Janet Taylor-Hall, CEO, Cognia

Agility isn’t something you normally associate with the legal sector.

‘Highly intelligent’, ‘professional’, ‘rigorous’, ‘deeply expert?’ Of course. 

‘Nimble and responsive?’ Less so. That’s not a knock on the profession.

Corporate legal departments have built impeccable reputations on proven high-quality legal advice, successful risk mitigation, reliability, and certainty. But the societal shift to all-digital-everywhere is transforming how every business operates — internally and across supply chains. Legal has no option but to respond.

The digital leap has accelerated processes and automated transactional tasks, in some cases prompting a complete re-think about how business is done.

A survey by Harvard Law School and EY at the start of 2021 found that legal departments are under increased pressure from boards, CEOs and CFOs to operate differently. The rising expectations go beyond improved cost control. Executives want corporate legal teams to play a stronger role in enabling growth, providing better data, and transforming risk management.

In an evolving environment, boards are asking legal departments to ensure their operating models are optimised to deliver, picking up the pace and providing faster advice in support of faster decision-making. Added to this, there has been an increased focus over the last 18 months on long-term business resilience and ESG. This is both challenging legal leaders and expanding their remit to ensure their contributions align with the purpose of the business. If legal truly embraces this broader role, they can position themselves as strategic partners to the business. Most importantly, I believe that as legal professionals we have a duty to society to deliver services that uphold transparency, trust and ESG goals.

So the pressure is on legal to become more agile, and hard-code new capabilities for nimble delivery. Whether it’s an in-house function led by general counsel, or a law firm engaged for support, there needs to be greater operational alignment with the business purpose and customer experience end-clients demand.

Legally agile

What do I mean by agile? It’s a project management methodology borrowed from the technology sphere. It came to life in 2001 when a group of Silicon Valley engineers realised that their standard, process heavy, risk-averse software development methods were holding back innovation, leaving customers underwhelmed and hurting programmers’ morale.

They proposed a new approach that involved adopting 12 principles. Key among them is the commitment to put the customer/client first and collaborate closely with a broader range of motivated experts to deliver better outcomes.

Legal can learn a lot from agile and benefit from adapting its core principles. Many already are, and blending in complementary approaches like design thinking, which considers every service from the point-of-view of user experience (UX) and looks for ways to continually improve it.

The legal profession hasn’t evolved much in a century, and it’s been largely resistant to technology-driven change. Is it ready to follow other functions and embrace a process of experimentation? To learn from new ways of working there will need to be a higher risk tolerance from the very outset.

In the next four instalments we’ll explain how that change-ready mindset can be achieved, and take a deeper look at the impact of flexible collaboration, new roles, and new working models. By the end you’ll have a toolkit packed with insights and practical advice for achieving agile legal operations in your own company or law firm.

Watch this space for part two of the series next week.

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