Elliott Portnoy

Elliott Portnoy

Global CEO – Dentons, USA

1. 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?

With the vast majority of our 19,000 people around the world having worked remotely for much of the past nine months, we have demonstrated that our Firm can seamlessly meet client needs and achieve our strategy to scale, connect and innovate without material challenge. Prioritizing communication and engagement with our people was one of the most important priorities from the outset of the pandemic, and our investment in organizational resilience allowed us to swiftly pivot and demonstrate the confidence, strength, and resilience and ensure we can come out of this crisis stronger than we went into it. Without the benefit of a playbook, we rigorously focused on the health and well-being of our people (and their families) and the interests of our clients, and have doubled down on our strategy. While the tactics have changed, despite the pandemic, we have added 22 new offices around the world, enhanced our focus on inclusion and diversity, found new ways to connect with colleagues and created new client-facing tools to better serve the evolving needs of clients across every industry sector.

2. Will you and your firm continue to use flexible and agile working in the future? Will you reduce the size of your physical office space?

Even before the pandemic occurred, we had introduced Nextlaw Workspace, a global internal consultancy designed to imagine the workspace of the future. We recognized that agile and flexible workspaces would allow our colleagues to better thrive in the New Dynamic – and our people were expressing a strong preference to work from home to improve their work/life balance. We also recognized that the role of the office would change from a place of focus to a place to collaborate, innovate and socialize with colleagues. Nextlaw Workspace is a talent-led initiative designed to provide our offices with tools, templates and best practices to create inclusive and productive environments for our people. It will leverage relationships with real estate advisors and space planners to inform decisions on future office configuration so that we utilize space efficiently and leverage technology to manage occupancy. We anticipate that we will continue to reduce our real estate portfolio as a result, noting that two of our UK offices have already adopted a fully virtual approach — not renewing leases on physical premises while retaining all of their talent. 

3. How have you employed legal tech during the crisis?  What has been successful and what has been lacking?

Fortunately, we began our digital transformation well before the pandemic which positioned us to be able to accelerate adoption of the many technology platforms essential to operate a virtual global business when the large majority of our 9,000+ team members shifted to remote working status earlier this year. This includes multiple communications and collaboration platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams. We expanded our use of HighQ publisher as a client services solution – which today has 4,400 client sites with 33,000 external users, offering integrated end-to-end solutions to serve clients throughout the matter lifecycle, including transaction management solutions like Luminance, Kira, Litera Transact, Closing Folders and DocuSign.

An unexpected and positive impact of the pandemic has been the high and increasing level of personal engagement, communications and connections we are making with our colleagues. While we all may suffer from the occasional ‘Zoom fatigue,’ the level of engagement across the Firm has never been higher. Our Global Virtual Town Halls have attracted thousands of participants, colleagues have proved to be creative and innovative in finding ways to connect and support each other, and each day brings our people closer together even as we are unable to meet in person. Colleagues across 77 countries have shown their resilience and that we can be productive in a hybrid working model where some in-person work will be complemented by some remote working that will put our colleagues in charge of when, where and how they can work most productively.

4. How do you see the advancement of legal tech affecting the legal industry in the next 10 years?

Technology has been significantly advancing the quality of legal services for several years and those advancements are only going to accelerate in what we have been calling The New Dynamic – which is all about accelerating the pace of change. We see significant change in the work flows of the legal industry driven by problem solving technology solutions. It’s important to note that the technology is not the focus; it is the business problem that we want to solve. 

Artificial Intelligence and other automation tools have the potential to radically improve operational efficiencies of legal services providers; data analytics will enable lawyers to convert legal data into actionable business insights for clients; secure legal platforms will likely change how technology is purchased making it easier to buy the right solution at the right time for less money – this will include more on-demand talent; and the accelerated use of our many online communications and collaboration tools will reduce demand for traditional office space. Overall, technology will certainly increase access to legal solutions – from individuals that struggle to be able to afford a lawyer to businesses that need access to even more legal solutions to successfully navigate the increasingly complex world of commerce.

5. Has your firm changed its remuneration structure during the crisis? Will the firm consider using a “Keystone” or hybrid remuneration model in future?

6. Name one key thing that will be different in the legal profession in 10 years’ time.

More than ever before, clients are demanding that their lawyers really know their business, and can go above and beyond traditional legal counsel. That means that clients want to have access to a commercially-savvy lawyer, who will not only serve their legal needs, but will be able to provide holistic service to achieve a business objective. That is why we have, since the inception of Dentons, worked to build a business brand that our clients can trust with all of their needs. That means evolving into more of a business solutions firm so that we can address not only our clients’ legal needs but also their financial, accounting, forensics, public policy, investigations, strategic communications and many other needs. As we talk to clients all around the world – we are hearing a need for actionable advice and commerciality – our clients want solutions. They don’t want black letter law and analyses or hypotheticals or long memos. They want us to solve their problems. They want us to organize ourselves such that they can go to one place where they can get the solution to their problem. It’s our view that being able to aggregate a broader range of legal and business solutions under one roof is the future of the legal profession.

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