Blog Post

Reimagining Legal Departments Post COVID & How Crisis Can Be a Time of Great Opportunity

August 21, 2020

In a recent interview with Naomi Thompson VP, Legal Solutions, Exigent, and Carina Wessels, Executive: Governance, Legal and Compliance, Alexander Forbes they discuss how to “reimagine” the legal departments post COVID.

Naomi: Carina, you had to adapt quickly in responding to COVID to accommodate standard legal processes, tell us about some of those and how has it changed your view on the possible?

Carina: The lockdown and restrictions required us to at very short notice convert a traditional face-to-face shareholder general meeting into the first-ever fully virtual shareholder meeting in South Africa. I also had to run the dismissal of a senior employee via a paper and partly Zoom process.

As with many of the business changes made in response to COVID, these emphasized the criticality of having an adaptive mindset, the ability to rapidly adjust to new paradigms, and really open your mind to the art of the possible. COVID has shown us that there are many ways of maintaining business successfully – activities we never thought were possible, we achieved virtually during these past months and it is that knowledge and learning which I think can catapult the legal fraternity into exponential transformation.

Naomi: Yes, globally the discussions continue to heat up on the new historical divide of ‘BC’ (before COVID) and ‘AC’ (after COVID). What do you think will be the most fundamental legal ‘AC’ shift?

Carina: The future is always difficult to predict, but of course more so now probably than ever before. We joke about the difficulty to perform calculations with variable variables or trying to navigate the unknown, but in short, I do not doubt that life post-COVID will be different and many of the shifts informed by the COVID response benefits we have seen. Digital has been a fourth industrial revolution buzz word for years, but we know the legal fraternity has not embraced it nearly to the extent of other business areas and in some spheres, at all.

I think many, if not most lawyers, are more traditionalist, but COVID has thrown all of us into the discomfort zone and more than ever before. I believe it is time to realize that which have brought us here, is not what will sustain us into the future. We need to take what has worked during COVID and amplify and multiply that.

Naomi: Let’s apply that thought to legal education, do you think it will escape the transformation?

Carina: Even before COVID, there was tremendous growth in digital or virtual learning service providers that are accessible, affordable, and provide quality alternatives to, for example, the traditional law schools. In response to the immediate challenges, traditional learning institutions have now been forced into similar solutions and I think it’s inevitable that post the necessity, discourse on whether it is not a more suitable, affordable, and flexible long-term alternative will emerge. Will the elite law schools die a quick death? Definitely not. But I do think they will be facing new, different, and much more agile competitors, with technology as the key enabler.

Naomi: How do you see in-house expectations on legal service providers changing in an ‘AC’ world?

Carina: Generally, delivering business virtually or digitally has placed increased emphasis on the outcome or the ultimate deliverable, almost making the process or source irrelevant.  It allows us to reimagine a seamless and integrated team of resources focused only on meeting the business expectation. This extends beyond the traditional debate of in-source versus outsource, but allows one to create an ecosystem of service providers, not focused on designation or status, but expertise, collaboration, delivery, results, and customer satisfaction. Getting there commercially is of course a whole other conversation, but with a solution-focused, collaborative mindset, I do believe it’s possible.

Naomi: Following your experience with the virtual disciplinary process, do you think an ‘AC’ world can enable a shift in legal proceeding efficiency?

Carina: We know that there are massive court backlogs in even some of the more efficient countries in the world and a greater emphasis on alternative dispute resolution hasn’t shifted the needle.  Greater usage of digital legal proceedings must be part of the solution to resolve the global access to justice crisis.  It of course will not be suitable for all litigation but can make great strides in transforming a costly, formal, protracted process into a more enlightened, empowered, and efficient alternative.

Many thanks to Carina for sharing her thoughts with us on “reimagining” legal departments post COVID.