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What’s on the minds of New Zealand in-house lawyers?

Posted by Allen Li on 01-Jun-2017 09:46:50

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In my last blog, I discussed how suppliers to in-house lawyers must understand the needs of in-house lawyers, before being able to effectively help them.  Over two days and three evenings at ILANZ 2017, I realised that this requirement to understand is ongoing.  New Zealand in-house lawyers are an evolving bunch who continue to learn themselves.  So what did I take away?

New Zealand in-house lawyers are unique

The approach of in-house lawyers in New Zealand is often different to those based overseas.  I had underestimated this, even though I had been on two secondments to in-house teams in New Zealand before heading to work in-house in London.  

Two reasons for the differences in approach are differences in size and general attitude.  I had previously highlighted that in-house teams in New Zealand are very small.  From my conversations at ILANZ, I was pleasantly surprised to find that small in-house teams in New Zealand are willing to make decisions and make do with what limited resources they have.  Some of the “number-eight wire” type solutions I heard were “interesting”, but they seemed to do the trick!     

The pace at which things need to happen isn’t slower here.  But, rather than facing decision-paralysis or farming all overflow to external firms, they are more ready to make a call themselves based on their own risk analysis, using experiences gathered over a number of years.

The importance of courage, leadership and diversity

Making calls takes courage.  The courage to trust one’s judgment must have been galvanised after hearing Rabia Siddique’s incredible story of courage when faced with extraordinary hardship and prejudice.  Rabia’s closing session was the perfect end to Ngahihi O Te Ra Bidois’ opening – a powerful call to self-reflect.  In between, there were various sessions on these themes, including one by Simon Tupman on leadership, which struck a chord with a lot of attendees.      

What I learned from this is that New Zealand in-house lawyers seek to be well-rounded people, both inside and outside of work.  Conferences such as ILANZ allow them to think about what matters to them, and provide encouragement for how even one person can make a real difference to the organisation they work for.

The desire to learn from other New Zealanders

New Zealand in-house lawyers have a real thirst to learn from, and mingle with, their counterparts in other organisations.  I had never been to a conference where the attendees listened so attentively and were so willing to strike up a conversation with someone they had never met. 

I guess when you have no/limited ability to speak to another lawyer in your own team, it becomes that much more important to have an opportunity such as ILANZ to share experiences with other in-house lawyers.  Putting faces to names also makes future negotiations and interactions that much more human.  

At the end of the day, the speakers at ILANZ were often people who are in the same position as the attendees - people that the attendees could relate to.  That’s why the really frank and balanced session from Caroline Beaumont (Coca-cola Amatil NZ) and Gaye Searancke (ACC) was such a hit.  While the attendees were laughing at the experiences Caroline and Gaye shared, they were undoubtedly also laughing at themselves too, having been through similar situations and come out the other side.

I was also pleasantly surprised by how many people took a real interest in what we (LawHawk) are offering in the document automation space.  Sure, some may have approached us because we had a stamp they needed to have a chance to win a free set of Bose noise-cancelling headphones, but many others really did seem genuinely interested.  They were curious as to what tools are out there to help them solve the challenges their organisation faces.  While I learned a lot from the attendees, I hope that they learned from us that document automation is one simple, but extremely effective, piece of the puzzle.

The desire to learn from other people from overseas

New Zealand in-house lawyers are willing to learn from international experience, but they’re also aware enough to know that the international experience cannot always be replicated exactly in the New Zealand context.  

Take Dan Fitz’s session, for example.  Dan is the Group General Counsel and Company Secretary at BT.  Dan spoke about how BT transformed its legal function, referring to actions such as more extensive (but targeted) use of third party legal providers to provide a quasi-in-house solution, scaling down of internal legal resource, and better management of external law firm spend.  On the last one, I’m pretty sure he said that just having a system that tracks all law firm spend reduced their external law firm bill by 94%!  Lawvu anyone?  

At question time, one person asked Dan if he thought the BT experience could be scaled down to work in the New Zealand environment.  I almost feel like Simon Cowell when I say:  it’s the ability to take one person’s experience and “make it your own” that will dictate the success or failure of implementation.   

There is a lot of legal tech out there

Peter Connor’s (Alternatively Legal) session covering various legal technologies was probably a real eye-opener for a lot of attendees.   One attendee asked a fair question:  how do you choose from so many different providers and is there a “platform” that can do it all?  Peter’s answer was that there isn’t currently a platform that can do it all.  In its absence, it is a case of finding the best of breed, something that I discussed in my blog on what a great outcome with legal tech looks like.

Finish with a proverb (like any good Chinese man should)

Charles Bolt spoke about the vision for Fletcher Building Legal.  In his action plan, he had “Teach them to fish”.  This, of course, comes from the old proverb: “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day.  Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime, and you minimise that chance that, in the future, you’ll be presented with manky and rotten fish that he wants to eat immediately and you have to somehow make it edible from the mess of a fish he has created because he didn’t follow the guidelines you put in place that seemed harder to mess up than get right”.  

For us at LawHawk, it’s about empowering others, as well as freeing up more of your time.  

Thanks to ILANZ and everyone I spoke to there.  I really did learn a heck of a lot!

Topics: Document Automation, In-House Legal, Future of Law, Practise of Law

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