Driving efficiency ‘doesn’t have to be complex or sophisticated’ for in-house counsel
Optimisation and efficiency are now must-haves for legal departments — and those who don’t keep up have been warned that their day-to-day operations will only get harder.
Stacy Ford is the head of legal in the office of the general counsel at BigLaw firm King & Wood Mallesons. Speaking recently on the Corporate Counsel Show, he discussed emerging trends for in-house counsel in Australia and why they need to create efficiency and optimisation within their legal departments.
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Moving into 2023, Mr Ford said that there are a number of risks for in-house lawyers to be aware of, particularly in the face of a potential recession.
“We may be looking at a potential recession, certainly a softening in the market. That in itself will have its own strains on organisations and potentially on in-house counsel units where they look at their budget and their resourcing and what they need to control and influence within the team and the organisation,” he said.
“So, I think it’s probably more pertinent now to get ahead of that. Look, there [are] certain industries that will be more impacted than others. So, let’s say if there was a recession, it’ll likely impact the retail industry. We’ve seen in the construction and building industry that there [have] been issues going on there as well.”
If there is a lull in certain industries, Mr Ford said this would be a perfect time for in-house counsel to “take a step back” and “regroup from a high-tempo period”. This, he said, is likely to help drive innovation within organisations.
“I think once you do that process, then naturally, these efficiencies will start to fall out. You’ll start to identify areas that you can tighten up. The organisation, although yes, it could be costly, should look at what [it] can do to harness legal technology. But I think, probably the real important thing if there is coming into a level would be focusing on your people and retention of people as well, and also building your legal capital out,” he explained.
“So, I think yes, if there’s a softening of the market and there’s a lull, it’s not the time to sit back and do nothing. There are absolutely opportunities, though, for you to position yourself or for the future and for the tempo to pick up.”
Additionally, legal departments should be consistently checking in on how efficient their processes are — especially with a variety of new legislation set to come through next year.
“I think the big-ticket item we’re going to see going into 2023 is our privacy law reforms, and that’s obviously being spurred on. Well, the reform was in the mix prior to, I suppose, the major data breaches that we’ve seen with Medibank and Optus, but we’ve seen the government put through reforms at the tail end of last year, increasing penalties under that. Then the general framework is already under a complete review anyway,” Mr Ford added.
“So, I think going into 2023, we’re going to see this change in privacy law space continue. It may align to be more similar to the GDPR in the EU and the UK, which have more robust requirements in place, and in-house counsel are going to have to be across that. That’s going to be a key area that they’re going to have to advise on going forward.”
Consequently, without increased efficiency and process optimisation, in-house legal departments will struggle with strategic value — as well as make their day-to-day generally harder.
“It’s just really for in-house counsel units and general counsel to consider how you balance the time that you have and the resources that you have to meet those strategic value matters and those requirements, and also try and meet some of the lower value matters, which inherently need to be dealt with as well.
“I think it just comes down to taking the opportunity to reflect back on what has probably been for most in-house counsel units at a fairly high tempo period. If we do go into a softening market, to take the opportunity to sit back and reflect on the key achievements that you’ve completed during that high-tempo time, but also think about those lessons that have been learned during that as well, and then to take those learning points and build a framework around them to see where you can optimise your team,” Mr Ford concluded.
“It doesn’t have to be complex or sophisticated. It’s literally going back to the basics and starting with the life cycle of the matter from matter inception to matter management to delivering the advice or whatever the outcome of that matter is, and to matter closure, and just going back and having a look at that and seeing where you can tighten things up in that process.”
The transcript of this podcast episode was slightly edited for publishing purposes. To listen to the full conversation with Stacy Ford, click below: