Enabling disruption through ‘proactive and connected law’
Speaking to Lawyers Weekly about LawVu’s new online forum InView, Sian Simpson detailed how essential it is for in-house counsel to better share and learn from each other at this critical juncture for the market.
Legal is the “last function within an organisation to be disrupted”, Sian Simpson mused, particularly in light of how legal functions are being asked to do more with less, and deal with more complexity.
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“We’ve found that they are wanting to share with their peers and talk about what they are doing, how they are implementing change or new processes etc. They are dealing with changes to their external environment and a more complicated political climate, which equals more risk (but also more opportunity),” she said.
It is against this backdrop that matter and contract management software company LawVu created InView earlier this year: an online community for in-house legal professionals to share, connect and learn, which already boasts members and contributors from major markets all over the world.
Ms Simpson, who serves as InView’s editor and community director, told Lawyers Weekly that LawVu wants to “ensure that our community is inclusive and represents the world, this means having something available and accessible for in-house counsel globally that spans borders and countries, that is also equitable”.
“It’s a vendor agonistic platform for sharing current stories and experiences from the frontline as they are shaped. It’s our view that these stories and experiences are building the next version of what best practice looks like, so we wanted to provide a platform to tell some of those stories,” she outlined.
“It’s important to get our community talking to one another (which they told us they were missing) in a fun and fresh way that is more in line with what they are used to reading and consuming (sans the red lines!). Community is all about a group of people coming together around a shared interest, purpose or goal, in a way that is meaningful for them.”
It’s an important platform, Ms Simpson explained, because as the world and business environment grows increasingly more dynamic and complex, “people, and particularly lawyers, need safe spaces to share ideas, collaborate, grow, and perhaps feel less lonely in a way that suits them”.
“No need to tell you that they hold a lot in their heads and have a unique set of characteristics that perhaps set them apart from the other functions like marketing, sales and finance,” she opined.
Leaning into a hybrid world
Based on her observations of the growing legal community, Ms Simpson posited that the primary hurdles facing in-house lawyers are operating within increasingly limited constraints and being able to better leverage technology to create more efficiency in their workflows but also help with the heavy workloads.
“I think we have a mental health challenge that we have spoken about lately, which is how do we operate in a responsible way that creates a nurturing environment for in-house legal teams where people can thrive, and how can we not burn out our own teams, and private practice colleagues too,” she added.
“There are increasing compliance, governance, and regulatory complexities that will continue to pop up, and we are seeing that more and more of our community are being asked to step into hybrid roles where they might look after the legal portfolio but also something else, which is a great opportunity.”
Moreover, Ms Simpson pointed out, law department leaders must contend with how best to manage risk whilst also making themselves available as strategic advisers for the business.
“Then there is the age-old thing around not being the department of no, and figuring out how to provide and prove value to the business, and working in harmony with the rest of the business, rather than being that handbrake,” she reflected.
In the face of all this, she said, knowledge sharing and open communication are going to be immensely important, especially when done in the right way in a safe space.
“Having good community guidelines and almost a good community social contract is a great way to ensure that it is additive as opposed to anything else. I also think that lawyers and in-house counsel want this; ultimately, they are people too. I think sometimes their perceived persona gets in the way of people remembering that they are first and foremost human beings too, that just so happen to have a very specific skill set.”
One can’t be what you can’t see, she argued.
“We often talk about T-shaped lawyers; the industry isn’t going to change without these bold and courageous people sharing their own stories, journey, and experience with others to help create the change.”
Helping overcome issues and challenges
When asked if she thinks legal communities will be exclusively virtual in the future, Ms Simpson said no.
Instead, she said, “I think we’ll see a hybrid where offline and online meet to create a great experience.”
“I like to explain it as events and content create momentum, and in-between the lulls of activity, you have community, peer-to-peer connection, and the community self-organising to create things and fulfil their own needs. This is when you know you have a true community, which is the community creating things for themselves. I see InView as creating a nexus to help initially facilitate bringing these people together,” she said.
There is no substitute for meeting people in person, Ms Simpson went on, as you can form great connections and a bond, that you can maintain in an online environment, “and as a result of the pandemic, I think we’ll also see the inverse of this, which is a strongly built online relationship will then become ever stronger or crystalised when we can finally get the community together in person”.
Technology, Ms Simpson submitted, “enables proactive and connected law”.
The opportunities that arise from this, she said, are such that “the legal capital built up over time stays in the business and doesn’t get outsourced with the rest of the high-value work because the legal team is too busy doing the low-value high-frequency stuff”.
“I’m also tremendously excited for the in-house lawyers that I know who are embedded in the business teams and working with them to achieve better business outcomes,” she noted.
“When you talk to in-house counsel about why they went in-house, it’s often because they are also great commercially minded people who want to work towards something bigger, which is helping the business to achieve its mission and purpose.”
Lawyers see and touch everything in a business, Ms Simpson continued.
“You could almost say they are unofficially at the heart of it, with that comes an immense ability to drive better outcomes to the business, if only the business could figure that out, faster, and get past the fact that they are more than a ‘tick box’.”
Moving forward, Ms Simpson said that she is excited to help build an “amazing and inclusive” global community of in-house lawyers who “want to disrupt their own industry together”.
“If you told me a year ago I’d be building a community of lawyers, I would have laughed at you. What I’ve learned is that the people I get to speak with and help every day are amazing people with great ideas, and I can’t wait to keep connecting them to one another and helping them to create the future of legal.”