What We Can Expect From the Ongoing Metamorphosis of the Legal Ecosystem

Shahzad Bashir, president and CEO of Morae Global Corporation, has seen the legal profession evolve during his three decades in the industry, but the events of 2020 have spurred an unprecedented transformation. Here, he discusses the specific nature of those changes – and which ones are here to stay.

CCBJ: Your company, Morae Global Corporation, is known for enabling digital and legal business transformation for law firms, law departments, and compliance. Morae recently partnered with CCBJ to co-host the Legal Transformation Forum, an interactive virtual event that facilitated discussions about tough issues facing today’s legal professionals. What were you hoping to achieve with this collaboration?

Shahzad Bashir: If we were in my office, you’d see a framed poster with the caption, “Success is a journey, not a destination.” I’ve had that in my office for almost my entire career – beginning at Arthur Andersen, then at Huron Legal, which I co-founded, and now at Morae, which I founded. Part of my mental model is, “How do we make a meaningful impact, not only for our clients but also for our people?” One of my core guiding principles is to tap the power of collaboration.

Morae is a huge believer in collaborating with business partners, technology partners, and thought leaders like CCBJ. A top issue in our industry is that people tend to operate in silos. These silos can be quite pronounced in the legal ecosystem. Our goal is to do as much collaboration as possible to break down silo walls. As a result, Morae has been able to develop strong core legal and compliance competencies. At CCBJ, you have established a leading platform for thought leadership. Our goal was to bring together our respective strengths to help inform the market. And I think we have very successfully begun that journey with the Legal Transformation Forum. The networking, the thought leadership, the edification that we achieved – It was a great start, and if we build upon that, just imagine what else we can do together!

What were the key takeaways that you and your team identified as a result of co-hosting this highly interactive global event?

We can look at it strategically and tactically.

Strategically, one of my personal takeaways from the forum, and something which I have long believed in, was the validation that the legal community is global. It doesn’t matter whether you’re representing a bank in the United States, the United Kingdom or Australia – it is a global community. There are common business challenges and common philosophies around the world, which can and do foster substantive discussion and great opportunities for industry collaboration.

I also observed what I will describe as a greater sense of “change readiness” among both corporate counsel and outside counsel. People often look at our industry and say it is slow-moving or resistant to change. But these days, we can see the industry rapidly changing in front of our very eyes. A great example discussed during the event is the increased adoption of technology and the acceptance of best practices.

Tactically, I found the turnout and level of engagement at the event were wonderful. It was a very nice cross section of the legal industry: law departments, law firms and technology providers. The feedback from speakers and attendees was also excellent. We really enjoyed hosting the forum because of the value it provided for everyone in attendance.

In your opening remarks, you asserted your belief that many of the changes that we’ve seen over the course of 2020 are here to stay. Which changes specifically do you anticipate staying with us, and why?

From what I’ve learned over my years in this business, you’ve always got to look back at what have been the causes of any change. As is no surprise, most of the changes in 2020 have been due to COVID-19. The old saying, “Necessity is the mother of invention,” really seems to hold true here. The pandemic provided that extra nudge that some organizations needed in order to commit to meaningful change. Some of these changes were already percolating before COVID-19. But in March, the industry was forced to make hard choices, starting in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region and then in the Americas. What else was the industry going do as economies went into lockdown? The response – with all the changes now underway – has dispelled the old myth that the legal industry resists change. Let me give you some examples.

One of my friends is a general counsel at a top 10 global company. For a long time, he used to talk about “butts in seats.” This was his way of looking at his workforce. He would look out at the parking spaces to see whose cars were there before 8 a.m. and whose cars were still there after 6:30 p.m. This approach is no longer valid. What we call “work from home” really is remote working from anywhere, at any time. The transition to this model was swift and fluid.

Another example is the widespread use of information collaboration. Outside counsel, enabled by digital transformation, are collaborating more than ever amongst themselves. Similarly, corporate counsel are collaborating more with their internal clients. And we can see outside counsel and corporate counsel also working more closely with each other. At Morae, we have leaned on technology and business processes to facilitate greater levels of collaboration with our clients too.

It should come as no surprise then that there has recently been an accelerated trend in cloud adoption as an important enabler for digital transformation.

Here to stay as well are certain business practices which have changed during the COVID-19 period. Specifically, I don’t see business travel ever going back to the way it was. We have all found that we can work as efficiently and effectively through the use of technology, rather than jumping on a plane. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that business travel will be gone completely. I’m just saying that its role in how we collaborate will emerge as something different. Travel isn’t as necessary as people used to think it was. We can do a lot virtually instead of physically. Contracts are a good example. Technology is changing the whole process of contracting. Consider wet signatures. For the vast majority of commercial transactions, we’ve moved away from wet signatures to electronic ones.

I believe global sourcing is here to stay too. The location of a service provider and a service recipient do not need to be the same. I see the process of global right-sourcing now significantly accelerating from where it was before COVID-19.

In a broader sense, there’s no “normal,” and I really cannot predict when we will truly be in a “new normal.” Industries, markets and geographies are all responding to what they believe is the emerging normal. When we finally do move into whatever the new normal turns out to be, I believe we’ll find the areas I have described are key parts of it. And it will be a combination of the old and new ways of doing things.

But it’s not like there will be one fine morning with a headline in The Wall Street Journal announcing, “The new normal is here.” There are different economic and social indicators – whether it’s the consumer price index, or stocks, or interest rates, or employment numbers. At some point, these will all move in a direction that will allow us to conclude that our economic activities are where they need to be. And to me, that’s what we’ll call the new normal.

Driving these changes is largely the adoption and acceptance of currently available technology. If you look at Zoom, for instance, that didn’t suddenly get invented on March 12. It’s been around. What has changed is us. We’ve all started using it. If you look at document sharing, that’s also been around. The cloud has been available to all of us for years. The capability to source globally has been around for a long time, as indeed have the alternatives to travel and wet signatures. These things will stay, and become further ingrained, as economic activities settle into where they need to be.

We are at the cusp of a fundamental transformation in how legal services are created, consumed and even reused
by legal and business professionals.

What advice do you have for people or organizations that are looking to innovate within the legal industry?

My view is that innovation for the sake of innovation doesn’t really stand the test of time. When I consider how we describe Morae’s value proposition to our clients, I often ask my colleagues to really think about and define innovation. For me, innovation should include: (1) Defining the outcome, (2) removing the silos, and (3) integrating technology. Those are the three pieces of advice that I can give with all humility. And if those three are done right– either in combination or singly – they will allow the right kinds of innovation to happen.

What are your hopes for the future of the legal industry?

Let me start by saying that I really must applaud my colleagues in a very broad sense for how they have embraced change. Not just my Morae colleagues, but those throughout the legal industry, including my peers and clients. Oftentimes, as I said earlier, I hear the assertion that the legal industry is too slow to change. That it is resistant to change. Yes, that may have been true a couple of decades ago, and maybe even just a decade ago. But now we’re seeing a wave of changes and transformation unfolding, with more on the way. I really believe that we are at the cusp of a fundamental transformation in how legal services are created, consumed and even reused by legal and business professionals. This will happen, and here’s why.

First, I am seeing structured collaboration – meaning that there are standardized processes around these engagements. I see that what used to be called “alternative legal service providers” are now dropping the “alternative.” Now we are simply legal service providers. That’s an acceptance of the role and value companies like Morae can provide.

I see fundamental right-sourcing happening – meaning that work is being sent to the right organization, to the right geography, to the right caliber of people, where the resources are fit for purpose.

Technology is another one – we’re seeing increased use of the right technology in the right manner.

And finally, the breaking down of old perceptions of legal services as a homogeneous bucket that can be scooped out and delivered. I believe the future will have many different flavors of what I would call process-oriented services versus judgment-based services. For example, the drafting, negotiating and signing of a nondisclosure agreement is very much process driven. Contrast that with negotiating a major transaction or conducting a deposition for a litigation – which require considerable use of judgment calls.

I believe that together, structured collaboration, legal service providers, right-sourcing and technology will all allow service providers and service receivers to differentiate process-driven services from judgment-driven services. This represents a fundamental transformation of the industry, for the better.

Bashir's Legal Transformation Summit keynote can be viewed here.

Published .