Cross-firm collaboration one result of innovative legal tech: part one
By Germán Morales
Germán Morales is an experienced international legal corporate counsel and business advisor. He is the program director for the Professional LL.M. in International Business Law at OPD-Osgoode Hall Law School at York University and teaches international business transactions, comparative legal systems, and in-house counsel – law and practice.
This article was originally published by The Lawyer’s Daily, part of LexisNexis Canada Inc.
At 5 p.m. on a Wednesday, a senior partner of a law firm in Toronto received a call from the general counsel (GC) of one of her clients based in Australia. During the call, the GC explained in detail a strategic M&A opportunity that had just emerged. It involved the acquisition of a corporation with significant assets in Canada, France, Italy, Germany, South Africa, Russia, India and eight countries in Latin America. As the chief legal officer of the corporation, she would manage the efforts of her team internally but needed the assistance from her external counsel with the proposed transaction. Legalese was not only absent in the call, but also disdained. Modern international legal counsel speak business in plain English and assume the use of technology in legal matters.
The GC asked to have another call at 4 p.m. on the next day and that the firm send the following information to her as soon as possible in preparation for the call: a detailed work plan laid out by tasks, a critical path, a description of the firm’s legal team and the pricing proposal for the legal services. She was particularly interested in how the firm would manage the due diligence phase involving multiple jurisdictions, numerous documents and different languages and how she would be kept apprised daily of the progress.
Immediately after the call, the firm’s working team got together to plan and co-ordinate the next steps. Ninety per cent of the meeting’s time was used to talk business, discuss logistics and commercial terms. The excellence of the firm’s knowledge and experience was a given and they knew they could deliver outstanding legal services. Their biggest challenge however was not a legal question, but rather their value proposition. They had to think how to show value to their client right from the start of the transaction, which would ultimately differentiate them from other law firms.
Among other things, the team discussed a realistic scoping of the project (defining tasks, activities and milestones), deliverables, appropriate staffing for the matter, their availability of technology and knowledge management, the access to collaborative digital platforms and portals and smart contracts. They also discussed the use of artificial intelligence for document review, digital databases and virtual data rooms for the due diligence process, with a keen interest in developing an effective communication plan for all stakeholders located in different jurisdictions (including the co-ordination with local counsel) and the type of reports they would produce to monitor the project and keep the GC and the rest of the team members informed. The group was especially focused on budgeting and pricing the project generally and by phase and offering alternative pricing arrangements. To work on the proposal, the firm used matter management platforms and digital pricing tools.
Once the internal meeting was over and after a long overnight, the team felt comfortable they had expeditiously prepared an excellent work plan and reasonable pricing structure and they were ready for the 4 p.m. call. As promised, they sent the plan and pricing proposal to the GC in anticipation of the call.
Like in other industries, the legal profession has started speaking about “value” in recent years. It is an evasive concept that is difficult to grasp objectively but seminal for a business-minded person.
In order to show value, legal teams (both in-house and external counsel) need to innovate in the delivery of their services, and technology is a tremendous tool to assist them in this innovation process. Lawyers need to keep current and make decisions based on reliable data.
Technology facilitates horizontality in decision-making processes and the inclusion of team members that are not necessarily located in the same place. The best legal teams are plural and diverse. They welcome professionals from different fields and backgrounds and are managed with a minimal vertical approach.
The future of the legal industry is for lawyers who are highly adaptable and flexible, open-minded professionals who can manage change while navigating different disciplines, and who have a vast international exposure with a businesslike approach. Well-rounded legal professionals need to have an understanding of technology and project management skills, especially if they advise clients who do business internationally.
The use of collaborative platforms enables different law firms to work on one single matter co-ordinately. This is changing the dynamics of law firms that are based on a business model that offers clients one firm covering all fields of law. Today, digital portals and platforms allow lawyers from various law firms to collaborate on a matter and contribute their expertise, which can benefit clients enormously. Clients can now choose the best professionals in each field, regardless of their location or affiliation, and place them in a hub of synergies to work together as a team.
The advantages of the use of technology in international transactions involving multiple stakeholders in different countries are unquestionable. Videoconferencing and document sharing platforms allow remote work and support the implementation of communication plans to keep everybody on the same page during the life of the project.
This is part one of a two-part series. Part two includes:
- More cross-firm collaboration one result of innovative legal tech