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Big Law in Transformation
Jonathan, as Allen & Overy’s Chairman of its Innovation Panel, you have to deal with the phenomenon of disruptive developments in the legal services market ex officio. How will this phenomenon change our business within the next 5 to 10 years?
Traditionally, global law firms strove to differentiate themselves from competitors by such factors as expertise and geographic reach. In recent years the opportunity to differentiate has moved increasingly to delivery: how new technologies, process innovation and different types of resourcing can be deployed to create new solutions to our clients‘ challenges. Technology comes in two buckets. On the one hand, we see known applications combined in new ways. Think of tools to support document sharing, workflow, data management or document automation. Those tools are already transforming the legal market. On the other hand, people talk about artificial intelligence gradually taking over lawyers‘ tasks. Of course Allen & Overy is actively exploring the potential of this technologies, but to me it seems that it is not yet pervasive in our industry.
How does Allen & Overy respond to these developments?
Allen & Overy has started an initiative we call Advanced Delivery. It includes various elements such as our Legal Services Centre in Belfast, the Project Management Office, Peerpoint, aosphere (our on-line provision of legal risk management services), the use of new technologies like Collaborate or Ringtail Caseroom and more. All of these initiatives are integral parts of a tool kit designed to further our capability to deliver solutions and expertise to our clients. aosphere, our on-line business established in 2003, has led the way. It has been continuously expanded since then and responds pragmatically to the current needs of clients and to the opportunities that technology offers. Today, it has roughly 300 institutional on-line clients and more than 10,000 individual users. In developing each of our Advanced Delivery capabilities, we try to follow a path starting with an experiment, investing if things look promising and eventually building success. We advance steadily step by step.
Your Belfast operation, opened in 2012, has attracted a great deal of attention in the market. You were the first big law firm to set up a business unit with the aim of providing lower cost resourcing to your clients. Is Belfast a success?
Well, half of our partners have used the services of our Legal Services Centre in Belfast so far; maybe a third are regulars. Clients love dealing with a law firm that takes new approaches to tackling problems. Increasingly, they come to us with new tasks which were previously not necessarily discussed with a law firm, because they trust us, for instance, to deliver under our sole brand both the high end law plus the high volume document review that are part and parcel of a single project. However, the LSC is not a separate business that goes to clients independently of A&O. It is an integrated part of Allen & Overy’s Advanced delivery capability. Thus we did not brand our LSC separately. It is part of the Allen & Overy brand – and that signals high-end legal services, innovation and a huge geographical footprint, with both global and local expertise.
Does your Advanced Delivery Capability initiative affect your recruiting policy?
For a long time most law firms built their hiring and retention policies on three pillars: best talent, best conditions and most attractive office space. In recent years we have created roles that are crucial for running some of our new service-delivery processes but do not necessarily require the traditional skills of a high-end lawyer. The latter might be overqualified for some tasks and at the same time not be in command of the specific abilities needed for these very tasks. So the skill set we are looking for depends on the challenges the various roles bring with them. However, Allen & Overy strongly emphasises its overall culture of excellence in whatever roles we create.
Peerpoint is another most interesting innovation. Is it Allen & Overy’s answer to the needs of „Generation Y“ or is it even a first step towards moving away from the traditional up-or-out business model of law firms?
Peerpoint is a pool of highly qualified, self-employed lawyers we and clients can pick from when staffing short term roles, major projects or projects that require very specific skills. It satisfies a three-fold need: (1) Clients and Allen & Overy benefit from the agility and flexibility Peerpoint provides. It particularly responds to financial constraints that clients may face by avoiding fixed costs when overcoming short term resource shortages. (2) Lawyers who want to do high quality work for high quality clients but are not ready, for whatever reason, to accept permanent employment with either a law firm or a corporate legal department (millennials, part-time professionals or retired colleagues), find it a great platform to stay in touch with the market and continue developing their skillsets. (3) Finally, Allen & Overy’s huge investment in developing its lawyers to meet the highest standards, and their fullest potential, is further capitalised on because they continue working within the A&O orbit, and the loss of investment in people can be reduced.
Your most recent initiative was announced under the name of Partnership & Agility. What does it include?
Partnership & Agility is not an initiative – it’s an expression which we used in our most recent Annual Report and which is trying to articulate Allen & Overy’s mindset and culture. Instead of approaching clients by asking „These are the kinds of work we do (M&A, leveraged finance etc.)- can we do the same kind of work for you?“, we want to pursue a more nuanced approach. We want to ask our clients „What’s on your mind? What keeps you up at night? Let’s team up and possibly include other service providers, with the aim of solving your problems!“. Can you see the difference? Partnership & Agility is about getting out of a lawyer’s silo and partnering with our clients to solve their – often unstructured – business challenges.
Jonathan Brayne is a partner at Allen & Overy, a distinguished law firm and one of the so-called Magic Circle firms. Jonathan practises in the field of energy and infrastructure projects. He works in the firm’s London office but has also gained experience at its offices in New York and Hong Kong. Jonathan is Chairman of Allen & Overy’s India Group, its Innovation Panel and also of its wholly-owned affiliate, aosphere, which provides alternative solutions for legal risk management. Previously he was an elected member of the firm’s Board and Chairman of its global banking group.Read more interviews