‘Lawyers Are Afraid Transparency Will Take Away Their Freedom’

No matter how much law firms and other legal services providers discuss change, sometimes nothing makes more of an impact than the clients and what they want. Artificial Lawyer spoke to Maurus Schreyvogel, Chief Legal Innovation Officer at healthcare giant, Novartis International, to find out what he thinks about legal innovation and the prospects for real change.

Novartis is one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies and like an increasing number of businesses with large inhouse teams it employs a Chief Legal Innovation Officer. In this case, it’s Maurus Schreyvogel (pictured), who has the job of driving change, increasing efficiency and saving money on legal expenditure at the company.

‘My role is that of the classic legal ops professional, but with a twist: to be responsible for the backbone operations, such as legal tech and processes, for example, where they are related to IP, data privacy and contract management,’ Schreyvogel explains.

‘The twist is that my role is shifting from providing operations for today to reimagining how we deliver legal services in the future. This has been an exciting part of my role and includes nearly all legal verticals or practice areas,’ he adds.

But beyond day-to-day improvements, how do you make a real impact within a $50 billion revenue business?

Schreyvogel is both realistic and has high goals: ‘The role is to re-imagine how we work. And we are getting closer to the core activity of the lawyers. Before, legal operations was just a sideshow, e.g. vendor management, but now we focus on the core activities: drafting and review of contracts and how to work with other functions in a more modern manner.’

Sounds good, but is it having an effect on what surely must be a massive legal budget?

Schreyvogel explains that around 2/3 of legal spend is external, and 1/3 internal. And of that external spend it is mostly for ‘extraordinary matters’ such as litigation, investigations, and transactions.

However, he and the team have made an impact. He estimates they are seeing savings now between 10% and 20% of the legal budget per annum due to better productivity. They have also made an effort to stop external firms offering open-ended fee plans.

‘Now we agree upfront what the fee will be for a piece of work,’ he notes and adds that, ‘with our market power we have been successful in this strategy.’

He adds that they did a study on what the inhouse team does and found that a significant amount of the legal activity is ‘not risk relevant’ or ‘not strategically relevant’.

So, they focused on simplification and automation where possible and delegation where it was not. This made a big difference to the lawyers having more time to work on what was truly important. In numbers the operations team returned over 25,000 hours in 2020.

He says that: ‘Some legal functions are afraid to do this kind of analysis as they like to work in a kind of mystical bubble. Lawyers are afraid that transparency will take away the freedom they enjoy. So they try to keep their work in a black box.’

‘But, that black box is a prison. We have a professional duty to come out of this black box. We have learnt from the HR world that we can be more transparent about what we do, and do it better.

‘We would be happier if we were honest that not all a lawyer does is complicated,’ Schreyvogel states.

And before we go, how do we break the cultural cycle that perpetuates itself and keeps the black box going?

Schreyvogel has a simple, but powerful, solution: ‘I would propose companies hire more people straight from law school, rather than have to then work against the law firm brainwashing which young lawyers receive, which is very hard to undo.’

[ If you work inhouse and/or in legal ops, please get in touch, Artificial Lawyer would be glad to hear your views on legal innovation and market change. ]