Laurence Simons...with Herve Labaude

12 Nov 11:00 by Neelam Khalid


Clare Butler (CB): Would you tell me about when you first decided to become a lawyer?

Herve Labaude (HL): A very interesting question! I surprised myself in realising that I did not really make this choice. I was pushed by events and circumstances. I choose law because at the time in France, even in very good universities, Law was one of the degrees where you could study whilst working at the same time. And I needed to work. So, I did not choose this because it was a vocation; I chose it because it enabled me to make a living whilst studying.  I actually realised I wanted to be a lawyer only after law school, maybe two years after I had started my first job as in-house counsel. It was at this point that I realised I really liked the job, that it was intellectually very exciting, and that there were many opportunities in it. I have never had a different view since then!

 But I did not realise that I was enjoying it during my legal studies which, at the time in France, were very academic. It was a lot about learning, and about memory. There was nothing thrilling – at least for me – about studying Law in France in the late seventies. In fact, very often you can see that awareness of vocation comes up at a very late stage. Could I say today, being a lawyer was a vocation? Retrospectively, I probably could, but I certainly didn't know beforehand.

CB: That's great to know. Thank you for that; when have you been most challenged as a lawyer, and if you'd like to share, how did you overcome that? 

HL: Again, a very interesting question. What strikes me after all these years, is what my first General Counsel told me once, and at that time I just didn't realise what he meant. He said, "Experience doesn't mean much, except less “trepidation”. You are less scared when you get more confidence in what you do." Retrospectively, I still find it so true, because your lawyer experience is so volatile. The arenas of law are changing. What you studied as a lawyer is partly irrelevant today. It's moving so quickly, but experience is a construct. When I go back to my memory, I can recall several stressful circumstances when I was a young lawyer. If I think about the last ten or fifteen years, do I think about a situation where I felt like things could potentially have gotten out of control? In all honesty, probably not.

 Reflecting on my first years of professional experience, I had this very ambitious tendency to take on things, to do them by myself, to accept any question without any doubt regarding the limits of my competencies! It changed pretty quickly, fortunately. That was also a lesson: always share transparently with teams around you, learn from others at any stage of your career, be open and transparent. Don't take on board more than you or your team are able to deal with.

CB: Not that your career is by any means over, but looking back on your career, what are you most proud of?

HL: There are two things that come to my mind for this question. You are not alone in your career. Each time when I think back about being proud of something, they were all team achievements, because it was so rewarding. The enthusiasm for a team to successfully complete a large acquisition, large restructuring; closing a big transaction or a venture or whatever is, is really the top of achievements. Either I was a young member of the team or, as of more recently, the leader of the team, but either way these are clearly the achievements that I'm really proud of.

 The second thing coming to my mind is different, and that’s the amazing impact of the global legal function that we've been able to put in place in the last three, four years at EY. I am extremely proud of that. Again, this is a team achievement, and I am glad I've had the opportunity to contribute to and be amongst the key players who built this global legal function. It will remain a truly big reason for satisfaction in my professional career. 

CB: Is there any advice, and this can be wider than just law. This can be anything. Is there any advice you would give to your younger self? 

HL: Giving advice is difficult, and sometimes irrelevant outside of a particular context. This being said, the first piece of advice I would give to young professionals – not only lawyers – joining an organisation, regardless of its size, would be: be patient, listen, observe, understand your environment, learn from it. Don’t think about an immediate return on investment (in terms of career evolution, and indeed to some extent compensation). Your first professional experience can be key in your personal construct. Don’t necessarily run from job to job. Be patient.

 The second one is, be patient but... not too much. At some point in time when you get the instinct that things are not going to evolve and that, as we say in French, le champ du possible, is over. You have to take action. Either you take action internally and say, “Listen, I like this place, but I need to find something else,” which I did several times; or you don't change organisation, but you get a different career. It's a mix of both. It's being patient, but at the same time, being always aware of the fact that you still have some possibilities and opportunities and that you're going to have fun wherever you are.

CB: That's fantastic advice for our readers. You know that lawyers are always on call, so it can be very stressful. It can be stress-filled. How do you deal with stress?

HL: You know, it depends largely on everyone’s personality. I suppose we all have our own recipe. Some people just transfer their stress onto others. You know a number of people definitely do, and you can see they are less stressed when they have “downloaded” their stress onto others. It's not great within a team and certainly not what I would recommend. The first advice of mine is to always have something else in the back of your mind to balance your stress. It can be the perspective of a family reunion at the end of the week, it can be an upcoming tennis game with friends. The reason you have a hard time with stress is because you are one-track minded with the subject-matter of your stress. Try to put your stress into a broader perspective. It can just dilute the stress very significantly. 

CB: Switching gears a bit, getting back into what you have to do each and every day… Do you have any tools or techniques that make you more productive or that you've found have helped?

HL: The first one is the obvious one, which is delegation to teams. I remember something when I was a junior lawyer that a senior lawyer told me: the first thing you've got to think when you take a job, is to identify the person who will be able to take your seat at some moment in time. And I think it's great advice. It can be scary to look immediately for your successor, but more generally you have to build a team with the strongest people. Identify those who are the key players in the team, or who could join your team, and strongly delegate to these people. Thinking about getting to the next level is a way to optimize your productivity. Don't go for the weak link because it sounds like it’s going to be more comfortable. It's going to be much riskier. Being more productive means that you actually get the most challenging, ambitious, powerful, efficient, and productive people. That's the way you get better. You get productive and you also get to the next level.

 The second aspect that comes to mind, and it is sometimes difficult for lawyers because we have a tendency to be analytical, is: let's never forget that we have to get to the point. Getting productive means getting to the point. There is a phase for analysis, but as soon as you do realise that you can get out of it, just get to the point. You've got to have a good balance of legal analysis, recommendation, and action and implementation, and it's important that you keep control of the timing of the phase of analysis and make it short enough so that you just go ahead and implement. And this is a key for your productivity.

 Your question also makes me think of an interview with golfer Gary Player a few years ago. He was saying, “The harder I work, the luckier I get.” Not only, obviously, do you get more productive, but your expertise gets better, your time to connect with other people and learn from them gets broader, and as a result your judgement can get better, more accurate. More work usually pays off! So that's my three points on this one. 

CB: Some advice, then please, for our readership in terms of what are the biggest challenges facing lawyers in the next five years? 

HL: What would we have said five years ago? I don’t think anyone would have then anticipated Brexit, a limited number of people could have predicted who would be the next US President. It would have been hard to predict then how extraordinary the impact of blockchain and the internet of things would have been on the world economy. I certainly can see a few things for the next five years, but it might prove to be wrong twelve months from now. I guess my point is that it's almost unpredictable, because of this speed at which things change. External elements that impact so much on the life of everybody are absolutely staggering. And amazingly, even though we speak about globalisation, we can see that the change of a few political leaders, can all drive major changes. So, predicting what can happen in five years is difficult at this stage.

 Looking at a snapshot today, I would say that the major challenges that are impacting the lives of lawyers and legal functions are, firstly, the impact of technology disruption. It's something we have seen for the past two, three years. But I think it will be a lasting phenomenon, not only because it transformed the business of our clients, whether we're in private practice or in-house, but it will certainly reshape the legal function, totally reshape it. Blockchain, Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things, and so on, will force legal functions to totally reshape their organisation and their operating model. I don't see yet many legal functions moving quickly on that. I think the challenge is for these legal functions to be able to really pick up the pace, because I don't think we collectively as a profession have yet taken all this into account.

 The second thing in most businesses is the impact of the increased regulatory environment. We see it in most industry sectors, even when they are not regulated; think about the economic war through sanctions, which is basically an economic war that a number of countries are leading and fighting against companies, which are outside of their remits. You can see the significant fines that the SEC have applied on European banks, but you can also see the significant fines of the European Commission on Google. I think that's going to be increasingly the world of tomorrow. It will also significantly impact the legal profession.

 I think the legal function will shift from a traditional, commercial contracts and M&A related matters, to becoming more of a crisis management function. The challenge is that the legal function will remain in charge of the more “day-to-day matters”, which will indeed create resource constraints and the need to re-think the operating model of most large legal functions. This is in order to combine the ability to deal with usual matters, monitor compliance with laws and regulations in all countries, in which the corresponding organisation operates, and manage crisis which is, most of the time, rather unforeseeable.

 I think that the crisis management mode of the lawyer will become his or her day-to-day life. Consider eighty percent of what the lawyer is doing today, which is commercial contract negotiation, acquisition and due diligence. Large legal functions will need to consider transferring part of the current workload and implement over to Artificial Intelligence, robots, and offshore centres for example. But potentially, a significant part of what we do today, lawyers are not going to do that in five years’ time. This is a huge, huge shift, which requires all the legal profession, and lawyers individually, to have the honesty to reflect on our current skill set, versus what it's going to take for us as lawyers if we still want to be a lawyer to have.

CB: Thank you. Very, very profound. It kind of links, I think, to the eighth question. 

HL: Can you tell me more about the eighth question? 

CB: Yes of course.  What is one growth area/rising trend in the legal profession and why?

 One of the trends that we are seeing is quite intensive growth in data privacy. We now see that data privacy is like compliance was in the nineties. Thinking back to the nineties when corporations were thinking; “we need to take this seriously as a business.” In creating these functions, they put lawyers into those roles because lawyers have the ability to understand the risk profile and create process around that. We see the same in DP. It is a sector that every business, regardless of whether they're big or small, will have to look out for. We see that as a rising trend: the requirement for DP lawyers.

 You mentioned about AI, which absolutely we see as a trend. Another one is that not everybody wants to stay as a lawyer anymore! What we see with some of the junior lawyers is they want a portfolio career, not want to do a hundred-hour work week in private practice. So, I wondered what you think about any trends or growth areas within the legal profession?

HL: I believe there will be several types of “families” of lawyers in the future. A first “family”, I would call the subject-matter experts. To me, the vast majority of the lawyers will be used as subject-matter experts. The question is, are we going to have enough of these lawyers and, as you said, are we going to have enough people entrusted to be privacy lawyers?

The compliance arena is another arena in which more legal skills will be needed. It is complex and challenging, not only because the scope of compliance is increasingly broad – AML, compliance with sanctions regimes, data privacy related matters – but also because it is not simply about “reading the rule”. It is about an ability to take a business perspective before advising on legal matters.

 If we have weaknesses as lawyers, one of them is project management skills – the ability to combine legal skills, either for clients in private practice or for your own company, with an ability to take this sort of holistic view of things, to be able to truly manage a project. This is obviously a basic thing we expect sometimes from a number of joint counsels, so I think that's a second thing.

 There's a third set of legal skills which are increasingly critical, which I was referring to before, and that's the crisis management skills. I think that it's broad, but it's going to be a huge trend. We will expect that most of these high added value lawyers be either crisis management players or project managers, and project management skills are not in every lawyer's skill set, we will have to get better!

CB: Wonderful, it has been so enlightening sitting down with you for this. Finally, just a question for our readership. What is the best location you've ever worked? 

HL: London, with no hesitation whatsoever. It's been fifteen years. It was not simply a professional decision made, but a family decision. And in fifteen years I've been really enjoying living in the UK, in London, and enjoying the culture, the mindset, the working style of the British, which is extremely respectful, balanced and enjoyable in terms of quality of relationship. So, London definitely.

CB: Merci.

 HL: Merci.