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‘There will be areas of law that develop over the next few years that do not exist right now’
LexisNexis’ Director of Transformation Kate Gaskell recently gave a speech at Legal Cheek’s LegalEdCon 2020 conference, which was held virtually this year. In an interview with Legal Cheek before her speech (which can be found here), Kate gave her thoughts on the skills required to be a successful 21st century lawyer, and on the future of the legal industry.
We caught up with her to find out more about these topics and her role within LexisNexis. Kate has worked at LexisNexis since 2011, and in her nine years at the company, she has worked as a PSL, and as Head of LexisPSL Finance Group, before progressing to her current role, where she implements transformation projects for LexisNexis. I started by asking Kate about her role at LexisNexis:
‘I am Director of Transformation, which means I am responsible for identifying and delivering transformation projects that will make our team of lawyers and paralegals more efficient, or free them up to do real value-add work. Broadly speaking, I would say my role falls into four categories: Efficiency Projects, Current Awareness, coordinating the Brexit Strategy for LexisNexis UK, and playing a role in defining the culture of Legal Markets business unit - so how we work together, what our vision is, and why we do what we do. The largest team I run is the Paralegal Hub - which is responsible for our LexisAsk and our Current Awareness service.’
I’ve been here for nine years now, and my proudest moment isn’t a moment. It’s more of an enduring observation. The best thing about LexisNexis is the people who work here. The group of lawyers and paralegals and content developers that we have attracted into the business and retain is really inspiring. It’s a very hard-working group of people who really care about what they do, which is rare to find. So my proudest element of working here is working alongside people who I really respect, and admire.’
[Kate Gaskell, Director of Transformation, LexisNexis UK. Image: LegalCheek.com]
‘In all likelihood, we’re heading for recession, and that’s a challenging time for most businesses. In terms of economic challenges, the legal profession is generally pretty resilient in the face of those challenges. I think that the fact that everyone has adjusted quickly to a really dramatic set of changes in the way we work is a positive sign. My personal experience of this new way of working is that we have become more mindful of each other as a result of not being able to physically see one another. It has become a more normal part of the conversation to check in on how people are doing personally.’
Kate also hopes that recent events will eventually lead to improved diversity in the legal profession: ‘I hope that law firms and legal teams that have [previously] been resistant to working from home or flexible working arrangements will have evidence now that it can work - because it has worked for a lot of people over the last eight or nine weeks. That might open up opportunities for people who might not have had opportunity to participate in the profession in the traditional office five-days a week structure.’
‘My main takeaway is that the legal profession is made up of human beings, advising human beings, and depending on the area of practice that you are in, it can be very human topics. I found it interesting that Family Courts found it difficult to conduct hearings online. There were comments in the legal press about it being more difficult to empathise with individuals and handle family hearings sensitively via digital hearings. I think that’s because there’s huge value in being in someone’s physical presence in terms of picking up on non-verbal cues and reactions.’
‘The other thing that I think resonated with people was the enduring need for legal and technical understanding, and the ability to problem-solve, digest and interrogate black letter law. I think that it is easy to get distracted by the brave new world of the legal profession, and especially legal tech - but at the end of the day, the law is a technical profession as well.’
‘I think law is always going to be a human profession. There are fundamentals about the practice of law that will never change, in my opinion. That’s why those technical legal skills are so important, but I think that it is an interesting time for change. I think our current circumstances have nudged people further along that journey more quickly, than if Covid-19 had not happened. The legal profession traditionally views itself as pretty resistant to change, and I think that the fact that it has adjusted very quickly to a set-up where the vast majority of us are working from home now, suggests that the profession is more capable of coping with change than it perhaps thought it was.’
‘I think the main thing that we do [at LexisNexis] is to keep talking to our customers and clients. By keeping conversations going, asking questions and listening to them, we can start to spot patterns and trends emerging, and get a sense of where things might end up. In terms of personally managing that uncertainty, it’s a combination of having conversations externally and internally. We have a really multi-disciplinary team of people here [at LexisNexis] - including lawyers, paralegals, product developers, customer experience experts - so collaborating, sharing information, and sense-checking ideas is really important.
Kate’s responsibility coordinating the Brexit strategy for LexisNexis UK has given her a resilient mindset towards this kind of uncertainty: ‘For things like Brexit, which are either fast-moving or very unclear and opaque, it’s just taking it one day at a time, and being prepared to pivot if necessary. I think it’s important not to get too attached to one outcome, or one result or one project, but being prepared to adapt and adjust as you go along - it comes back to that resilient mindset and not being afraid to fail.’
Click to read Legal Cheek's interview with Kate Gaskell, conducted in May 2020:
Why lawyers of the 2020s need to force themselves out their comfort zone, May 2020
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