Major conference highlights need for cross-lawyer collaboration

by Sophie Schroder15 Oct 2014
At a major conference in Chicago run by the Employment Law Alliance (ELA), the importance of cross-lawyer collaboration was confirmed for Simpson Grierson partner Phillipa Muir.

Recently returned, Muir told NZ Lawyer that such teamwork with peers across firm lines is the key to being successful and competitive in the current legal marketplace.

“Clients have an in-depth understanding of what they want from their lawyers and the way they want that relationship to work,” she says. 

“You do need to be respectful of what the client wants and be prepared to collaborate… It’s something many of us have done already, and it’s about ensuring that your clients get excellent service seamlessly.”

Here in New Zealand it’s definitely happening more and more, says Muir, and being part of an alliance like the ELA makes cross-collegial collaboration all the more seamless.

As is the case with many large professional syndicates, ELA allows only one member per country (or State in America). This means that Simpson Grierson is in a prime position as New Zealand’s sole participant.
The firm was recently able to leverage this relationship.

It was running an IT outsourcing deal with a client that had its head office here, and the deal impacted employees in multiple jurisdictions. 

Through ELA, Simpson Grierson was able to make contact with and recommend a range of trusted lawyers to manage the international employment law aspects of the deal across regions including Europe, Asia and Australia.

And thanks to the alliance’s comprehensive vetting process, Muir says there’s the assurance that the lawyers will be leaders in employment law in their jurisdiction.

“I know and trust all these lawyers. The network works really well.”

Another of sessions at the ELA Chicago conference that connected with Muir was a panel discussion featuring in-house counsel and HR managers from several large multi-national corporations in the USA and Europe, including Walgreens and McDonalds.

“The panellists discussed how important it is for them to find the right lawyers and build a strategic partnership with that person. That is one of the reasons that our membership of the ELA is so beneficial,” she says.

The conference was also an opportunity for Muir to gauge where New Zealand legal professionals stack up and whether we are also facing or will face some of the challenges being felt abroad.

She says one of the points that came up time and time again speaking with different law firm attendees was the instability of the legal market in other countries.

“The influx of international law firms into some new markets has changed the dynamic with increased competition and pressure,” she says. “This hasn't happened to any real extent in New Zealand and it is interesting to see how overseas firms are coping with these new challenges.”

But alongside that, Muir thinks that there is definitely a greater need for lawyers here to look at different ways of working and resourcing, especially in such a competitive legal market.

Leveraging tools such as near-shoring, process mapping and online applications is going to be important, she says.

“The topical issues included looking at how we’re going to do business, particularly in this digital age.”