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Can tech make legal collaborative? Willem Wellinghoff, Shieldpay

Willem Wellinghoff, 19 November 2019

Legal operations

What role can technology play in helping legal collaborate more easily with other commercial teams? We catch up with Willem Wellinghoff, chief legal and compliance officer at Shieldpay, to find out.

Hi 👋 who are you?

My name’s Willem, I’m chief legal and compliance officer at Shieldpay. 

Is it easy driving change within a traditional sector like legal? 

It’s not easy. Thinking about the behavioural aspects, lawyers are risk-averse - trying to change their routines with just new tech won’t work. Lawyers aren’t naturally keen to change - generally they want to drive efficiency at as little cost to them as possible, with maximum benefits. Showcasing a solution that adds more value to projects and work streams whilst reducing cost is the easiest way to drive change. It doesn’t work if you approach the legal sector by saying you can revolutionize their world.

Legal can sometimes get stuck in their own bubble - how important is it for lawyers to understand the bigger commercial picture? 

It’s vitally important for any lawyer to understand the business strategy. Especially if you’re becoming an in-house counsel for the first time, you must understand the nuts and bolts of the business - from strategy, to financial data, to the product or service you’re trying to sell. By understanding the A-Z of the business, you can add commercial benefit as a lawyer and preemptively protect your business against anything that could be challenging in the future. 

"Collaboration works both ways - it’s important that other teams see lawyers as engagers and not blockers, in order to help them deliver on what they need

Can technology help with this?

Lots of departments around the company use various tech solutions to communicate and help develop the product. Getting involved with these can help lawyers improve their understanding of the business, but they must integrate with that technology from an early stage. Whether it’s comms, project management, or any other tool, the earlier lawyers can adopt and understand it, the easier it is for them to add value to the business. Slow adoption is often what impedes this - adopting faster is partly a mindset change.

You’re chief legal and compliance officer at a high-growth tech company - how does that differ from previous roles in larger corporations?

The biggest change from a large corporate to a fast-growing business is how close to the business you truly are but also how truly important your input is - from my previous roles in corporate life to the move to fintech now at Shieldpay, I’ve always tried to approach decision making in a fast and agile way, for the benefit of the team around me. In a larger company though, decisions can get lost in all the details, teams, and committees. Everything takes time, which adds to the frustrations of sales and commercial teams - but equally, the legal and compliance functions I’ve managed. Lawyers end up revisiting tasks they have already advised on several times prior. It’s not exactly efficient. 

Having said that, because decisions have to be made quickly in a fast-growing company, you’re going to be put under a spotlight on a regular basis. You need to be constantly alert and vigilant in order to make the right decisions for the business. It’s all about working in an agile and collaborative way to ultimately add commercial and business value. 

And how does it differ when it comes to collaborating with other teams?

Collaboration is different depending on the type of organisation that you’re working at, or the type of culture you’re building within your own legal function. There are large corporations doing a great job with collaboration, and I've always been a great advocate of working closely with other teams to make that happen.

Which teams do you interact with the most in Shieldpay? What advice would you have to help make cross-functional alignment a reality?

On a daily basis I interact most with the commercial, product, and operations teams, but also with the Board. To make this cross-functional alignment a reality, it’s essential for lawyers to be engagers and work out what makes other teams tick. Being able to achieve this vision alongside your own for your department is crucial, and really helps to reshape perspectives of legal being unapproachable and exclusive. 

Collaboration works both ways - it’s also important that other teams see lawyers as engagers and not blockers, in order to help them deliver on what they need. In the early stages, legal is a fundamental part of trying to build the business, so collaboration is crucial and should be simple.

To make cross-functional alignment a reality, it’s essential for lawyers to be engagers and work out what makes other teams tick

At Juro we’re committed to making legal more human - do you think the legal sector as a whole has a lot of work to do, in becoming a bit more human?

It depends on the kind of lawyer. The fintech and legaltech sectors, as well as emerging technologists, have worked hard to create more human elements to their legal processes - especially if legal is a core part of growing the business. In more traditional legal environments, it can be a struggle to adopt the same approach - in particular where language is concerned. It’s important for lawyers to use accessible language that people can easily engage with and understand.

The word ‘disruption’ gets thrown around without consideration to its meaning. Disruption is new and challenging, but I believe also has a negative connotation - especially now, as a buzzword that involves a lot of noise that isn’t followed by action. Evolution is more accurate, especially in a traditional sector like legal. It’s about trying to challenge the norm in an evolutionary way, and that’s the term we should be focusing on.

You’re a mentor in the Barclays Accelerator Programme - how does legal tech’s journey so far compare to fintech? Is there anything legal can learn from fintech?

Fintech has had a longer journey in terms of evolution. Accelerator programs were initially started by banks or financial institutions. Fintech’s journey has been longer because financial services evolve constantly along with technology and regulatory changes. Legal, however, has been very traditional for a long time - only now in the last decade are we seeing a shift, in which lawyers are adapting to reflect a fintech’s way of working. As a result, the mindset of law firms had to change, and technology has started looking into solutions that impact the legal industry. Legal have a lot of catching up to do, but adopting the mindset within fintech will help.

Visit Shieldpay to find out more about digital escrow payments. 

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Topics: Legal operations

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