Mind the (multinational) gap

By Laura Vosper

I’ve recently returned from working in our LexisNexis Paris office, researching the challenges French lawyers face in a global operating environment. Like their British counterparts, I found time and cost pressures are driving in-house teams to demand a better multinational service. Networks and mergers are one way firms are answering this need, but all agreed more could be done to deliver optimal multinational service. So what gaps did I notice? And what could law firms do better?

Gap #1:  Lawyers work and train in jurisdictions, business is done without borders

In a world where a French company buys from a Chinese supplier through an Australian middle-man on a contract in US law, today’s in-house counsel not only need knowledge of laws and regulations overseas (challenging for those operating in common law but trained in civil law) but also have to deal with language, cultural and political barriers to getting business done. Most of the multinational corporate teams I met are building this know-how through secondments and overseas exchanges. With restrictions on where lawyers in firms can practise, can firms create more new, non-Legal, account manager roles that “own the customer” and make buying services across multiple jurisdictions easier? This would mean that in-house clients get consistent service and don’t have to source and brief new counsel repeatedly.

Gap #2: Lawyers in firms aren’t telling in-house counsel what they need to know

Almost every in-house counsel I met complained about the volume of generic legal and regulatory updates from lawyers. “Reading everything I receive would be a full-time job in itself”, one told me. Yet they also told me there is a paucity of advice tailored to their specific business needs and territories. Poorly-targeted business development and “value-add” communications switch clients off and mean firms are not perceived as offering a joined-up multinational service. Worse, they are wasting clients’ precious time. Large firms invest in CRM technology, but too often lawyers seem focused only on their own individual hourly-billing targets and don’t collaborate to provide in-house teams with information they can apply directly to their business. Why don’t more firms incentivise their lawyers to share intelligence across borders to create genuine added-value insight for their clients?

Gap #3: Lawyers in-house need to anticipate risks, not just react

Twitter storms. Natural disasters. Changes to customs regulation whilst a delivery is in transit. An overseas supplier going bankrupt. Operating internationally increases complexity and risk. Too often, both in-house and external lawyers are engaged only after something has gone wrong. In-house lawyers know they can’t keep fighting fires forever and are increasingly getting out into their business so they can pre-empt issues. Isn’t there an opportunity here for firms to use CRM and information technologies to monitor their clients’ business interests at home and abroad so they can come to the in-house lawyer with intelligence and solutions that prevent, rather than manage, crises? What’s stopping firms being more proactive?

From what I saw in France, increasingly multinational in-house teams see the best way to support their company is to do more of the work themselves. Law firms have to innovate in this space or risk their market shrinking yet further.

Filed Under: Practice of Law

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