What clients expect from Latin American lawyers in this new era of legal tech and frenetic changes
Rebaza Alcázar & De Las Casas, Lima
The first part of the panel began with a brief introduction of the speakers by Paula Vieira, session co-chair and a partner at Mattos Filho Veiga Filho Marrey Jr e Quiroga, explaining their positions as in-house counsel in swiftly turning onto the topic of the biggest challenges and trends in relation to the acquisition and use of data. Margarita Hugues, Legal Director at Kaluz SA de CV, started the debate stating that companies outside the tech world are finally realising data is an asset, and that the pandemic has accentuated this idea. She went on to say that in-house legal departments in companies of all industries must evaluate the uses they are giving to data and the ways they are acquiring it. Furthermore, law firms must be agile in digesting the latest worldwide legislation regarding data privacy and the ever-growing monetisation of data, as to provide the best advice to their clients, not only with regards to big data and data mining, but also matters such as right to be forgotten claims, consumer protection, identity fraud and antitrust regulations, among other things.
Hugue’s sentiment was quickly echoed by the other speakers, and session co-chair Benjamin Grebe, partner at Estudio Prieto, took over from Vieira to introduce the next topic: clients’ take on law firms moving from a traditional office-centred structure to work from home (WFH) structures on a more permanent basis. Anibal Prieto, Chief Legal Counsel at Engie Latin America, was quick to point out that stating that law firms have proven they can thrive ‘without the real estate’ was an oversimplification of the matter, stating that, while he hasn’t had problems working with external counsel during the lockdown, he is weary of the psychological stress that permanent WFH structures may introduce to the lawyers themselves. At a general level, he believes working from home for an extended period of time is very stressing and eventually causes people to lose contact with the company’s culture and with each other. From a practical point of view, he claimed that clients want the job done, whether it be at the office or at home, but he prefers knowing that his counsel is at the office.
On the other hand, Andrés Zenarruza, Legal Manager at Grupo Corporación América, had an entirely different stance on the matter, claiming he felt no difference on the quality of service from external counsel while in lockdown and working from home. His stance was a lot more practical, believing that clients need not know where the work is done, as long as the team is focused and committed, and work is getting done in a timely and efficient manner. However, while he believes that clients should not interfere in a law firm’s managerial role, he does recognise that data privacy and confidentiality might be at stake while working from home, and that maintaining an adequate security standard is something that firms must look out for. Additionally, he pointed out that, while some degree of real estate will always be necessary for certain scenarios (eg, receiving foreign clients and/or holding large closing meetings), the lockdown has proven that the magnitude of such real estate can, and probably will be reduced. Katherine Krause, a partner at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, provided us with a rather interesting take on why law firms would eventually return to offices, explaining that it is important for young associates to be exposed to the office culture and be nurtured by their more senior counterparts. She believed that, while associates with some degree of experience have fared just fine in lockdown, it isn’t enough to just send an associate fresh out of law school a marked-up document and expect them to learn, but rather explain the mark-up.
The session co-chairs then turned to the matter of email marketing during the lockdown (eg, Covid-19 updates and task forces) and there was a general opinion among the speakers that these kinds of materials had been felt as spam more and more since the beginning of lockdown. Most speakers agreed that said materials should be personalised as much as possible to avoid them striking out as mere spam, and that firms should really try to cherry-pick what they are conveying and to whom, as ‘personally selected’ material will always be appreciated by clients.
Finally, the debate turned to the latest trends in diversity and inclusion policies, and Vieira asked Shirley Meshke, Director of Legal Affairs at Pfizer Brazil, what Pfizer’s main considerations were from a diversity and inclusion point of view, when hiring law firms. Meshke explained that diversity and inclusion have been directly incorporated into the selection process at a global level (ie, not just in Pfizer Brazil). Companies value principles, professional excellence, diversity and cost efficiency. It isn’t enough to just have a code or rulebook related to diversity and inclusion policy, but rather have results to showcase the changes that have been made to make teams more open and more diverse. In this sense, most speakers believed this will become standard practice in the coming years, and Vieira considered that management engagement is necessary to make real changes, and clients starting to incorporate such policies into their own selection processes will definitely have an impact in tilting management in the right direction.