Peter Connor is Founder and CEO of AlternativelyLegal. The Australia-based former in-house counsel conducts ‘Everything But The Law’TM innovation sessions for in house lawyers throughout the Asia-Pacific region. He recently delivered the keynote speech at the InHouse Community Annual Congress in Hong Kong to over 600 attendees on the evolution of the legal profession. In December, 2017 Asia Law Portal named him one of 30 people to watch in the business of law in Asia in 2018. In this Q&A article for Asia Law Portal, Connor details his views of how legal services competition is impacting the general counsel, both within and outside the Asia-Pacific region:
What is your background in law, in particular as a General Counsel?
I’ve been fortunate to have had a global 360 degree career in the law. My career started with the firm Baker McKenzie in Sydney and later in Hong Kong. I moved to Silicon Valley in the late 80’s to join Sun Microsystems and, over the following 16 years, worked for them in APAC and European GC roles based from UK, Hong Kong and Australia. In 2005 I relocated to Switzerland to join Citrix Systems as their European GC and later became their head of global compliance. Prior to starting my own business, I took on a business role as VP Technology Products for the HK-based compliance firm, The Red Flag Group.
You’re currently assisting legal services organizations and General Counsel modernise their operations to adapt to a changing legal market and their role within it. How has the legal market changed and how are you helping your clients adapt?
I formed AlternativelyLegal in 2015 to offer a training and consulting service specifically focussed on helping lawyers to innovate and change by using technology and ‘non-traditional’ skills that I used in my career. It took a while to get traction. I don’t know whether that was because some lawyers were still coming to terms with the need to innovate and change or whether I needed to establish that my program was unique and helpful.
If the recent interest in my program is anything to go by, most GCs and partners in firms now completely understand the need to change and are willing to seek help and to gain new insights. Some are leading innovation initiatives and others are responding to an organisational innovation mandate.
There have been many other changes over the last year or so including the interest in technology and the explosion of different products and services on offer to GCs over and above legal services. In particular consultants, NewLaw firms, some BigLaw firms, dedicated legal operations employees, and associations like CLOC and ACC, now help most GCs run their department more efficiently and at lower cost.
The primary focus of my training and consulting is different. Utilising technology and Increasing efficiency and containing cost is important but, without more, it doesn’t necessarily result in added value to the business. Adding value is the number one priority, and most difficult challenge, for almost every GC. In my experience as a GC, the key to adding value is to work in new more effective ways, not just doing the same things more efficiently. To achieve that requires many things including knowing when and how to use technology but, more importantly, a new vision, new mindset, and new ‘non-traditional’ skills. I help in-house lawyers all over the world develop those things through my Everything But The Law™ Innovation Workshops.
Whilst most of my work is with in-house departments, I’ve been working with Axiom and some BigLaw firms to help their lawyers change and work in new more collaborative ways with their clients. As another indication of change in the industry, I’ve recently been retained by one of the Big Four firms to advise on strategy for new service offerings and to lead the development of software for their clients.
Is there a unique role for the GC in the Asia-Pacific region?
One of the most enjoyable aspects of my work is that I have an opportunity to work with GCs and their teams from all over the world and to take a very good look ‘under the hood’ of their departments. There are differences between departments in what I refer to as their innovation maturity. Of course, there are also differences in the business, legal and cultural context throughout the region and from other regions. APAC GCs are dealing with similar challenges and priorities to their peers in other regions but when I work with GCs in Asia – as I will be doing in China, Hong Kong and Singapore in the coming months – it is necessary to slightly adapt the application of the key concepts and tools to reflect the unique situation of each team.
What will you be doing in the future in terms of speaking and writing?
Every year I typically speak at several in-house legal conferences in different parts of the world on various topics related to legal innovation. In the next few months I am scheduled to speak at the In-House Community Legal Inno-Tech Forum in Singapore and also at their Beijing Annual Congress – both in conjunction with my innovation workshops. As a follow-up to my ‘T-shaped Lawyer’ article link – that emphasised the critical importance of developing specific ‘non-traditional’ skills – I’m currently finalising an article for Legal Business World entitled ‘Will Law Firms become software companies?”. It explores some key trends in legal technology that aren’t so obvious and the implications for all stakeholders in the industry. If the pace of my work slows a bit, I plan to write a book that captures the key messages in my program and that outlines a vision for how in-house lawyers can work in new ways.