14 November 2018 | By Jonathan Marsh
New role models
How modernisation changes the profession of company lawyers
As the activities of company lawyers have changed over the decades, so has their function. With the world becoming smaller and more intertwined, the role and responsibility of company lawyers has increased.
Multinational corporations must now make every effort to identify and manage risks and their legal departments are at the very centre of it. The counsels’ role is moving beyond approving contracts and managing disputes into a role where they can be seen as business partners. Company lawyers of today must consider business, personnel, financial, and technical information, work on the issues of compliance and governance, and shed light on potential risks.
Globalisation is not a new problem for multinationals, however the challenges grow increasingly, making it necessary to find solutions at a faster pace. Pursuant to the Association of Corporate Counsel 2015 Global Census, 71% of legal departments in companies with more than 50,000 employees deal with globalisation-related issues. This requires in-house counsel to be knowledgeable of different legal systems and aware of local legal, cultural and ethical requirements, aligning them with the interests of the business whilst considering social and environmental issues.
Company lawyers, when addressing such challenges, must consider not only applicable legislation, but also soft law, relevant to the geopolitical environment.
From bookshelves to databases
Globalisation is not the only driving force for change for company lawyers – the digitisation of everything transforms the way people work, including in-house counsel. It is already transforming the business model, customer relations, and the structure of the company – issues that must be addressed by company lawyers. Currently, the most relevant themes are cybersecurity and personal data protection. In-house counsel of today must be experts in these fields. But these themes will soon be replaced, which will require company lawyers to again adapt and gain an additional field of expertise.
Teachers in the past professed the sentiment that people will not have calculators with them all the time. In the present, where a calculator in your pocket is just an afterthought, technology has completely integrated to our everyday lives in ways that people do not even notice. Similarly, company lawyers with decades of experience could never have imagined as fresh graduates, how different their day-to-day life will be in the future. Going to the library to search in books filled with case law to research legal questions, drafting documents by hand and then handing them over to word processing teams, or spending days in physical data rooms leafing through thousands of pages of documents are all becoming relics of the past.
Leaving commodity work to software
The legal technology field is growing at a rapid pace – from contract and due diligence analysis software to e-Discovery tools to online case law repositories to smart contracts – the solutions that software can provide company lawyers will soon be endless. These tools, however, cannot yet replace lawyers’ critical judgment and ability to take advantage of collective intelligence. Nevertheless, by leaving manual tasks to software, company lawyers can increasingly focus on the content and other creative aspects of the work, which are the main factors why young people go to study law in the first place.
The adoption of legal technology has been fruitful. For example, Coca-Cola Enterprises is able to manage 80 percent of legal matters in-house. Vodafone has introduced technological solutions to better coordinate its 500 lawyers spread across 26 locations. Not only can such solutions save time and money for companies, but they also provide freedom to company lawyers – enabling them to focus on more creative tasks wherever they are. In-house does not entail that the person has to be physically present anymore.
The trends with globalisation and legal technology will continue in the foreseeable future. Company lawyers will increasingly provide input on business strategies, taking into consideration a plethora of issues that can negatively impact a company. Most time-consuming tasks will be taken over by software solutions, leaving more time and energy for strategic tasks. One thing is for certain – the current day-to-day activities of company lawyers will definitely be surprising to company lawyers in the future.
Jonathan Marsh is International General Counsel at Total Marketing & Services and the president of ECLA. With a professional career spanning three decades, Jonathan has experienced firsthand how technology has transformed legal departments. Jonathan was recently unanimously re-elected as ECLA president.