Kate Burns, general counsel and company secretary of Notonthehighstreet, will be speaking later this month at LegalWeek CONNECT, which will be focused on collaboration, diversity and inclusivity. Burns, who spent 15 years at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer before joining the online retailer, will be part of a workshop looking at how clients and law firms can both benefit from collaborative tech innovation hubs.
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?
I’d like to touch on how law firms and in-house lawyers can driver better collaboration through creating a better relationship with one another. I believe that law firms have lost touch with their clients to a certain amount, so, for me, it’s about starting there.
What does the term collaboration mean to you personally?
It’s about relationships. Between a law firm and a client; I believe it’s about law firms understanding the business and the individuals they’re working with. At Notonthehighstreet, I’ve had firms turn up to pitch with a team entirely made up of men dressed in suits. But that’s just not who we are – we are a predominantly female and very informal business – and it shows a basic lack of understanding.
Technology is a key focus for your part of the workshop – is this a particular area where there are opportunities for collaboration?
Technology can absolutely facilitate collaboration. But between law firms and clients, I am sceptical about what is on offer. I’d like to see the basics got right first, such as being able to access WIP in real time, using electronic signatures etc.
Are there any examples you can cite of using technology to encourage collaboration in your company?
With our more traditional external advisers and providers, there aren’t many examples. We do use F-LEX. F-LEX is a fairly new online platform that connects us with pre-vetted paralegals on demand for flexible resource. Internally, we use workflow systems and Google docs so that our teams have visibility and transparency regarding, for example, what stage the negotiation of their contract is at.
➤➤ Effective legal collaboration strategies and innovative partnerships will be explored on day one of LegalWeek CONNECT, taking place on 28-29 November at County Hall, London SE1. Click here for more information
Is this a big problem – that there doesn’t seem to be enough technological solutions to encourage collaboration?
Yes, I think it is a missed opportunity. Another problem though is the different understanding of what tech collaboration means. Many tech companies are way ahead of the laws firms on this.
What can be done to overcome this issue?
I think it comes back to relationships – understanding the client and providing a tailor-made solution. That’s tricky for a law firm, as a FTSE 100 legal department will have very different needs to a tiny legal team in a tech company.
How important is the culture of a business when it comes to encouraging collaboration?
It’s critical. In our business, an idea will involve every team from those that are consumer facing, those that provide support services and then those have to implement it into our code. They have to collaborate. Therefore, collaboration is built into our values and the way in which we work on an agile/sprint basis.
What is notonthehighstreet.com doing to encourage collaboration, both internally and with its external law firms?
Internally, it can be as simple as the physical aspect of making sure people from different teams who are working on the same issue are sitting near each other – we hot-desk to make that happen. Also, you need to make sure everyone knows what they’re doing and how it contributes to the business goals. In my previous job, I didn’t really know day in day out how what I did impacted the business overall. At Notonthehighstreet, we all have objectives and key results that ladder up to the overall business ones and we report on them monthly.
Externally, for me, it’s still about relationships. Once a law firm really understands my business then I think the opportunities for collaboration will flow.
Why are events such as LegalWeek CONNECT valuable for encouraging and exploring collaboration?
These events are critical to the in-house community because in-house lawyers are often quite isolated. It is less easy for us to walk down the corridor and get a number of views on a matter from other lawyers. Events like this enable us to collaborate with other lawyers, understand how they are approaching things and hear what they’re thinking.