15th Managing Partners Forum: Legal Heavyweights Deliberate on the Future of Law

Legal leaders from across the Asia-Pacific region gathered for Chilli IQ’s 15th Managing Partners Forum, to weigh in on the future of law. A stellar line up of industry experts and global thought leaders led discussions on the wonders of space law, increased cyber security, the role of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG), and the evolution of the talent-led workplace.

The pandemic produced a clarion call for adaptive leadership, greater transparency and advanced digital solutions. There is an increased demand for diversity and organisations are carving out the mental space to reflect on their values and finetune the role they want to play in the war on talent.

“The old way of ‘back to normal’ or ‘back to the office’ no longer exists,” according to international keynote speaker and former McKinsey Consultant, Dr Heidi Gardner.

“We are at the helm of the future of law and the creation of a new way of working,” says Jenny Katrivesis, Senior Manager of Chilli IQ. “It is a brave new ‘law’ world, and it is the adapters to this change that will thrive.”

We highlight a few of the sessions and reveal what the future of law looks like and what this means for you.

Transforming work with ‘smarter’ collaboration

With constant and unpredictable change, managing in a ‘VUCA’ world (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) involves multi-faceted challenges around increased market volatility, sustainability demands and keeping up with ever-changing technology and regulations.

Harvard Law School Distinguished Fellow Dr Heidi Gardner shares her researched ‘smarter’ collaboration method to solve problems in the post-pandemic world, as a way to increase profit margins, enhance client service, and retain the best talent.

While legal leaders typically recognise the cultural, behavioural and structural elements that underpin the execution of a collaboration strategy, the challenge lies in effecting behavioural change.

Start where you are

If there’s potential business on the table, why don’t you have it? Running validated diagnostics and analysing the collaboration barriers are necessary before change can occur. We all have blind spots so breaking it down at a company, group and individual level ensures you have the right team.

An illusion of inclusion?

Fostering a broader scale of inclusivity is key to building engagement of smarter collaboration into your culture. Real inclusion is less about representation and more about active participation. Tapping into an individual’s key strengths, whether it’s subject matter expertise or personal life experience prompts higher individual performance and brings the latest thinking to the table.

Cultivating collaboration

Over commitment is rampant, taxing cognitively and the leading cause of burnout. “When people are operating in a broader network, that’s the essence of smarter collaboration,” says Heidi. Driving performance through compassionate leadership not only boosts engagement but helps people understand their role and find meaning in what they do.

The great resignation (or not)

Gartner VP and Top 100 Global HR influencer Aaron McEwan knows a thing or two about the ‘Great Resignation’, but he sees it as the ‘Great Attraction’, an opportunity to reset and compete under a new talent landscape.

Wellbeing has gained so much importance, not just in how we work, but in how we live and interact with each other. In Gartner’s 2021 Hybrid and Return to Work survey of 3500 employees, there was an eminent shift in employee attitudes, with over 65% of people stating that the pandemic made them rethink the role work should play in their lives.

Airline usage is back to 87% of US pre-pandemic levels. Restaurants is 90%, baseball games 90% – but back to office is only back to 30%. This isn’t due to a fear of mingling, it’s a fundamental shift in society. All the data validates that employees’ relationship with work has changed and they want work to fit into their lives.

“The model of partnership is under threat”

“As people leave, employees are not really up for (backfilled roles) or for managing partners wanting to get back to normal,” says Aaron. Organisations are struggling to meet talent needs as the pool is dispersing leading to longer time to fill positions, rising attrition and mass turnover risks. The effects are being seen across of all the Asia Pacific with job openings increasing year-on-year in Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, and Hong Kong.

What’s in it for me?

“You cannot recruit your way out of this.” Aaron warns against getting side-tracked looking for and incentivising top legal talent. Shifting the focus to business continuity rather than talent gaps is key to creating differentiated value. Lead with authenticity, surface employees’ interests beyond their jobs and fix the barriers for effective work-life integration.

Differentiate with bold and systemic changes

Automation is critical as employees want the ‘hard’ work of double-ups and manual processes fixed. Employ talent based on potential not credentials, extend stretch promotions to your existing people or make a statement with your benefits or compensation changes. Above all, flexibility is a must. Offering guaranteed maximum workload, 4-day work weeks, work from anywhere or fly-in-fly-out models can help you attract and retain employees.

The future workplace

The human-centric workspace is on a trajectory, and we are at the foothills of that change. Employees want purpose, a sense of belonging, connection and work life balance. The office is becoming a place or connection and collaboration, a place where people don’t work.

Space law and the future of humanity

There is nothing quite as ubiquitous as space. As sure as the air we breathe, we utilise space through telecommunications, broadcasting, financial transactions, infrastructure, weather and transport, among others, on a daily basis.

Since the US, UK and Russia signed the first treaty in 1957, the colloquial ‘space race’ was born and forms the backbone of international law as it applies today. Although initially used for government activities between 80 countries in the world, space is increasingly becoming the domain of private companies.

The global space economy has grown to over $385 billion in value, of which 76% involves commercial space activities. Space was one of the top three growth sectors during the pandemic, growing 7-9% (behind information technology and pharmaceuticals) and is projected to reach $3 trillion by 2040.

Australia in orbit

In 2018, Australia launched its first dedicated space agency to establish a framework for ongoing research and regulation, to protect the state and encourage the local space industry. The government plans to develop a national space strategy that extends beyond defense to reach its target of $12 billion by 2030, by licencing space activities such as geostationary satellite operations, fire detection from space in real time, and off-earth mining methods.

Do we need more space literate lawyers?

In short, yes. As space activities rise and are injected with growing commercial interest, regulation and governance will be vital to retain the humanity of space and manage the exploitation of space resources. The air between earth and the moon is military-owned and governed by international law, but there are many laws and treaties around the matrix of space and the authority of the state it sits over.

ESG and a net-zero future

Whether you’re advising clients on climate change or are the architect behind building the governance framework within your firm, it’s evident that ESG is gaining momentum across the globe. The panel, led by Sarah Barker from MinterEllison, Michael Boley from Lander & Rogers, and Richard Jennings from Australian Legal Sector Alliance, discussed climate change and the rapid transition from “yes we understand there’s an issue” to “how do we help solve it.”

Strategic litigants and millennials particularly have embraced the ESG charge, and major law firm MinterEllison now has a team of eight working on it exclusively, headed up by Sarah Barker who stated, “Business is no longer just about chasing profit and loss. There are market obligations and market risks to consider.”

The net-zero roadmap

The 2020’s sprouted a global three-decade expansion plan for cleaner energy supply, by reducing greenhouse emissions and aligning capital markets with sustainability goals. With change comes increased regulatory burden and a clear call for law firms and in-house counsel to contribute to the net zero strategy by conducting corporate due diligence and implementing supply chain examination and reporting.

Influencing ESG

Whilst law firms and professional services overall have low emissions, it is important to get clear on your firm’s ESG landscape and encourage roles for leadership in the space. “For ESG to become embedded into your firm, the net-zero targets need to permeate through the entire organisation” says Michael.

How law firms can influence carbon footprint reduction:

  • Starting in the physical environment is the obvious place, particularly in relation to rubbish, water streams and energy supply.
  • Aside from eliminating unnecessary travel, influencing your travel policy by reviewing your existing partner and their connected services.
  • Committing to a quality offset programme and partnering with suppliers and clients who are adopting the same.
  • Taking inventory of sustainability practices. Changing to recycled paper is good but implementing digitised systems can eliminate the need for paper altogether.

The cyber risk playbook

“The greatest existential risk we face in society in a cyber one,” says Alastair MacGibbon of CyberCX. Much needed digital transformation, the use of laptops and phones to conduct work, and the home router with working from home are all points of vulnerability, as criminal groups look to steal information from the ‘weakest link.’

Government officials are finding their regulatory muscle when it comes to cyber security. It took so long for notifiable data to come into effect, but businesses will soon be regulated throughout the supply chain, so obligations must flow.

You cannot avoid risk by ignoring it. Establishing a detailed risk playbook is the way to effectively manage the consequences associated with inevitable risks. By identifying your ‘crown jewels’ you can wrap extra encryption layers around them, limit or restrict access and have role-based authority.

The state of the legal market

“While large firms continue to demonstrate resiliency amid the pandemic, a sense of caution prevails,” says Carl Olson, Proposition VP for Thomson Reuters. Notwithstanding “the Australian legal market is still going strong, unlike other legal sectors around the world.”

The Thomson Reuters Australian Legal Market Midyear Update 2022 reveals a 6.4% demand growth rate for Australian legal services in the first half of FY2022 (July-December 2021). Demand was up across all eight practice areas, with half showing double-digit growth, led by mergers and acquisitions. All five indicators tracked in the report showed increases, including fees worked (up 13.2%) and fee earner growth (up 4.5%), signaling the strength of future prospects.

The future is now

Enhancing the role of legal leaders and preparing them for the future was the objective of the 2022 Managing Partners Forum. After absorbing all the valuable insights of the formidable cast of speakers (and personally ‘nerding out’ over the content), the common thread underpinned throughout pointed to three key metrics for success:

  • Improving efficiencies through technology by digitising your operation and automating the ‘hard’ work,
  • Evolving in client service delivery by adding value and taking a more client-centric approach, and
  • Becoming an employer of choice by offering flexibility and increased collaboration.

Thank you Chilli IQ for having me. Until next year.

Mina Iacono joined Thomson Reuters as an expert in content marketing and thought leadership within the Asia and Emerging Markets team. Mina has consulted on small business strategy and has been a contributing opinionator at SMH, news.com.au and 10 Daily. With a career background in marketing and business, a writing career spanning over 20 years and a passion for wellness in the workplace, Mina has two published books and continues to share her views on the world, one word at a time. 

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