Janet Taylor-Hall, CEO, Cognia

Of all the future-gazing about what a post-COVID world might look like, predictions about the workplace are proving to be the most accurate. We’ve quickly gone beyond acceptance of home and hybrid working to embrace longer-term trends like contingent staffing and outsourced services. In the topsy-turvy world of lockdowns and supply chain disruptions, a flexible legal workforce made up of your talent and the resources provided by a partner is gaining greater acceptance.

The spikes and dips in demand for legal services became harder to forecast under COVID, and that’s making flexibility a central organizing principle. It promises to change legal operations models forever.

Flexible resourcing isn’t new in legal, but the idea of a permanently flexible operational model, supported by a strategic relationship with a delivery partner that combines both managed legal teams and managed flex resources is.

Traditional approaches have seen GCs complement their in-house team with individual and teams of contractors sourced from a myriad of temp resourcing agencies and secondments from law firms when a bottleneck arises. In the past, engagements would usually be reactive and came to an end whenever the logjam broke, losing momentum and institutional knowledge.

The outsourced work might have been for largely transactional activities and the winning provider decided on price, which potentially put quality at risk. The alternative was to ask the company’s law firm to step in and bear the additional cost.

Today there’s a third way. GCs can build a longer-term strategic relationship with a delivery partner who provides them with the optimal combination of managed flexible resourcing and fully managed services to support both routine and more complex matters.  This work is supported by legal teams that range from paralegals to highly skilled lawyers, with the model being a dedicated base team supporting business as usual (BAU) tasks that form a foundation for a GC to scale up and down depending on demand for engagements including litigation support, asset disposal, M&A activity, regulatory reform and peak periods for routine BAU work.

That’s opened up new possibilities for embedding flexibility, making it a central organising principle of the legal operations model.

Flexibility for the peaks, and the lulls

Law companies or Alternative legal services providers (ALSPs) draw from a deep pool of talent and provide dedicated, cost-effective support for sophisticated matters requiring seasoned professionals:

• Review, drafting, and negotiation of:

– routine business as usual (“BAU”) commercial contracts

– standardised financial documentation such as derivatives, loans and structured products

• Obligation reviews ensuring regulatory compliance across jurisdictions

• M&A support, including due diligence, integration planning and execution as well as assisting in the disposal of business assets and supporting post-acquisition integration

• Re-structuring complex commercial contracts with customers, vendors, and partners

• Developing new hybrid working policies and procedures in compliance with local and regional labour law

• Helping craft the responses to data privacy regulation across multiple geographies, functions, and business units

• Compliance support such as supplier due diligence and onboarding and responding to regulatory audits or investigations and ESG legislation

That doesn’t mean law firms are out of the picture, but their higher-cost delivery model suggests they need to be used more strategically. Sometimes GCs need support from one or two specialists to fill in gaps when a crisis or surge in capacity demand arises, not an entire law firm account team.

Given the unpredictability and frequent disruptions that mark the post-pandemic era, it’s time for GCs and law firms to look beyond satisfying immediate capacity requirements and consider the need for long-term models that scale with their needs.

Their people, your team

If there’s lingering resistance to flexible resourcing, it often arises from worries that short-term support doesn’t provide sustainable cost advantages. Staffing-up quickly on a project basis can be expensive. It can also stop you from developing and keeping the organisational knowledge gained when contracts expire, and individuals move on to new assignments.

It doesn’t have to be that way. A GC that works with a partner who provides managed legal teams as well as adhoc resources has a myriad of options at their fingertips. Having worked closely with them, assessed how well they fit, and seen their level of performance, when the first project ends a GC can build them into their legal delivery model.

In fact, it’s become common for our professionals to support one client for years, not months. They’re already in place as part of core teams or when unexpected surges in demand occur. They can also be re-deployed temporarily elsewhere if activity levels subside — then brought back and put to work without a lengthy on-boarding process.

It’s a scalable solution that gives the GC the best of both worlds: resourcing that’s closely in sync with workflow, and doesn’t sacrifice institutional knowledge, quality, or raise concerns about team chemistry (or break the bank).

Flexibility requires partnership

To have an solution that truly scales, you need a long-term partner with whom you build a core team and curated flexible pool who can also help you address the variable levels of demand in both capacity, and specialist skill sets. That means understanding your business, knowing how your needs can change over time, and having real-life experience to draw from when a new challenge needs to be addressed.

A partner can also advise you on how to pare back resourcing, switch to another model (flexible contractors to managed service) and optimise in quieter times — without destablising operations or degrading team knowledge and capability.

At Cognia we’re focused on long-term sustainable solutions for both corporations and law firms. We help you take advantage of everything flexible resourcing has to offer, from addressing short-term surge resourcing while helping migrate operating models for the long term.

Flexibility and quality can go hand in hand. It’s cost-effective, delivers the skill sets and specialisation project resourcing requires, and draws on digitised platforms.

Sync your workforce to your workflow

When a legal team’s headcount remains static, key people get pushed during peak times and under-utilised when activity wanes. By building a team that is augmented with flexible managed legal teams, you’re building an agile organisation that can adapt quickly to the ebb and flow of legal workloads.

The legal operational models taking shape today often start with a small core team of legal generalists supported by a complementary group of specialists who can be brought in and applied flexibly as need requires.

It’s a structure that strengthens traditional legal aptitudes with skill sets that digital transformation increasingly require: data science, coding, project management, and more. They can be activated when needed and stood down when they aren’t.

For GCs, embedding managed flexibility in their model offers the promise of breaking up major initiatives like M&A, regulatory reform repapering, breaking the back of routine BAU work and freeing their core teams to focus on achieving strategic outcomes.

With the current state of geopolitical and economic instability, legal teams may find themselves facing a comparable situation as the one that dominated after the 2008/2009 financial crisis, with legal budgets and headcount restricted, salary expectations rising, and workloads increasing.

In unpredictable times, building flexibility and adaptability onto how legal teams operate will be essential to success.

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