One of the best conferences I’ve been to this year was David Cowen’s Ted Talk style summit SOLID in London at the start of November, which I fully intended to write about immediately afterwards, but time has gleefully run away from me, sticking two fingers up in the process.
SOLID stands for Summit on Legal Innovation and Disruption and it is already well established in the US. Cowen, founder of the eponymous talent acquisition and thought leadership group The Cowen Group, is a well-known figure in the US and you can listen to him being interviewed about SOLID in March by industry analyst Ari Kaplan: http://www.reinventingprofessionals.com/embracing-legal-innovation-and-disruption/
In the UK, the event was hosted by Baker McKenzie and Cowen chaired a fairly intimate gathering of largely in-house attendees and speakers, notable by their seniority.
We listened to speakers including Simone Davina, general counsel & board member at Siemens UK; Rob Booth, general counsel and company secretary at The Crown Estate; Stephen Albrecht, general counsel for strategy, structure & operations at Barclays; Janet McCarthy, chief legal officer, general counsel and company secretary at Santa Fe Group; Adam Khan, senior legal counsel – lead global counsel (aviation/marine) at Shell International; Kerry Phillip, legal director at Vodafone Global Enterprise; and Dominic Hornblow, head of legal procurement at AstraZeneca.
Davina was the keynote and shared her perspective on changing business models. Siemens as part of the Industrie 4.0 revolution is shifting from selling projects and products to tech-enabled solutions – buildings, for example, don’t only consume energy but generate it, how can Siemens help customers to reduce their costs and carbon footprint, working with technology? As part of the business, the legal team need to help shape new business models.
Davina said that the business is no longer just coming to the legal team to get approval for contracts, they are asking for help building the new models, commenting: “Digital transformation is changing the entire way we do business.” She added: “Digital as a service is becoming a strategy –how can we provide the solution? It changes your mindset. We need lawyers to help us change the solution and ask the question.
“You’re inventing service businesses that don’t exist – what will those contracts look like? We’re anticipating regulatory issues that are almost unforeseeable.”
Next up was Rob (pictured above with David), who leads the team that looks after the Crown Estate and has initiated what has been dubbed The Bionic Lawyer project. He told the audience that at the Crown Estate, which uses heavily outsourced legal services, the legal team has looked at their ecosystem and effectively split the legal market into two – the top is ‘gold’ and the bottom ‘silver’. Silver is effectively repeatable work that will be taken over by technology. Gold is complex work such as new regulation that no computer can analyse. The Crown Estate is focusing its efforts on gold, which is where they have assessed their competitive advantage lies.
There are 16 attributes that make up a ‘bionic lawyer’ including that they collaborate in real time – not relying on conference calls and emails. They ‘feed’ silver but don’t operate in it and should be comfortable to give up menial tasks.
This is work in progress but if the Crown Estate can get comfortable with this concept and build on that, they really are light years ahead of many if not most other lawyers.
Other highlights of SOLID included:
– Steven Albrecht from Barclays, which as a financial institution is driven by technology, said that one of the legal team’s biggest realisations is that understanding tech is secondary to understanding people, processes and culture. This is a drum that I have been banging at talks I’ve given and panels I’ve sat on this year, and it was great to hear Steven say that once Barclays legal understands where the data flows, then they will be willing to look to tech providers to create efficiencies.
– Adam Khan at Shell shared how he spearheaded a project to make Shell’s contracts more visual and customer-centric. “In your personal life, with your bank or insurance company we see contract terms in plain English, why can’t we do that in BtoB?” He asked. So, Shell is putting its contracts into plain English, starting with its Marine business. “The business loves it and feels empowered. It changes how the legal team is perceived,” he said. The plan is to roll out plain English contracts in three other material businesses.
– Kerry Phillip talked about Vodafone’s legal transformation programme, which has been written about often but that made it no less interesting to hear about the process they used to initiate full scale change to the way the legal department operates. As part of ‘The Lego Project’ the Vodafone team engaged in a process mapping exercise before looking at the technology, but then it worked on digitising and centralising its contract creation and storage, cutting 16 databases to one and reducing the time it took to create a contract by 20%. Low value work is sent offshore and one of the most interesting part of Kerry’s talk was hearing her say that this allowed the legal team to breathe and focus on change. Lack of time is one of the biggest barriers to innovation.
– Leah Cooper, a legal consultant and one of my favourite talks of the afternoon, challenged everyone in the room to ask why they are doing the work they do. Leah has been working with in-house teams to work out their core objectives and how they are, in reality, delivering against those objectives. The reason the legal team is there is to help the business grow; to help run the business; to defend it; and to protect the business. Working with a retail client and mapping data from the billing system, it was obvious that they were doing well in defending it in litigation but not protecting it. They have now mapped their objectives and found they need to bring in lawyers will different skill sets to achieve their objectives.
I’ve missed out a huge amount of good speakers and apologies to them: I will be following up with a few more in-depth individual profiles.
If I had to draw one conclusion from a very diverse range of talks, it would be that forward thinking in-house legal teams are waking up to the need to analyse exactly what it is they do, before they invest money in technology. Barclays uses the likes of Seal and Luminance and there is no suggestion that they are shying away from technology, but in order to become more efficient and automate your processes, you need to know what those processes are. It’s a no brainer, but something that is not being replicated across the industry, including by law firms.
But asking ‘why’ you’re doing something is a precursor to everything. It’s all very well knowing that you spend 60% of your time on litigation and focusing on automating your processes in that area, but it’s a bit like creating a self-drive car with square wheels.
The key thing at SOLID was the lack of death by panel: there is a time and a place for a good panel discussion and we will of course have a few during our two and a half day Gleneagles CIO conference in March. But at SOLID, people gained more from the town hall discussions built into the programme than they would from hours of discussions on stage.
Well done to David, who, incidentally, kicked off the conference by telling everyone that among his many interests he likes tequila. So, I think we’re going to be friends.