Insights on developing an in-house strategy for business success

Legal leaders on evolving legal services and developing resourcing strategy for in-house departments

Insights on developing an in-house strategy for business success
Chelsea McKay Hazewinkel, Chief Legal Officer of The Paladin Security Group, Ian Holloway, Dean of the University of Calgary Faculty of Law, and Anoop Dogra, Managing Partner of Simplex Legal LLP

This article was created in partnership with Simplex

In this time of universal belt tightening, legal leaders and their teams are evaluating resourcing strategies to most effectively meet the demands of the business, while providing their teams with the necessary resources and support to succeed. In a recent interview with Canadian Lawyer, Chelsea McKay Hazewinkel, Chief Legal Officer of The Paladin Security Group, Ian Holloway, Dean of the University of Calgary Faculty of Law, and Anoop Dogra, Managing Partner of Simplex Legal LLP, discussed the constant evolution of legal services, changes in the approach to legal education and training, and ever-changing market needs in Canada.

A new approach is needed

“We’re currently in an evolving landscape of legal services, delivery of legal services, and consumption of legal services,” says Dogra. “Incorporating flexible legal talent in a law department strategy is critical because it allows companies to adjust legal resources as things evolve — whether it be the economy or the work itself.”

At this point in time, “neuroplasticity is our modus operandi,” says Hazewinkel.  

“It’s not about what you know, it’s about what you can learn next and apply. A successful M.O. is a deliberate commitment to a discipline of curiosity and humility. Lawyers, who naturally love novel situations and problem-solving, are very well-positioned to navigate paradigm shifts in business as in-house lawyers continue to move past reactive, knowledge-based service delivery to the intense application of competitive business strategy.”

While lawyers thrive on intellectual stimulation, there’s a mindset issue that can keep them tied to tradition — to their detriment. When it comes to system reform, those in the legal profession tend to “stumble our way from crisis to crisis rather than going mindfully into the future,” says Holloway.

Another professional route for lawyers

Another major change is that the partner track is no longer the only one worth taking, in fact, it’s often not even the race young lawyers want to run. Today, the career paths available to lawyers are many and varied — and rarely do people stick to just one.

“Legal employers need to respond to the changing expectations of the next generation,” says Dogra.

For many, “there's a desire to be part of something bigger than themselves,” and for Hazewinkel, it’s the in-house world — which has evolved greatly even over the last decade — that best suits her personality and aspirations.

“I practice in-house because every day I want to practice law, I want to practice business, and I want to practice leadership with the goal of getting better at all three disciplines,” she says. “I sit at the decision-making table, to be a business partner, not just an advisor, to influence the shape of society through the business, and because to have ownership of decisions, as well as personal and professional stake, is compelling. The opportunity to have scope and influence draws change-makers in.”

In the face of external pressure such as economic realities as well as increasing awareness of the immense capabilities of other models of doing work, “we’re seeing gradual movement” of the profession with respect to the broader changes, Dogra says, adding that many are “being forced to rethink their existing strategies.”

“Again, legal professionals need to go mindfully into the future,” Holloway says. “We have very smart, very hard-working people who can consciously design systems that will help us flourish as a profession. That includes embracing ways to promote efficiency, leveraging new strategies not to do old stuff faster, but to think about new ways to do things differently.”

Cost, efficiency — and wellbeing

Having been in-house after leaving Big Law, Dogra is well aware of the resource and budget constraints in a legal department. “At Simplex, our value lies in our ability to ramp up the capacity of the department, without ever compromising on the talent,” Dogra continues, “It gives law departments the capability to operate the business during peaks, troughs, or whatever the circumstances may be.”

The bottom line is with many law departments stretched, there are only two choices: “Your internal people burn out or you find somebody who can jump in and pinch hit when the need arises,” says Dogra. “It’s good for the health of your team to have a resource to count on. Somebody in-house as needed, on an ad hoc basis, releases that pressure valve a little and allows everyone to operate at full capacity, work- and wellbeing-wise.”

Flexible legal talent allows those running legal departments to efficiently manage their team’s workload, including the ability to keep the most engaging work; flex legal talent is key to growing and running any modern legal team.

The right talent fit

For Hazewinkel, it’s about being laser-focused on “deliberate and disciplined thinking as to how the legal department supports the business of today and tomorrow in an efficient and creative way, appropriate for the needs, including timeliness, of specific ‘in the moment’ situations as well as the overall needs using a longer lens.”

“Lawyers, with the benefit of issue-based analysis training and advocacy skills, are well-positioned to execute ‘courageous leadership,’ a critical component of business success post-covid,” she adds.

Law and education for the next generation

When it comes to the next generation, Holloway says the University of Calgary has a clear mission to prepare its students for the profession they’re joining, not the one he joined. Unique among Canadian law schools, the law faculty at the University of Calgary educates students on things like project management, marketing, leadership, business skills, and client development.

“Part of the objective is to introduce students to the idea of looking at legal problems through the eyes of clients, rather than the eyes of lawyers,” Holloway says. “Lawyers now more than ever need to be more than smart. They need to be empathetic and resilient. They need to have a team ethos, courageous leadership, and be capable of adapting and anticipating. If all we're doing is educating lawyers in the same way that they were educated in the latter part of the 19th century, we're doing no one a service.”

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