Sebastien Bernard

Sebastien Bernard

General Counsel – Veolia

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?

Focusing essentially on projects development (from deal inception to financial close), I used to interact massively with clients, partners and advisors. This interraction was therefore based upon numerous business meetings and travels across the region. When the COVID-19 pandemic started to spread, forcing governments to impose different levels of lockdowns, all this came to an end. I must confess that I was part of this category of people who thought that working remotely, with the sole help of visioconferences and document sharing tools (such as MS Teams or Zoom) would, at best, be a source of inefficiency, and at worse would not allow certain type of work such as financially closing a transaction. I must say I was wrong. In my views, the recent lockdowns have shown that we can work efficiently from outside a “conventional” office and thus should force lawyers to rethink the way they can support their clients, whether internally or externally. More generally, I think lawfirms and companies should encourage a certain level of home office (for those of who can afford it) as a way to potentially reduce their physical office space and therefore generate savings. 

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?

At this point of time, my company has not reduced its physical office space. The truth is that our current square metres are not exagerately high given the number of employees in the office. There is therefore no need for that. However, the company has introduced a bit of flexibility allowing employees to work from home one day per week.

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

Lockdown has forced people to work remotely, or at least with minimum physical interraction. With that in mind, it was clear for my organisation that they needed to provide the adequate tools allowing employees to work efficiently. As far as the legal team is concerned, there has not been any specific investment in legal tech, except may be in some tools allowing signature and authentification of documents, such as DocuSign. Main efforts have actually been put into the upgrade of our communications tools, especially those used for videoconferencing (hardware and software).

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

It is hard to predict in my views. The needs may vary whether you are working for a lawfirm or a company. And even when you are working for a company, situation may vary depending upon the nature of the business. When you are working in-house, you are potentially less interested in having access to a regularly updatede case law database, but you would rather want to have access, for instance, to contracts and agreements templates. A tool that would allow you to customise contracts and agreements to your taste and needs could be helpful.

5. Has your firm changed its remuneration structure during the crisis?

No. We are lucky that our business has been way less impacted by the COVID-19 crisis compared to some other fields of activity, such as the airline industry or tourism. I would add that growth opportunities in the Middle East, especially in utilities infrastructure sector, has remained strong.

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

For private practice, I would place a bet on the ability for lawyers to work from anywhere in the world, without havingthe need of beeing physically attached to an office. For in-house counsels, I think that we may see an increase in what I call the mixed profiles: lawyers with a strong background in another field, such as finance or business development. This would allow in-house counsels to be more versatile, more agile. 

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