NewLaw industry veteran Lesley Hobbs announced in February the launch of her own firm Cognatio Law to “satisfy the growing demand within Hong Kong’s legal market for flexible and cost-effective legal services [for large and small companies]. ” As the firm details in a press release: “Cognatio assists in-house legal teams who are facing downward pressure to reduce their legal project costs, headcount and fixed expenses by seconding experts quickly and at short notice onto any given project and without the risk of incurring additional permanent employee costs.”
In this Q&A interview with Asia Law Portal, Hobbs explains the inspiration for the founding of Cognatio and her thoughts on the future of NewLaw in the Asia-Pacific Region:
What inspired the founding of Cognatio Law and what makes it unique in what is an increasingly competitive NewLaw market in Asia?
I have been at the heart of the industry in Hong Kong for several years where I set up and grew a NewLaw firm from the ground up into a major market player. Not only have I witnessed the rapid adoption of NewLaw services in Asia, but also the potential for NewLaw to challenge the industry even further in the future. Cognatio Law is founded on what I know companies need today in terms of having cost-effective and flexible legal solutions for their business as well as where we can offer added value services to streamline processes that can realistically be done without a legal consultant. Cognatio is already off to a great start with deals in the pipeline and newly onboarded consultants. Together with COO, Tim Fawcett, who will focus on developing the technology and service aspects of the business, I look forward sharing my own personal expertise and connectedness to those I serve through Cognatio Law.
What is your background in NewLaw in particular and why do you find the NewLaw business so interesting?
As a qualified lawyer, 13 years in the legal recruitment industry and as a NewLaw veteran in Hong Kong who has seen first-hand the rapid growth for ‘on demand’ legal solutions – I believe we are at a tipping point to challenge an industry that has not changed much in the last century. With the ongoing cost pressures being felt by in-house legal teams, a new generation of lawyer who is committed to balancing work and lifestyle, there has never been a better time for NewLaw companies.
Over the years I have also taken a keen interest in how other professions have developed, partly due to the work my father undertook as a management consultant. His work took us overseas for extended periods to Africa and Asia in the mid to late 70s and early 80s where I observed the transition towards flexible functions in the HR, engineering and IT professions. The legal profession has not been able to genuinely embrace this type of model in Asia until around seven years ago. While growth in NewLaw certainly mirrors what we have already seen in the US and other common law jurisdictions, Asia is catching up quickly which makes it an exciting time for all market participants.
Over the last several years, more NewLaw firms have emerged in the Asia-Pacific region. Is there a growing demand for NewLaw services in Asia?
The market is definitely not crowded, it’s expanding rapidly and Cognatio Law aims to fill the gaps where companies in Hong Kong need it the most. My industry experience in Asia means that I have had the ability to observe secondment instructions from the Hong Kong operations of around 25 financial institutions and 20 MNC’s. This underscores the importance of flexible legal services and its growth within Hong Kong alone.
Overall, both international and local businesses have become more comfortable in adopting/onboarding flexible legal resourcing solutions. Most MNC’s have systems in place to enable the seamless integration of these professionals into their core teams to play either supporting or project management roles. The big opportunity for growth lies within the SE/NE Asia listed companies operating in HK and Greater China as they also face increased pressure to cut operational costs. And most importantly, the Y Gen/Millennials are very comfortable with the flexible working model which I am sure most will agree, can already be seen in other professions.
Some NewLaw firms have sought to expand beyond the traditional Asia-Pacific legal markets of Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia. Does Cognatio Law have any plans to expand into more markets in the future?
Cognatio Law is based in Hong Kong but we do have plans to expand beyond these shores. We are already well-versed in working across multiple jurisdictions and in today’s global village, we will aim to serve our clients where they need us. Singapore would be the next obvious step but in the shorter term we have a lot to focus on in Hong Kong. Australia is a very well established market and one which is of interest to Cognatio Law and while other legal markets in South East Asia are still developing in this regard, it is possible for their needs to be addressed by parachuting lawyers in on a fly in/fly out basis in special situations.
Some NewLaw firms have expanded their reach beyond the General Counsel’s office within multinational companies and into, for example, acting as an on-demand legal resource to startups. Others have embraced technology partnerships with Artificial Intelligence (AI) providers to create more efficiencies in service delivery. Is Cognatio Law planning any initiative or service offer along these or other lines?
We fully embrace the future of law with cost efficient systems and services at our core. We see many opportunities for Cognatio Law to work alongside other NewLaw firms and professional services groups in the delivery and execution of both traditional consultancy services and work & systems process efficiencies.
Our cornerstone investor is active in technology, including the blockchain and associated NewLaw businesses. They have been a key enabler for a number of similar professional services companies across the USA, Europe and Asia and they, like myself and my COO Tim Fawcett, see Asia as a key market for Cognatio Law to grow and expand.
What is your projection for the future of the NewLaw business in Asia and where do you see Cognatio Law in 5 years time?
The Asia business community is generally comfortable with the NewLaw concept and engaging other professionals on a consultancy basis. This practice will continue as there is always going to be room for experienced lawyers who can fill gaps as banks and companies are now perennially faced with the downward cost pressures to assemble the right type of project team.
I do think though that the longevity of a NewLaw firm and indeed a Big/Traditional Law firm will lie in its ability to be an early and efficient adopter & provider of additional and complementary services such as blockchain and legaltech e.g. documentation automation and billing apps. I fully expect Cognatio Law to be a disruptor in these areas.
All things considered, NewLaw still only accounts for around 1% of the global legal services market but is set to grow. There are predictions of 15 – 20% by 2025 and Cognatio Law plans to have part of that market share both in Asia and further afield.