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ICW: the Scottish perspective

16 July 18

The Scot invited to co-chair the ICW summit reflects on the standout themes from the conference for him

by Kenny Robertson

At the invitation of the Law Society of Scotland, I had the pleasure of co-chairing the In-house Counsel Worldwide (“ICW”) summit in Toronto, organised jointly with the Canadian Corporate Counsel Association (“CCCA”). The Society joined ICW in August 2017: it is a growing network focused on the promotion of best practice and collaboration across in-house legal teams, globally. The event had more than 400 delegates in attendance. Among the common themes that emerged, three stood out for me: the desire to develop a more progressive relationship with private law firms; the opportunities presented by design thinking; and how to promote social inclusion and safeguard the vulnerable. 

Social purpose

The conference began with a documentary screening of I am Jane Doe, followed by a panel discussion on its key themes. If you are not aware of the film, I encourage you to set aside 90 minutes to watch and share it with your teams. 

The film is a documentary about sex trafficking of young girls in North America. It is not an easy watch. However, the huge pro bono commitment by several law firms highlighted the potential to make a meaningful difference to the lives of the most vulnerable. The subsequent panel discussion created much discussion about what more the profession could do, and the ethical considerations surrounding the role of in-house lawyers. 

It would have been easy for the conference not to have tackled such difficult subjects, but to the credit of the organisers that they were willing to begin like this. I know many had cause to reflect on whether more could be done by lawyers (in-house or private practice) to support those in need. The challenge for lawyers is as relevant in Scotland as in Canada.

Optimising relationships with external support

Relationships between in-house and private practice focused specifically on trends in invitations to tender. 

Procurement practices are more heavily influencing law firm appointment. Requests for proposals have become longer and more sophisticated (and with shorter response times). Increasingly they focus on areas such as diversity and inclusion, or collaboration among firms. Opaque responses which fail to address the questions properly result in frustration. Large in-house teams continue to measure law firm performance with greater sophistication, using scorecards and KPIs. 

More widely, the level of client service received by in-house teams was widely discussed. A number of law firms were represented, and fully engaged on how to collaborate and develop their support models, but despite the evident commitment to pro bono work and social inclusion initiatives in the operating models of several large firms, it was clear to me that a number of in-house lawyers – 75% in one survey cited – currently do not feel adequately supported by their law firms. 

A disinclination to understand and support their in-house clients’ goals, priorities or challenges, little proactivity to share learnings or best practice, and an overemphasis on “what’s in it for them” were issues frequently aired. As the legal market continues to be disrupted through new entrants, innovation and technology, law firm partners might reflect on whether their in-house clients would really be in the 25% of positive respondents.

Design thinking

Cat Moon, Professor of Law at Vanderbilt University, Nashville, ran a “sprint” on human-centred design. “Human-centred design” for lawyers is focused on encouraging us continually to view problems and challenges from the client’s perspective. Split into groups, we aimed to crowd-source and then execute the best ideas. The session produced some high-quality ideas and is one of the many initiatives I have brought back to explore further with my own colleagues. As legal operations departments become more prevalent, wider experimentation with design thinking would be a positive step for the profession. (For more information see legalproblemsolving.org, and Cat Moon’s podcast at leftfoot.com/110-cat-moon/

The pitch

The conference closed with the “pitch”, showcasing Toronto’s vibrant legal technology community. Virtual platforms designed to improve access to justice, online legal cost management portals, e-discovery tools and patent searching services via Facebook Messenger were all presented, and the standard of innovation was incredibly high. 

A couple of closing thoughts. First, the Society should be commended for joining and driving forward its engagement with ICW. There is much to be learned from (and shared with) ICW and its members. Secondly, the CCCA and ICW could not have done more for me as co-chair, and the others who attended from Scotland were made to feel as welcome and at home as I was. 

Kenny Robertson, head of services, RBS Legal

A small legal world

Graeme McWilliams, convener of the In-house Lawyers’ Committee, comments: “I found my time in Toronto to be very useful and really enjoyed sharing best in-house practices and networking with other in-house lawyers. We all share a lot of common concerns and goals, and it is a small legal world. We also usefully benchmarked on the promotion of in-house legal careers and encouraging more in-house traineeships. In-house ethics was one of the themes of the conference, which included discussion of human trafficking and the UK’s Modern Slavery Act 2015, and I was able to share our work experience of the latter.” 

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