Today and Tomorrow for the 21st Century Legal Professional

Business Advisor & Industry Expert

For this final profile in our 21st Century Lawyer Series, we invite you to pull up a chair… to the boardroom table (but leave your lawyer garb behind).

By way of a job title, we’re referring to a role that sits in the “business of law”, which on the surface, may seem to be law firms themselves. However, this has not generally been the case, since law firms have traditionally been operated by trained lawyers and not, in most cases, trained business people.

That key distinction that was recognized early by Linklaters’ insightful Managing Partner, Tony Angel, who created an internal Strategy team with membership drawn, importantly, from professions outside the law.

This recognition of the inherent value of business expertise to the “business of law” is what spurred us to profile James Odell, Vice-President and Managing Director, Australia and APAC at Elevate Services. Known globally as “the Law Company”, Elevate provides strategy, consulting, technology, and talent to leading law firms and legal departments.

In the early days of his career as an aeronautical engineer, law was not on James’ radar. Instead, he was working for the UK Ministry of Defence, specializing in the development and procurement of high-performance aircraft – a fascinating role that seeded his curiosity in business and, ultimately, an invitation to join Linklaters’ young Strategy team.

James reflected that it was a somewhat surreal yet serendipitous shift from his most recent work optimizing airflows through jet engines to sitting in a professional services firm on London’s Silk Street. Initially, he found himself questioning how exactly his prior training could be put to best use, ultimately drawing on his experience of how big data is used to drive performance and efficiency in complex machines.

An example of this data-driven strategy at play would include:

  1.  Gathering data from existing firm sources – practice management and CRM systems hold massive amounts of data on clients, matters, costs, rates, locations, and many other fields within vast (and often largely untapped) repositories.
  2. These data points can be used to create models that draw out trends, inter-dependencies, and patterns which are often not evident anecdotally, or at least not readily quantifiable.
  3. Implications for management decisions can then be made around the interest of new markets; optimising the performance of existing business units; the impact of delivery models that leverage lower cost locations, technology, or process re-design.

The result is a shift towards more rigorous, data-driven (and reliable and repeatable) decision making and away from the more opinion-based approach which lawyers, by way of our training, have traditionally relied upon.

Considering James’ experience to date, including most recently at Elevate (or “the Law Company” which is quite plainly, not a law firm), the skills that matter for the 21st Century Legal Professional interested in strategy and advisory services include:
– Business acumen and/or training;
– Experience in non-law disciplines;
– Recognition that almost every task or workflow can be optimized through a combination of machines and human expertise;
-Intrapreneurship traits as an individual in the business who understands how data can improve decision making; and
-Entrepreneurship traits in the broader context of delivering legal services efficiently and effectively to the end client.

The result of this role is to drive the delivery of more client-centric legal services that are not only profitable but are also sustainable and scalable. A contrast to the traditional delivery model, but one that is likely to see more non-lawyers taking seats in law firm boardrooms going forward.

Next up: Wrap up & What Next: Today and Tomorrow for the 21st Century Lawyer Professional.