A new normal – lessons from Singapore and Asia Pacific
Asia Pacific countries were the first to experience the impact of Covid-19 and, consequently, to adapt to working and living in the new normal. To share what lessons the rest of the world can learn from the region, we talk to Singapore-based Andrew Beasley. As the firm's Best Delivery Regional Lead for the region, he brings a unique dual perspective to the situation.
What is the dual perspective you bring to the Singapore office as you navigate Covid-19?
Due to circumstances, I was asked to assist with managing the Singapore office's response at this critical time. I was supporting the office and regional management, doing risk assessments and putting in place the plans we needed to move to remote working across the office. The move to entire office remote working started in APAC so we were creating the playbook for others to follow.
Looking back, what lessons have you taken away from the profound changes that have been imposed on you and your colleagues?
The biggest surprise for me was how quickly our lawyers, in particular, have adapted to the changes required of them. The mindset that characterises a good lawyer – risk averse, detail-oriented perfectionists – made me think that this would be a really difficult adjustment for them, but they have risen to the challenge magnificently. There are two lessons to come from this:
1. They have proved to themselves that they can change and it's not such a bad thing
2. Best Delivery, as agents of change can push change through much more quickly if we need to.
How do you think that realisation will influence your role in future?
In the past, when implementing changes or rolling out new ways of working, we have had to find ways of incentivising our lawyers to adopt new approaches rather than forcing them. Whilst it is important to bring them on the journey of change, a lot of effort can go into convincing them and ensuring old less efficient ways of working don't return. Having seen how adaptable our lawyers and business professionals can be when the occasion requires it, I feel that our approach in future can, and should, be more direct when implementing change. We will still need to explain the rationale for the need to change and we will also need to be absolutely certain of the benefits in any new approach. However, we can be much more confident in forcing the changes through now that both we and they know that they can adapt. This will enable us to achieve the benefits more quickly.
What changes in working practices do you think your lawyers might retain as more of the restrictions are lifted?
I think the most visible change we will see is around the use of paper. I've already had partners and lawyers say to me that, having learned how to review documents and do mark-ups on a tablet rather than in hard copy, they are going to maintain that process. They recognise that it's more efficient and it removes process delays. This will also mean that we will need to provide different technology platforms for fee earners, which we have started to do.
The restrictions and challenges imposed on all businesses by Covid-19 has been an incredible platform for our innovation and Best Delivery capabilities. Since the COVID-19 situation developed, we've been seeing a lot more interest from clients in how legal services are delivered. It's not just the cost savings, although that's also of great interest, there's more focus on the how the work is going to be managed and done. The most noticeable example of this is the surge in interest in our legal project management capability. I've been involved in very detailed discussions with two large banks on how we can assist with their IBOR repapering exercise. Whilst they were obviously interested in the legal aspects of the work, we spent most of the time talking about the planning, the role of technology, and who would be one point of contact who would be managing the budget, identifying and managing risks, and reporting progress. I believe this focus is only going to get more intense in future, not less.
What longer term changes do you think might last in this new normal?
In Asia, more than the rest of the world, a client's relationship is with the lawyer rather than the firm. Personal relationships are very important so social distancing has been a big cultural shift away from the traditional requirement to do business face to face. The Firm's investment in cutting edge tools such as WebEx, Zoom, and MS Teams to enable good video conferencing and efficient collaboration through CC Connect , MS teams and One Note has helped this shift.
At the moment, the region is still constrained by restrictive regulatory frameworks. For example in some countries there are constraints on the use of eSignatures with documents requiring to be authenticated by wet ink signatures and or physical chops (seals). My sense is that the current situation will accelerate changes in the regulatory framework that will allow greater use of eSignatures, which will bring efficiencies to the closing process, which would be welcome by our trainees and junior lawyers I am sure.
What is your role as a Continuous Improvement (CI) specialist in this evolving environment?
The CI team is the interface between all Best Delivery capabilities, and the client team. We are uniquely placed to understand a client needs and give them the right end-to-end solutions. Clifford Chance was one of the first law firms to invest in CI back in 2007 and we've learned a lot since then. Our lawyers trust us to talk to clients directly, without feeling they need to be present, and our clients get a lot from these discussions.
The past few months has blurred the lines somewhat between advisers and clients. We've all struggled with the same problems and there's been a sense of "we're all in this together". We don't wait for clients to come to us, we try and pre-empt them. Before the crisis our Best Delivery strategy for Asia was to be more proactive in our service offering with a couple of key clients and monitor results. The crisis has prompted us to be more proactive with a lot more clients.
Recently, a client wanted some assistance for a large matter, something that we would normally deploy a legal project manager on, however, we didn't have one available. Having understood what that client needed, I knew a freelancer who would be right for the project and we could recommend. The client was very grateful, recognising that we had provided the right solution for this occasion. I think this spirit of collaboration will remain even as we move into life after Covid-19.
About our contributor Best Delivery Regional Programme Director Asia Pacific - Andrew Beasley
I started my career in IT, looking after systems in professional services firms in Australia. I did this initially as an employee and then, briefly, setting up my own company. After a gap year in Wales, I worked in London as a consultant in a software house, that built and implemented practice management systems for law firms. I was first introduced to Clifford Chance in 2001 when I was involved in rolling out a new system across their offices until 2006. After a short stint with another software house, in 2007 I was invited by Clifford Chance to advise their Global Programme Group. I worked as a consultant until 2010, which is when I joined firm as an employee. I worked across our London, US and European offices before moving to Hong Kong in 2011 to project manage the opening of Clifford Chance offices in Australia and Korea.
After returning to London in 2012, I was asked to take on an operational role running the Firm's financial systems. At this time I started getting interested in process improvement projects and did my Lean Six Sigma training. My first 'official' Continuous Improvement (CI) role was a maternity leave cover in the London Office. Three years later the Firm asked me to expand our CI programme in APAC. I started in Hong Kong and, almost three years ago, I moved to Singapore. In the last five years the regional Best Delivery team has grown to 10, covering a full range of specialisms.