The subtle movement and shift of emphasis from today’s lawyers into Business Partners and strategic advisers – has changed the view that we have of them – and them of us. The question is; is this a difficult sell?
Nora Teuwsen is looking at me across the screen. She is dressed in Swiss minimalist chic, dark grey modern clothes, long auburn hair. As former General Counsel for Swiss Railways, and surrounded by the financial areas of Zurich, she is well placed to make a perceptive judgement.
“It used to be”, she says. “But now, Corporates are waking up to the fact that their in-house Lawyer is also a modern facilitator”.
Like so many young lawyers starting out, Nora had little clue of what a legal profession entailed. Her motivation had been more a belief in justice, integrity, that she still regards as valuable of all skills to have. What she was not prepared for in those early days – was the lack of client contact, and to work out and discover an understanding, that her preferred role was one of explanation, to explain the “why” things need to be so.
She is calm but animated in her delivery, you can see the entrepreneurial spirit that is driving her responsibility to take her client on a journey. The legal background has no longer become the prime reason for being retained, it is the structure of thought that can open other commercial discussions.
It is no surprise that after 15 years with Swiss Railways, it was obvious that the next step was to create a vehicle that could embrace all of these attributes and competences, into one, that could be offered as a package so to say.
What she says is; “companies are underestimating the value of their legal department”, and in many ways that department needs to be courageous in pushing for creative and pragmatic solutions which are taking into account the company’s strategy and focussing on longterm value.
Nora continues: “The role of the legal department is expanding. Areas of sustainability, social responsibility, are becoming the go to areas of importance for corporates of all sizes, and the legal department can assist in handling that interest.”
It is also a focus on use of Data. Surprisingly, Nora is not convinced by use cases in Artificial Intelligence in the legal industry. There is a great transformation going on, but so far, results are limited. So far, it has not come up on her radar as a priority.
The “BeyondLegal” Boutique Firm, Nora’s brainchild – from a single Zurich base – is already international clients. “What we are trying to do, is build a network of like-minded legal professionals. We live in an international world”.
I turn off my screen and take a moment of reflection. In a technology driven marketplace, human values are still the bedrock of our corporate growth, which we always had but somehow had been forgotten. Some things remain the same.