18 December 2020

One of our sector’s biggest challenges is image, says Dan Kayne, General Counsel (Regions) at Network Rail

Published on 18 December 2020

The legal sector has a mountain of opportunity ahead, but with some smaller hills to cross along the way. One such hill is the sector’s poor image, according to Dan Kayne General Counsel (Regions) of the Network Rail – the owner and operator of Britain’s rail infrastructure.

As part of the organisation’s large in-house legal team, Dan has been a key driver in modernising how the team operates.

We spoke to Dan about the legal sector’s image challenges, lawyer education – and how he’s striving to be a champion for change in the UK.

Improving legal culture to better the profession’s image

While many legal professionals associate the term ‘innovation’ with the adoption of new technology, Dan says we need to look at the term more broadly.

“The innovation I would like to see in our sector is an image reinvention. There’s huge opportunity to show that we are a profession that cares. And first and foremost, this needs to start with our own staff. 

“There are some fabulous people in our profession who want to make a difference, but they’re struggling with figuring out how to break down the cultural barriers that exist in the sector.

“We need to show the world that we care as much about our people and our purpose as we do about profit per partner or bonuses. And that we care as much about doing the right thing as we do about sweating our main assets.”

Dan believes COVID-19 has opened the door to new opportunities around staff wellbeing.

“The traditional focus on hours and billing has placed a big strain on legal professionals’ health and wellbeing. It would have been unthinkable 12 months ago for our profession – accustomed to a presenteeism culture – to adapt to almost exclusive virtual working. COVID-19 has shown that there is another way.

“We’ve now seen the benefits of working from home. For some that is a well-being benefit, for others it is feeling much more empowered about how to manage their time. It would be a travesty if we reverted to the old ways once the pandemic passes,” he says.

‘Leaders shape, victims grumble’

The disruption in the industry that new technologies are causing is offering up new opportunities, while simultaneously posing new threats.

“There’s an uncomfortable relationship in the legal profession between the efficiencies that technology can provide and the profitability of the billable hour model. Having a cost system structured around an hourly rate is the antithesis of productivity. 

“If firms can find a way to balance these apparent competing demands successfully – and their clients feel the benefits – the uptake of new technology will increase significantly over the next two to three years.”

According to Dan, how we see disruption (either with optimism or pessimism) depends on the individual.

“There is a phrase I have borrowed and repeated several times before: ‘leaders shape, victims grumble’. Those who embrace the increasing tech disruption will lead the change and be masters of their own destinies. 

“Those who see it as a threat will fall victim to the changes around them. Rather than shaping their own futures, they’ll be left grumbling,” he says.

Three foundational changes the industry is crying out for

Dan believes the legal sector needs to embrace three major changes to navigate disruption. 

“Firstly, we need to ensure we are listening to our clients. I know it sounds obvious, but listening isn’t always prioritised in our industry. This is partly due to the simple reality that lawyers are not trained to  be customer led. 

“Secondly, we need industry-wide awareness that the legal sector must shift its mindset. Lawyers are traditionally focused on identifying all the things that could go wrong – but now we need to focus on the art of the possible.

“Finally, we need to change the narrative around disruption from ‘navigating’ change to ‘leading’ it. Navigating change means waiting to see what comes and adapting as you go.

“While it’s easier to sit back and see what happens, rather than put your head above the parapet, we should be encouraging legal professionals to take leading roles in driving change. We have a wealth of untapped talent in our profession which we need to unlock. That will help us to start shaping the future – not waiting and then hoping to catch up. By then it will be too late,” he says. 

The future lawyer is ‘O’ shaped

Practising what he preaches, Dan has created the O Shaped Lawyer® Programme. This program is designed to equip lawyers with the skills, mindsets and behaviours they need to thrive in a contemporary legal system.

It’s driven by a framework of the following five behaviours and mindsets which Dan believes can act as a guide for lawyers: optimism, ownership, open-mindedness, opportunism and originality.

It aims to act as the agent for radical change across the industry.

“We have adopted the mantra of ‘people first; then lawyers’. We believe the lawyer of the future will practise in a more human-centric and emotionally intelligent way. And we want to lead that change.

“Our aim is to show that with a more rounded approach, we can provide a better client service in a more diverse, inclusive and healthier environment.

“Lawyers of the future will be more rounded. They will be more ‘O’,” he says.

A complete rethink for educating the next generation of lawyers

Dan says the legal education system is out of step – and not giving today’s lawyers the skills they really need.

“Legal education needs a complete rethink. We’re training lawyers in a very technical way – which is more suited to 20th century client needs. It’s out of touch with the disrupted landscape that our sector now faces.

“The legal education system in the UK is in the midst of a big change – bigger than anything we have seen in over a generation.

“Yet, there’s still a risk the changes won’t equip future lawyers with a broader set of skills; skills that will help them succeed as the profession continues to evolve over the next 10 years and beyond.

“This was one reason that I started the O Shaped Lawyer® Programme, as one of its key goals centres on working closely with law schools and universities. Together, we’re aspiring to develop programs that put the needs of the next-generation legal professional front and centre.

“To be successful however, the program needs the backing of the entire legal ecosystem. This is a huge challenge when so many are still wedded to the status quo. But we are giving it a good go!” he says.

Innovation needs collaboration

According to Dan, the legal profession’s siloed approach has contributed to its struggle with innovation.

“Collaboration is something that we, as a profession, need to get better at. That’s why it’s hugely positive for our industry that the Centre for Legal Innovation (CLI) exists. The CLI is playing a leading role in helping the profession address the opportunities and challenges before us. 

“By bringing the constituent parts of the legal ecosystem together, the CLI is creating a platform for discussion and an arena to let creativity flourish,” says Dan.

Dive deeper with Dan

Want to learn more about Dan’s thoughts on lawyer capabilities now and into the future? Watch or listen to the CLI session New World, New Lawyers – How are capabilities "shaping" up?, where he’s joined by leading legal education innovator Caitlin (Cat) Moon, Director of Innovation Design, Vanderbilt Law School (USA).