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Retail Trends 2021: The changing face of legal teams in the post-COVID world

10 February 2021
COVID-19 induced cost pressures have changed the mindset of GC's and their openness to opportunities created by technology – how can you benefit from some minor change?.

COVID-19 has shown both businesses and their legal teams just how quickly they can adapt when they need to. If someone in January 2020 had predicted that we would move all professional services delivery to Microsoft Teams and Zoom practically overnight, few would have believed that it was possible or sustainable for any length of time. With necessity being the mother of invention, the speed and relative ease of change was both surprising and pleasing in equal measures. 

For the leaders of in-house teams the challenges of reducing costs, improving efficiency; and demonstrating their own value have never been more amplified. If Legal Transformation was a hot topic pre-COVID (and it most definitely was!) then it is even more pertinent now. It is clearly apparent now that legal teams will be affected by a corporate's transformation plans when previously they may have been excused. In addition there is a new generation of GCs who actively want to do things differently, whether that be how they resource services or by introducing new technologies to drive efficiencies. 

Often in the past the stalling point was finding the right time and circumstances to get started, especially for people who didn’t necessarily have change management in their toolkit of skills. It would be a brave person who chose to embark on a project which caused operational pain in the short term when BAU was running hot and still needed to be performed whilst the transformation took place. 

We predict that COVID-19 will be the catalyst to force those gathering on the high board to jump in, getting them to go through the change (or pain!) barrier and start the transformation. It is the not so gentle shove that many needed. Once the jump is made, the benefits and planning all makes sense but the fear of getting things wrong and making life worse is where the hesitation comes in rather than the difficulty of the project and the anticipated inevitable pain. COVID-19 has shown everyone that dramatic ways of working changes can be made, quickly and successfully. Now leaders must change their mindsets, be brave and effectively rip the plaster off to start the change journey. 

The 'more for less' challenge 

In terms of improvements that can be made GC's are now looking at the 3 levers of people, process and technology to deliver more for less, a challenge that other business units in retail have been tasked with achieving for years. Looking at the people lever, some legal teams are using relatively senior (and therefore expensive) resource to complete relatively straight forward and repeatable tasks. Some in-house teams have previously had the luxury of being able to over-service their internal clients who in turn have become used to lawyers doing far more than just the lawyering. 
One way in which legal teams are changing their approach is by outsourcing low value, low risk work to an ever increasing number of alternative legal service providers (ALSP's) so that internal resource can focus on work that is more complex and strategic. Basic contracting and repapering exercises can be performed by a business set up and resourced to do just that at scale, with high levels of quality and at an appropriate price point (the work is not necessarily valued but it is still a pain point that needs dealing with). 

Historically if you asked a GC about Lean Six Sigma they would give you a very strange look, particularly if you professed to be a "black belt" in the discipline! Now, most team leaders want to understand how they can improve efficiencies by changing the way they do things. They are happy to invest time process mapping current and future states of a function with a view to optimising the services which flow from them. This is especially so in the contracting world when they realise the level of efficiency gains possible by standardising and simplifying contracts (and reducing negotiation time by both making contracts reasonable and not feeling the need to win every argument their teams are invited to). 

Efficiencies through technology investment

Similar to the change in appetite increase described above, there will likely be an increased openness to the idea that technology will be able to help reduce time on routine tasks (or even automate them entirely). It can be a leap of faith to trust a technology solution to identify relevant passages of a contract, cross reference clauses or follow a decision tree to pull out the right combination of drafting for a new contract. Investing in the belief that this can be possible, with a sliding scale of moderate capability now to advanced capability in the next 5-10 years again may motivate legal budget holders to act sooner rather than later. 

Previously too many lead heads deferred making technology investment decisions because they were waiting for a perfect solution, rather than embarking on a journey of learning, tweaking and making mistakes. It's an investment journey and there is no right time either now or in the future to procure a 100% perfect technology (it doesn’t exist) so progressive learning is the key. The rapid technological response to COVID-19 may unleash a new wave of optimism surrounding the value technology can bring. Newly opened minds may well drive a technology orientated delivery demand. 

In summary, the COVID-19 world should have taught people to be brave, decisive and to not worry about making mistakes. GC's will make decisions, will get most things right and will fail fast if they need to. Work carried out by in-house teams will become more strategic, complex and interesting and job satisfaction and attrition should improve favourably as a result. The legal teams will optimise support through self-service tools and outsourced services to those organisations who can supercharge the transformation journey with their own engaged people, optimised processes and the right technology.  

If you have any questions or would like more information please contact Craig Chaplin, Commerical Director of DWF Mindcrest. 

Find out more about the other big trends impacting the retail industry this year

Further Reading