General Counsel – Pillarstone, Italy
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?
In addition to the usual suspects – going paperless, remote working and an increased focus on operations – I think Covid impacted more profoundly the following areas:
a. Communication with stakeholders: I think that maintaining an healthy dialogue with peers and the entire panel of internal and external stakeholders is a crucial element for a general counsel to be effective and add value, for it directly impacts the ability of the GC to contributing soundly to decision-making and assessing and managing risks across the organisation. Obviously, channels and fora of communication became increasingly narrow and infrequent during lockdown – as opportunities for impromptu conversations and in-person gatherings disappeared – which required discipline and creativity in preserving accessibility despite the lack of physical proximity and establishing regular touchpoints to interact with various stakeholders among which, crucially, the board of directors.
b. Internalizing large portions of work: during lockdown, we successfully closed a rather large transaction involving a multiplicity of parties in several jurisdictions. As interactions among various parties became fragmented and more complex due to physical remoteness and a silo approach to various workstreams inevitably developed, we realized that the in-house legal team was the actor better placed to provide holistic advice and take the leadership in project management, both traditionally the prerogative of external counsel.
c. Networking: Covid-19 obliterated traditional networking channels and opportunities. At the same time, however, the global pandemic made it even more salient to reach out to as broad a platform of people as possible and share experiences in navigating the crisis. Again, this required discipline and creativity in developing novel techniques to connect with people, including an increased reliance on videoconferences and social networks.
Zooming in to our organisation and the negatives of lockdown, everything in our setup – including our office space – is designed to promote collaboration, productive dialogue and a sense of partnership across all the various teams and functions. It is obviously extremely hard to replicate that kind of environment virtually. With physical proximity out of the equation and people becoming difficult to access due to the interminable daily succession of conference and video calls, it was inevitable for some people to become very task-oriented and focus on a series of specific, individual, outcomes. While raw statistics might suggest that such approach increases productivity, a closer look at the organisation as a whole tells a rather different story as some of the key forces propelling the organisation forward – creativity, collaboration, communication and shared purpose – are progressively weakened.
As regards the positives emerging out of lockdown, I would mention the ability of our organisation to adapt quickly to the new reality and provide a solid platform to our partner banks and portfolio companies facing the difficulties induced by the pandemic. Evolution in the face of a crisis is, I think, a sign of progress and resilience to be valued.
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?
We have no plans to downsize our physical office space at the moment. We will continue to use some form of flexible/agile working in the future; however, in general terms, I think that organisations should exercise a degree of caution when considering institutionalising remote work setups on a permanent basis. I could not agree more with Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella, that it is crucial to avoid “replacing one dogma with another dogma”.
3. How have you employed legal tech during the crisis? What has been successful and what has been lacking?
We have employed, rather successfully, remote communication platforms to conduct meetings of our corporate bodies and electronic signatures.
4. How do you see the advancement of legal tech affecting the legal industry in the next 10 years?
I think we will certainly see an increased use of legal knowledge automation to assist, for example, with the extraction of data from a variety of sources, document review and creation, contract validation and a number of compliance processes. As a result, the successful law firm of the future will be that capable to offering both a knowledge-automated digital platform and a team of highly skilled individuals delivering value-added advice.
Also, I suspect that remote work will continue to be a key theme and I would not be too surprised if, within the next 10 years, we started to see, at least in some jurisdictions, a progressive institutionalization of online courtrooms.
Of course, one cannot rule out more disruptive scenarios – e.g., AI-based judgments in online courts. Richard Susskind’s latest book is a fascinating read and makes a very interesting case for technology as a solution to the access-to-justice problem.
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.
I think that, due to the combination of increased complexity and the consolidation of legal technology, we will see a decreased emphasis on hyperspecialization and a progressive move towards training lawyers who can operate on a very broad canvas, have breadth across various domains, and can therefore provide holistic, value-added advice. In the book “Range” David Epstein makes a very good case as to why we need more generalists in fluid, volatile, work environments, which I think perfectly suits the legal profession in the near future.
Also, I do expect to see more diversity in the legal profession and more and more women in senior leadership positions both in-house and in private practice.