Vice President (Legal) – International Maritime Industries, Saudi Arabia
1. The How has the Covid-19 crisis affected the way you work as a lawyer? What are the key positives and negatives that have emerged out of lockdown?
I started my new job in the middle of the worldwide lockdown. Borders were closed, planes were grounded and I resigned from my role while everyone was battening down the hatches and trying to dig in. It was a bit crazy, but I had all the assurances I felt I needed and took that step. I have to admit that the day I officially joined was quite the relief. I was also joining a company in another country, so I joined remotely. I was couriered a laptop, given my login credentials and basically told to get on with it. It was up to me to reach out to colleagues, get to know them and ask as many questions as I could to understand the business. I worked remotely for 6 months and continue to work remotely intermittently for now.
In terms of positives, I feel that communication overall has improved. People have felt the need to make more of an effort to communicate and less is taken for granted simply because everyone is in the office and therefore “should know”. As a senior management team a black swan event like this brings you together to overcome adversity. There is plenty of thinking outside the box and figuring out ways to cope with restrictions while still achieving as many of the objectives the business set itself pre-pandemic. As a result I think we are more agile and more connected (even if not necessarily personally). I have to admit I do miss the office environment and those conversations that happen post meeting as people walk back to their respective offices. The coffee drop-ins, which often lead to very interesting and unexpected conversations, are much more infrequent. I look forward to a time when we can go back to having closer inter-personal connections without fear of contagion or breaching HSE rules. In the meantime we are all making the best of what we have.
2. Will you and your firm/company continue to use flexible and agile working in the future? Will you reduce the size of your physical office space?
We are certainly looking at agile and remote working as a potentially permanent fixture. When the shipyard is fully up and running, our HQ will move there, 2 hours from the city. While that may suit many, it is bound to create some issues across some parts of the workforce and the ability to work remotely or flexibly will be welcome. That is not to say that it’s just about not working at the yard. Our teams have been analysing productivity of the respective departments and whether that has dropped as a result of remote work. The results appear to be very encouraging and we have seen no real drop in productivity.
3. How have you employed legal tech during the crisis? What has been successful and what has been lacking?
As a start-up, I am the company’s first GC and part of my remit is to set-up and grow the legal team to support the business appropriately. While we have not yet employed legal tech as we are still a fledgling department, the benefits of legal tech are very much apparent and legal tech is featuring quite prominently in the design of department processes and in building out the trajectory of the department’s growth and KPIs. We look forward to onboarding a legal tech provider in 2021 as the company grows in scale and ambition and the legal team’s roles and responsibilities grow with that.
4. How do you see the advancement of legal tech affecting the legal industry in the next 10 years?
I am not someone who espouses the belief that legal tech is going to replace lawyers in the not too distant future. That is not to say that the legal industry will not change, because it will, and the change will be for the better. Legal services are “comparatively” expensive when compared to services provided by other industries. While I am not debating the merits (or otherwise) of that, the way law is practiced, has not changed a huge amount in the last 20-25 years. When compared to other industries and the improvements we have seen in efficiency via technology and automation, as an industry, law has fallen behind many others and is still fairly “clunky” in that regard. A lot of brilliant work is being done by a number of entities to change that. Law also tends to be fairly conservative in its outlook. My feeling is that while clients are pushing firms to innovate and improve, certain elements of the industry are a lot less willing to take “risks” and to move away from established models that have worked for them for decades. There will come an inflection point where enough clients (and in-house teams) who are spending time, money and effort in optimising, automating, and squeezing all the value they can out of every dollar, will put their foot down with their legal service providers and expect more. I think the next decade will certainly see us get close to that point if not go past it
5. Has your firm/company changed its remuneration structure during the crisis? Will the firm/company consider using a “Keystone” fee-sharing or hybrid remuneration model in future?
We have been lucky enough not to. As a young business whose shipyard is still under construction, we are still very much in the preparation phase and therefore still ramping up towards active operations rather than reducing operations. Pandemic related delays to global supply chains have meant that we have needed to take some “protection measures” such as freezing some recruitment and optimising some staffing plans going forward, but remuneration structures have not changed and the business is proceeding at pace to commence operations as soon as it possibly can.
6. Name one key thing that will be different in the legal profession in 10 years time.
Ironically, in a decade that will bring with it a lot of technology, I believe the legal profession will become more “human”. I am not implying that as lawyers we are a race of aliens come from outer space to take over the world (although there are certainly some lawyers I have met who may well fit that bill). What I mean is that our humanity and interpersonal relationships, our softer skills and our ability to be creative, intuitive and empathetic, as a profession, will need to come to the fore. This is how we distinguish ourselves from machines and how service providers will distinguish themselves from others. Artificial Intelligence will eventually absorb a legal text much faster than any of us will, but managing the message extrapolated from that text, tailoring it to the recipients in a way that ensures successful delivery, possibly making connections between potentially unconnected or unrelated events to create new law that the algorithm may not see, that to me is where we as a profession are headed. I see the profession moving to a place where we are using technology to do the grunt work, while making sure we have the right skillsets to do the contextual layering that is necessary. With that in mind, the way law is taught at university, and the way lawyers are trained as they move up the ranks both in-house and in private practice, will need to adapt to this.