General counsel used Covid as “opportunity to go off-panel”

White: Firms moving away from needs of GCs

A lot of general counsel used the pandemic as an “opportunity to go off-panel” and instruct boutique law firms and alternative legal services providers, a leading law firm adviser has said.

Jamie White, founder of law firm consultancy Overture London, said the way the legal market was going, with post-Covid mergers making law firms bigger and bigger, was “the opposite of where GCs want it to go”.

Mr White, who said he had helped launch 26 boutique law firms in the last 10 years, said the market was being “pulled apart by challenges of scale”.

Law firms were getting “bigger and bigger”, on the back of mergers such as the one announced last month between Allen & Overy and US firm Shearman & Sterling.

Mr White said one of the reasons for this was that GCs were under pressure to choose ‘IBM brands’ as their law firm, partly because of complex litigation or “huge arbitral awards” against them.

Speaking at the Law Firm Ambition conference in London, he said: “This is the way the market is going, but it is the opposite of where GCs want it to go.”

He said GCs valued a human connection and lawyers they could sit down with, but instead they faced “an industry moving away from the needs of the people who need it”.

On artificial intelligence (AI), Mr White said: “Most of the people I work with hate AI.”

He explained how in-house legal teams faced “challenges in term of data and security” where information was fed into AI-backed systems, and AI “can make mistakes”, so the downside in using it was “really huge”.

As a result, “certain legal teams will not work with certain law firms if they’re using certain kinds of AI” and he knew three or four cases where this had been written into retainers.

The upside of AI was that it could be used by lawyers to find out what their clients’ problems really were and enable them to become “more human”.

On social media, Scott Simmons, director of consultancy Legal Balance, said “to resist social media in any way” would lead law firms to “fall by the wayside”.

He said lawyers needed to “give their knowledge away” on social media to show they were experts. Lawyers, particularly those working for consultant-led firms, also needed to build their reputations through positive online reviews.

Mr Simmons said: “I teach lawyers how to steal clients from other law firms. The reasons are usually apathy and lack of communication.”

One way for lawyers to become real “trusted advisers” was to say, if there was a situation where they could not help, “I know someone who can”.

He added: “I love AI. It’s a tool lawyers can use to spend more time with their clients, because AI will draft the documents.”

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