Our Leader in Law for 2019 is Anne Dolan. After joining Walkers Professional Services in 2015 as an associate in the Investment Funds Team, Anne was swiftly promoted to Director, Corporate Services for the Walkers group. Anne has the overall responsibility for the provision of registered office and corporate services, and is located in the Cayman Islands.
Prior to Walkers, Anne led the Private Equity and Corporate team of Intertrust, another global trust provider in the Cayman Islands. The Propero team speaks to Anne about the impact of digital in the legal sector, and what the future of professional services looks like.
What attracted you to a career in the legal industry?
I took a gap year before applying for university degrees whilst I decided where I wanted to focus academically, and I spent the majority of the time working for Arthur Andersen. The year involved a secondment to Asia where Andersens were working with a magic circle law firm on a large-scale fraud case. Being involved in a headline-grabbing case at a young age made me want to pursue law as a profession – in addition to giving me a taste for expat life! My LLB led to a legal career in the City, another secondment to Asia (this time to Shanghai) and subsequently a transition into global professional services.
What impact has digital had on shaping the legal and professional services industries so far?
Digital is fundamentally changing how legal and professional services are delivered. In the trust and corporate services arena for example, aggregating data and providing access via robust online platforms is now the industry norm. To differentiate themselves, firms need to go further in terms of data analytics.
At Walkers Professional Services, we have developed several client-facing online platforms that enable us to tailor our service offering. Internally, we are constantly enhancing our ability to aggregate and analyse data, which not only allows us to understand our clients better but has helped greatly to improve our turn-around times, particularly for routine tasks.
Digital resources also allow our professionals to work smarter. We live in an increasingly mobile environment where clients are not necessarily on our doorstep and being productive doesn’t equate with being in the office. The ability to work efficiently whilst on the move is crucial – and that goes far beyond just having email on your phone. Our professionals need the ability to access a CRM system, record time, electronically sign documents and dial into a video-conference whilst on the go. Although some may say this means we never “switch off”, the flipside is it can also facilitate more flexible working arrangements.
What do you see as the biggest challenges for legal and professional services firms to overcome in the next decade?
Data security is a primary concern for all legal and professional services firms. Clients entrust their service providers with significant amounts of very sensitive data, and in addition to the relentless work that IT Security teams undertake to prevent against unauthorised access, there is also a need to consistently monitor business processes to ensure that access to data, even internally, is restricted to the fullest extent possible.
It is also an increasingly competitive landscape for recruiting and retaining talented employees. Smart and talented individuals often have the ability to demand more than just higher pay. Organisations are also competing on their working environment, firm culture, flexible working arrangements, training initiatives, environmental and social initiatives, and so much more.
How is the digital evolution impacting the way legal and professional services firms operate?
The digital evolution is forcing firms to become much more agile and sophisticated, both in terms of their internal operations and service delivery. Client demand around delivery channels for legal and professional services is constantly evolving. We are moving away from being dominated by email communication towards a much heavier use of social media and online collaboration tools as a platform for digital communication. Social media also plays a big part in recruitment campaigns, marketing and PR.
At Walkers Professional Services, a big focus for us as a firm is leveraging technology to solve every day problems for our clients. We provide our clients with various tools and platforms that enable efficient access to data and reporting services. What started as a traditional client portal platform, for example, developed into a much broader offering that facilitates a more collaborative way of interacting with our clients.
Digital currencies have also created new opportunities, but only for those firms nimble enough to keep pace with technology and develop a high level of expertise in a relatively short period of time. The ability to successfully incorporate new areas of focus into service offerings, while effectively managing process, protocol and client demand for enhanced service and cost efficiencies, is vital for leading firms.
What do you think the future looks like for legal and professional services firms?
I think the majority of leading firms will continue to scale globally. Once you are embedded with a client in one region, clients naturally seek to work with their preferred providers globally and to benefit from knowledge transfer and cost efficiencies.
We are also likely to see an increase in non-legal firms offering legal services and vice versa. In the trust and corporate services market for example, there has been a huge drive towards consolidation in recent years as regional players have merged, and private equity firms have been attracted to the space. Doing so often involves the amalgamation of a full array of services under one roof. Tech-based solutions that have enabled automation of document production, particularly for routine and non-complex matters, have supported this growth by fuelling an increase in alternative service providers where legal services are ancillary to other core services.
When we launched Walkers Professional Services in 2015, our primary focus was on corporate and fiduciary services in support of Walkers as a leading international law firm. Since then, we’ve expanded rapidly in terms of the strength and breadth of our service offering, and our jurisdictional coverage. Our aim is to be a business partner for our clients, and to offer a solution for any task or process that can be outsourced. Again, this is where our focus on and investment in technology comes into play. We’ve been able to design platforms that provide a technical solution to tasks that clients might otherwise be doing manually in-house. This constant drive for innovation and technology has been one of the cornerstones of our success to date, and has helped us branch out into a broader professional services firm.
What does it take to be successful in the legal and professional services industry?
There are numerous qualities that contribute to people’s success, and what works for one person may not necessarily translate for others. That being said, I think generally speaking the key drivers are a combination of technical expertise and business acumen. And even in a world where people are increasingly interacting via alternative mediums, the ability to foster relationships is essential to delivering exceptional client service. We live in a world where the regulatory landscape is constantly changing, so adaptability, tenacity, resilience and resourcefulness are key.
What would you like to see more of in the legal and professional services industry?
In general, I think firms need to be – or must continue to be – outward focused. At Walkers, the client experience is at the forefront of everything that we do and in every external communication or interaction we have. Even when developing systems for internal use, the impact that this will ultimately have on our ability to service our clients more efficiently is a major factor in every decision-making process.
AI… will it replace or support human processes in the legal industry?
AI is an incredible opportunity for the legal and professional services industry. Within the trust and corporate services field for example, there are some processes and output that are relatively formulaic. AI can augment and enhance processes – however it won’t replace the human element entirely.
At Walkers Professional Services, whilst we have been able to automate a number of workflows and back-end processes, we nevertheless utilise our professionals for reviewing the end product and communicating with clients. The benefits are that we’ve been able to drastically improve efficiency by integrating systems and automating data population, but we are some years away from clients being comfortable in losing that element of human interaction. Which comes back to the earlier point about the ability to foster client relationships as a key skill – the more routine and back-end processes can be handled by AI, but people’s skills are then utilised in a different, and arguably more valuable, way.
In the context of providing legal services, AI can certainly benefit a number of processes by filtering and analysing significant amounts of data. However, we are yet to witness the ability of machines to do any form of complex legal reasoning, and therefore AI is not (yet!) a viable substitute for the provision of legal advice.
“This constant drive for innovation and technology has been one of the cornerstones of our success to date, and has helped us branch out into a broader professional services firm.”
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