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THE LEGAL 500 > EVENTS > GC Summit Switzerland

GC Summit Switzerland

On 18th May, we hosted the GC Summit Switzerland in association with Prager Dreifuss. Our keynote speaker was former Eurostar CEO, Hamish Taylor, who spoke to an audience of 80 Swiss GCs on innovation and the legal team. This was followed by comment from a panel of leading Swiss general counsel: Maria Leistner from UBS, Christophe Marclay from Zurich Insurance Company, Kees Van Ophem from Fresenius Medical Care and Jennifer Picenoni from Lindt.

A significant point of interest was the fact that much of what Hamish spoke about centred upon talking to your client, and ultimately knowing what they really want and need. This approach means moving away from looking at the ‘what’ and focusing much more on the ‘why’.

In Taylor's stint at Eurostar, one of his ‘lightbulb’ moments was the realisation that Eurostar was competing not in the business travel market, as he had assumed, but in the leisure travel space. Its rivals were not other modes of transport, but other things you might spend a £100 on that weekend – perhaps a meal in a restaurant, or a new household item. This new understanding enabled Eurostar to refocus on partnerships with destinations such as Disneyland Paris. The breakthrough was grasping that they weren't selling the means of getting to Paris, but Paris itself.

This echoes Clayton Christensen’s theory of ‘jobs to be done’ in his latest best-selling book, Competing Against Luck. In this book (co-authored with Karen Dillon, Taddy Hall and David S Duncan), innovation is shown to be this: about what customers are using your product for, and therefore what they really need. Often what gives a product an edge is the emotional connection that customers have with it. As Christensen writes: ‘The key to getting hired is to understand the narrative of the customer’s life in such rich detail that you are able to design a solution that far exceeds anything the customer themselves could have found words to request. In hindsight, breakthrough insights might seem obvious, but they rarely are. In fact, they’re fundamentally contrarian: you see something that others have missed.’

We often equate innovation with technological or process advances, but the ‘jobs to be done’ theory dubs this thinking ‘stack fallacy’ – where engineers overweight their own technology and lose sight of the end use.

What does this mean for legal services? The rise of automation and alternative law firms are examples of ‘jobs to be done’ in action – they perform jobs to be done by the general counsel (or the company, or the CEO).

Contract automation is being used by GCs for the job of freeing up lawyers to work more strategically and add greater value to the company – not as an end in itself. It also adds greater efficiency in cost and time. But as Christophe Marclay from Zurich remarked during our Swiss panel, programming algorithms to automate contracts also made his team think about why certain clauses were in every contract if they weren't needed. Here we see innovation not just as looking anew, but looking differently.

Kees, at Fresenius, shared how one of his major innovations around talent involved thinking more flexibly, and from the perspective of what his actual needs were. He had sometimes struggled to find talent for his legal team because of the process and organisational constraints of lawyers sitting at head office. He asked himself the question ‘What do we actually need?’ and recognised that what he needed was the best talent for a global company. He has now adopted a more flexible approach, focusing his efforts on hiring the best talent wherever it happens to be in relation to any of the company’s offices. The result is not only an influx of top talent, but a global perspective.

Our Swiss panellists universally felt that legal services in Switzerland need to be more innovative. Perhaps this might be a good source of debate for our next GC Summit Switzerland...

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