Gloria Sánchez Soriano, Head of Transformation – Legal Department, Santander

Former real estate lawyer Gloria Sánchez Soriano is one of a rare breed of innovation specialists within corporate legal departments. She talks to GC about her unique role and how she believes legal departments will need to evolve to be fit for the future.

When our group general counsel, Óscar García Maceiras, joined two years ago, he came with the idea of renovating and transforming the legal department. But Santander as a business is also in a huge process of transformation. Maceiras had a concern that we in our legal department in the market – and I think in many other legal departments – were working the same way that we were 100 years ago. We have legal databases, word processing, some digital resources – but we weren’t doing anything special. So the transformational project he envisioned was not only to implement a range of technologies, but also to foster a savvier legal department, with fewer pain points and better cooperation, coordination and efficiency.

The head of transformation role was created only one year ago. There was a need in our legal department to transform the way we work and to start implementing legal technologies, but also to improve things, not only with technology, but with more measures to improve processes and to take a look at how we work with people in the team – which types of lawyers we need now and which type of profiles we will be needing in the future.

Leading the charge

I’m not running a department with many people that I’m taking care of – what I do involves different people from across the department in each project. Day-to-day, I meet these people for different projects, I also meet providers, I do my own analysis of processes – for example, right now I am analysing a specific department within legal, so I am analysing what they do, how they work, what things they will need to start doing, and which others they need to stop doing.

I also need to go to conferences and seminars, because you need to be in the market talking to many people. Recently, I visited London to see what UK law firms are doing in terms of technology and innovation, as the UK is often regarded as best in class in terms of innovation from law firms.

I’m mostly talking to law firms: to people similar to me, such as innovation directors who have this type of role in firms. But I’m also talking to people in-house who, in addition to their own duties, are in charge of innovation. But the problem in many cases is that these people don’t have a real budget for implementation, or even worse, they don’t have the support from the general counsel or the wider business. In some cases their GC says ‘OK, we need to innovate, but you need to do your own work as well, we don’t have the budget and you need to do it at your desk, somehow’. If you don’t have support, it’s very difficult to do anything.

A work in progress

At the moment, for us, implementation of technology is a process. We are implementing a document management system, which is traditional in law firms but not so much in corporate in-house departments. We also have a contract management system.

We are starting to use some tools to give legal advice, for example chat bots, which our internal clients can use before going to the legal department for repetitive questions or areas where there are clear prescribed procedures, like GDPR. To complement these, we are implementing automated workflows to simplify processes and avoid huge amounts of emails – or as many as possible.

One area where I’d say Santander is really at the cutting edge, is using data extraction and analysis tools.

One area where I’d say Santander is really at the cutting edge, is using data extraction and data analysis tools for specific projects. In particular, we are using this for cases where otherwise we’d need to have a large number of contracts reviewed.

Transforming culture

The reality is that the transformation process is about much more than technology. In my opinion, it’s more about how to deal with culture change and how to deal with people, because in many cases, people are afraid to change, either consciously or unconsciously – and sometimes it’s very, very unconscious.

As lawyers, I think that we sometimes are used to working in a traditional way, to be very secure. This cultural mindset is difficult to change. But I see it as though you are conquering different areas. First of all, you have some people who are more tech savvy and who are more happy to change, so these ones are easier. But then you also have some reluctant people, so you need to try to get buy-in for new ways of working – and more broadly, for change. To do that, you need to do learning activities, you need to involve people in the project, you need to involve people in the development. Also, critical people will tell you things that you were not thinking at the beginning and the little things help you in confronting these challenges – so stakeholder engagement, early and often, is critical.

I think the future relates to being more efficient and leaving out some tasks that will be automated. Today, in most in-house legal departments and law firms, an important amount of the work that is done could be automated.

Moving forward means going back

If you want to automate contracts, you can do it in different ways. You can do that externally, or you can do it internally – but, for that, you need to train people. Training in automation is not coding – it’s a language – but it’s quite similar to coding, so you need to find people who are good at it, people who enjoy doing it, and who have the time, and then you need to organise a team. We subcontract the automation, but we will be having a small team of lawyers and paralegals who are able to create or update templates.

Some of our legal departments in other countries use data visualisation tools – so you need your lawyers to be trained in using these tools, because they are very useful for handling and understanding massive amounts of data. You don’t need your lawyers to be data scientists, but you need them to know how to use the tools and take advantage of them. However, many people who have been working for a long time are reluctant to use these tools – so then it becomes about demonstrating the difference the tools make and getting buy-in.

I think that Santander is doing great things in relation to innovation – we have projects focused on everything from blockchain to machine learning – so as lawyers, we need to understand these technologies, but also provide legal advice for the new questions and challenges that will arise as a business. In that way, we will be considering all of this for the training we need to give to our lawyers and the people we will be hiring in the future, so that we are able to provide legal advice to innovative projects. If you don’t understand blockchain, for instance, it will be very difficult for you to provide advice on it.

Adaptability and creativity will be very important. Being eager to learn is also important. You sometimes find lawyers who think that with what they already know, they don’t need anything more. For me though, that’s the complete opposite of my expectations of the ability they need to have. They need to be learning all the time. But that doesn’t just go for lawyers, that goes for all professions.