Last week, LOD was thrilled to support the Corporate Counsel Summit in Sydney. One of the key sessions was an insightful and frank panel discussion hosted by Paul Cowling that featured three leading General Counsel.
They discussed the emerging business practices and issues for legal teams across Australia. From this wide-ranging conversation, we distilled five key themes for legal teams to consider over the short and medium term.
Terms of engagement
How does your organisation engage with the legal department? Clever thinking in this space, more on the process than the technology side, can drastically reduce double-handling, unnecessary legal work and slow legal responses to urgent business issues. Some organisations have created clear guidance on when and how to engage legal, sometimes referred to as ‘Legal Advice Protocols’. Not only does this help your stakeholders outside of legal, but it also provides your team with an easier way to determine their priorities (and potentially how to say no).
It’s important to use this document but also not to let it be a straitjacket; it’s always a delicate balancing act between predictability and flexibility. A final note: these documents are not “set and forget”, they need to be revisited regularly to ensure they match your organisation's priorities and your team’s capabilities.
Perhaps one of the more exciting developments for in-house legal leaders recently has been the growing capability to simulate real-world crises, particularly in the world of cyber-security and operational risk. GCs can now run crash courses with their executive teams on how they’ll manage future cyber events. Practice makes perfect and leaders found that running these simulations leads directly to the refinement of their protocols. As a tool for both engagement and preparation, simulations are a growing way for legal to work with their colleagues and the senior leadership team.
Engaging with ESG
ESG has been front of mind for a while, but now GCs are seeing more practical steps towards real business change. A few in-house leaders reported a close working relationship with their respective Heads of Sustainability (and various iterations of that title) as a key to both execution but also effective reporting. This point also fed into a broader theme of GCs engaging cross-functionally and working more closely with commercial and finance leaders. A further benefit of legal progressing ESG workstreams is that it can be a way for passionate lawyers to engage on issues that are meaningful to them. A motivated workforce is a better workforce.
With various Royal Commissions targeting business compliance and weighty penalties being handed down, uplifting risk and compliance frameworks is top of mind for GCs across Australia. Many leaders now have compliance as a standard reporting item to their board of directors. While undertaking an uplift to existing risk frameworks is not an easy task, it can be much costlier to ignore. Spending time and energy modernising your compliance will pay dividends in the long run and sometimes it’s best to partner with an external supplier to get this done.
Getting real with technology
The experience of GCs in relation to legal tech was varied, but two prominent themes emerged. First, the best approach to deploying new technology is with incremental steps and deliberate change management strategies. ‘Big bang’ approaches to rolling out new tech often misfire and can create organisational scar tissue. Second, the legal technology landscape is fragmented but slowly consolidating. It’s safer to use one of the larger, more established players in tech. In some ways, using off the shelf is better than bespoke!
While it’s hard to predict what the short and medium-term might bring, GCs and other in-house legal and risk leaders will likely face some of the issues outlined above. By discussing with your peers, you can learn best practices and share lessons learned, something which can often be difficult for in-house leaders. If you’d like to hear more about these issues or how LOD is helping clients address these types of issues, please get in touch.