We caught up with ZPG plc’s General Counsel and Company Secretary, Ned Staple, to see what 2018 has in store for in-house lawyers. ZPG plc is an LSE-listed company and a constituent of the FTSE 250 Index, owning and operating platforms like Zoopla, USwitch and Money.co.uk.
Hi Ned, thanks for talking to us. What are the big issues on the horizon for 2018 for in-house lawyers?
GDPR is a major event for all UK businesses this year, and for every in-house legal team. At ZPG we are focused on achieving day one compliance, and then ongoing optimisation of compliance processes, looking at how best to respond to GDPR-related requests. For our comparison services businesses, we will also be working on several other regulatory and compliance developments, particularly in the energy and financial services sectors.
Perhaps more generally, the ongoing optimisation of legal resources will be an issue. The question of how to generate more with less is ever-present. Legal budgets are tight and likely to tighten further with political and economic uncertainty. Finding creative ways to deliver improved legal services both internally and externally remains a key theme for 2018.
How much of an impact will Brexit have on in-house legal in the year ahead?
For many businesses it’s still too much of a moving target. Personally I do follow the latest developments, but planning a legal response is difficult: for example, we have a business in the Netherlands, and a forthcoming data bill, and Brexit will have direct implications on those issues. But where and when and how involves too much guesswork at the moment.
How are in-house lawyers changing the way they work in 2018?
One key trend for the year ahead is likely to be better familiarity with using data and analytics. It is increasingly important to formulate internal requests and responses in a data-rich way. One example is the way sales teams work with Salesforce. Legal teams are starting to follow suit; making the best case for resourcing legal and compliance teams will need clear and consistent data analysis.
In terms of technology, we need to understand what our own requirements are, as well as the business’ requirements. To the extent possible, we need to consider future capacity of the team, drawing on previous performance against budgets.
What about the industry itself – the balance between traditional law firms and new, disruptive providers?
We’ll continue to use Magic Circle firms for certain things. We just completed a high-yield bond transaction, and there wasn’t anyone other than a Magic Circle or top US firm on the list we considered. In areas involving very demanding work with a short timetable, there’s no doubt that the Magic Circle provides an excellent service solution. But obviously that won’t always be the case. Legal service providers are constantly changing. Short-term interim staffing solutions are now much more attractive, having grown in breadth and depth of expertise in recent years – that trend is likely to continue. With the right business case, and at the right time and place, those providers can certainly be the best choice.
And how about for the young lawyers joining the market – are they different than they would have been five or ten years ago?
In terms of the market itself, the quality of candidates applying for in-house positions seems to be very high. We have a preference for hiring direct from private practice, but you find good candidates everywhere. I believe that opportunities in-house are particularly good at the moment. If you consider the quality of the work, for example, preparing for and rolling out GDPR on the inside of an organisation is excellent experience. Not only are you working in a new area of legal and compliance analysis, but you also have the opportunity to get under the skin of an increasingly important area of the business.
Thanks Ned! Let's catch up later in the year and see how it all worked out.