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CMS lawyers talk remote-working, lawtech and the future of legal practice

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A panel of experts reflect on a year of unprecedented twists and turns

CMS lawyers of varying levels of seniority came together this month to discuss how the coronavirus is changing the way they work and the practice areas in which they specialise, at Legal Cheek’s latest virtual event.


The speakers

Jack Shepherd, Partner, Corporate/M&A, London
Nicholas Brady, Associate, Technology, Media and Telecommunications (TMT), Edinburgh
Laura Rankin, Associate, Employment, Glasgow
Oliver Bristow, Trainee Solicitor, Sheffield


Remote-working

With a return to normality some way off, students and aspiring lawyers remain keen to hear the ways in which law firms are ensuring a ‘business as usual’ approach. Jack Shepherd, Partner, and Nick Brady, Associate, said the transition to remote-working has been seamless and, as Shepherd explained, the firm’s existing agile working policy, whereby staff can work one day a week from home, and its investment in IT, made the switch relatively simple.

Meanwhile, Oliver Bristow, Trainee, praised the firm for “supplying us with everything we need to work from home” in terms of hardware. Moreover, web conferencing tools Microsoft Teams and Zoom are now “part of the vernacular”, as Brady put it, reflecting a trend among law firms who have embraced the great work from home experiment.

Lawtech

The panel also discussed some of the legal technology they are using to make their lives easier.

One example is an artificial intelligence software named ‘Kira’, which reads, analyses and reviews documents, helping streamline the due diligence process. Bristow explained how Kira is used to great effect in CMS’ Real Estate team, undertaking due diligence exercises and creating reports on leases and ancillary documents. Brady went on to explain how other systems such as Relativity are used within his TMT practice to discover non-disclosable information in data subject access requests. Shepherd also explained how the firm’s Equity Capital Markets practice uses Scribestar, a cloud-based collaboration platform for producing large public documents such as a prospectus.

By automating parts of the due diligence process, law firms can benefit clients by keeping costs down. Indeed, the digitisation of wider society and business is likely to be the defining feature of the 2020s, according to the virtual audience of 600 students, with 53% of them voting this way in a poll completed mid-discussion.

The advantage of being a multi-disciplinary firm

Drawing comparisons between the financial crisis of 2008 and the current pandemic, Shepherd explained how law firms have learned not to make rash or ill-thought-out decisions — a reduction in recruitment is one such example. Naturally, this bodes well for prospective lawyers interested in securing a training contract.

Shepherd went on to explain how CMS, as a multi-disciplinary firm, is well-positioned to navigate the impact of COVID-19: as one department sees a slowdown in work, another experiences an uptick — and can even lead to lawyers being seconded to other areas of the firm to help out. Restructuring, as Shepherd pointed out, could benefit from colleagues’ experience in corporate M&A, which saw a drop in activity at the start of the crisis, because the skills required carry a degree of transferability.

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Employment law

Laura Rankin, Associate, who appeared on the panel alongside Shepherd, Brady and Bristow, explained why she chose the practice area that she now specialises in — employment law. She pointed to the “varied workload” it provides, allowing her to operate across different sectors, including financial services, energy and technology.

Rankin explained there has been an uptick in employment law work following the onset of the pandemic. The CMS employment team has been busy responding to clients’ queries around remote-working and the government’s furlough scheme.

The Green Economy

In an increasingly environmentally-conscious corporate world, it was only fitting that the panel should discuss some of the ways in which their expertise will be applied to assist businesses looking to move towards sustainable practices in the post-COVID world.

Bristow explained he has been advising clients on sustainability in their manufacturing processes, and how to advertise this appropriately without ‘greenwashing’ — i.e. conveying a false impression or making misleading claims as to how environmentally friendly a product is.

Brexit

Equally crucial is the way in which CMS’ experts apply their services in the post-Brexit world.

British standards and legislation on product compliance currently transpose the standards set by EU law into UK law so as to be compatible, but do not go above those standards, and are underdeveloped in comparison with some of their European counterparts, particularly France, whose laws impose greater obligations on manufacturers in respect of ‘green labelling’.

Brexit also means that new product compliance laws are required to reflect the UK’s departure from the single market, such as new labelling requirements for goods which will see the CE conformity marking replaced with the UKCA conformity marking. New rules and legislation will likely provide a new or enhanced market for environment and product compliance specialists: an emerging area of law for aspiring lawyers to keep on their radar.

Find out more about The CMS Academy: The Next Generation Vacation Scheme

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