Canadian Lawyer Magazine: Empathy and flexible relationships between in-house counsel and law firm partners are here to stay

Legal department leaders discuss the evolution of law firm partnerships in the new normal

This article was originally published in Canadian Lawyer Magazine

By Lucy Saddleton - 29 Jul 2021

Relationships between in-house counsel and their law firm partners have shifted tremendously during the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, as new ways of communicating and developing businesses have emerged.

Legal department leaders came together this week at a webinar co-hosted by Alexa Translations and LMA Canada to discuss their evolving relationships with law firm partners, and their expectations as we enter a new recovery phase. Panelists at the event – Post-COVID Business Development: Strategies for Success – discussed the impressive way in which law firm partners quickly pivoted to continue supporting clients during the crisis.

“What impressed me the most were the firms who really shared our values around empathy and were empathetic to their employees on personal challenges they faced. That really resonated with us as a company,” said Nils F. Engelstad, VP and general counsel at Alamos Gold, who was a panelist at the event. The pandemic really emphasised the importance of strong relationships with external counsel partners.

“The counsel we work with had really taken the time to get to understand our business – not just the legal department but the operational realities – so when everything shut down and we all became squares on a Zoom call, we already had those relationships,” said Engelstad.

Legal department leaders appreciated the law firms that went the extra mile to offer value add-ons during the pandemic, such as bulletins and templates that were often sent out to clients.

“The more you can provide relevant, practical advice and tools to make our lives easier, the value in that is tremendous,” said Fernando Garcia, VP, legal compliance and general counsel at Cargojet, who was also a panelist at the event.

Panelists discussed the importance of empathy in terms of relationships between law departments and their in-house clients.

“It’s about knowing who your client is and what keeps them up at night,” said panelist, Amanda Fullerton, VP, legal and corporate secretary at Gran Colombia Gold Corp.

When asked about their views on relationship management as we transition to a new normal, panelists agreed that it will be important to find a balance between new and old systems with flexible in-person and online meeting options.

“We will have to come up with hybrid solutions because it will be important to give options to the client,” said Marie Rémillard, chief marketing and business development officer at Langlois Lawyers, who was also on the panel. “Some clients cannot wait to come back to an in-person conference, but others will want to attend from home. Even if we have Zoom fatigue, it is here to stay.”

Fullerton agreed: “It’s going to have to be on a person-by-person basis. Don’t assume a client will be all in all the time,” she said.

Panelists also discussed the rise of alternative legal service providers. Engelstad hopes to see law firms being facilitators of these services, instead of competitors.

“I’d love for a big firm to come to me with a technology solution,” he said.

Gary Kalaci, CEO at Alexa Translations also spoke on the panel which was moderated by Andrew Bowyer, founder and CEO at ADB Insights.

The webinar was sponsored by Gran Colombia Gold Corp.

Miss the webinar? You can still watch it via the link below:

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