Chris Fowler is BT Group general counsel for technology and transformation, responsible for the legal support to the telecoms giant’s tech arm. He will be speaking at this year’s LegalWeek CONNECT conference, as part of a panel of senior in-house lawyers discussing collaboration and how alliances can benefit internal legal teams.

At LegalWeek CONNECT you’re part of a panel discussion on legal departments and how they can drive better collaboration, both internally and externally – what are you expecting to touch on?

What I’ve envisaged is to talk about how we’re trying to get our different providers to work together, as opposed to working individually. Also, we want to talk about how teams are using technology to encourage more collaboration, and how to facilitate these to get the best possible outcomes from our teams. And, more generally, we want to talk about why collaboration is important and what it really means.

What does collaboration mean to you personally?

It’s about encouraging more interaction across boundaries within a business, and empowering people to do more, to integrate more, and to talk more, rather than just sticking to their individual jobs and not branching out beyond that.

Technology is a key focus for you – is this a particular area where there are opportunities for collaboration? Should law firms and their clients be working together to develop new tech solutions?

Sometimes law firms get a hard time when talking about technology. But it’s noticeable to me that there are some law firms that are very much looking to embrace new technology and forefront innovation within their firms to give their clients the best service.

How can technology make collaboration easier? 

We use Microsoft teams, (a platform that combines workplace chat, meetings, notes and attachments), which allows us to share information, share ideas and talk a lot more between teams.

It offers an alternative to formally writing someone an email. Instead, you can share things like pictures, gifs and emojis. It’s fun to use and you don’t have the issue of trying to get people to collaborate through more boring, traditional systems.

How important is the culture of a business when it comes to encouraging collaboration?

I would go so far to say it’s the most important thing – it’s massive. Unless you’ve got the right mindset and the culture within your company – of learning things by failing – you’re never going to get to where you want to be. But that clashes with how lawyers are traditionally trained, which can create a few problems.

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How can in-house lawyers play a role in driving collaboration?

In-house functions can play a big part by being more transparent with the firms they work with about what they expect from them and explaining their overall strategy and vision to them. It needs to be more than just a discussion; it’s also about having a good relationship between firms and organisations.

What is BT doing to encourage collaboration, both internally and with its external law firms?

Internally, BT is trying to bring teams closer together and encouraging people to do things in different practice groups, so that teams are moving around a bit and working within other teams.

With our external law firms, we’re trying to drive a project where we don’t just go to one firm. You shouldn’t just assume that the best approach is by giving everything to just one firm. Instead, we want to break up the work and give it to lots of different firms for them to work together on a united project.

I’ve found that more and more firms are leaning more towards innovation, meaning the sense of collaboration is strong.

What are the the kind of roadblocks you’ve faced when trying to encourage better collaboration?

One roadblock we’ve seen is when people are fixated on the downsides and risks to certain projects. This attitude doesn’t work when you’re trying to create something new, but will get better if people commit more.

There’s also a problem of people feeling nervous about losing control. There’s a traditional view that keeping everything within one firm is the best way, because if you work with lots of firms then you’re going to be using up all your time and energy trying to organise and collaborate them all.

But if all the studies say that bringing people together encourages the most creativity, why wouldn’t the technique of bringing together more than one firm be valuable for a company?

What about LegalWeek CONNECT are you looking forward to?

The key thing that I think will be great at LegalWeek CONNECT is hearing about real case studies out there that demonstrate these practices working. An awful lot goes on in this area of work, but it’s not until you actually come together and talk about it that we see these ideas truly come together and really flourish.


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