conduct business or service clients without knowledge of information systems (or, at least, you can’t do so sustainably and competitively). The study of computer and information science is critical across industries -including, and perhaps, especially – in the law. While I believe the legal industry will always be talent-centric, it will not be (nor should it be) immune from digitisation. The question is not IF, but, WHEN.  When will algorithms, automation, and artificial intelligence start to meaningfully impact the law?  And, the answer is: sooner than you think.

Lewis Bowman is one of the 30+ speakers making up this year’s speaker line-up at The Lawyer’s In-house Financial Services conference on 26th March. For more information on the conference, a copy of the agenda, or to inquire about attending, please contact Kenan Balli on +44(0) 20 7970 4017.

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