UnitedLex announced Tuesday that it had snagged five new management-level hires away from the Big Four. The move comes as the service provider is anticipating a rapid acceleration of the digital transformation unfolding across legal departments, due to COVID-19 and budgetary pressures.
Among the new hires revealed were former Deloitte partner Mike Duggan, who signed on to become UnitedLex’s executive vice president, client and markets. The other four recruits all hail from PwC, including David Clarke (vice president and chief experience and marketing officer), Audra Nichols (senior vice president of digital solutions and methods), Bhavesh Patel (senior vice president, transformation) and Christian Schmitt (executive vice president, clients and markets leader, EMEA).
In case anyone was left wondering, the Big Four theme was not unintentional. Dave Edelheit, chief digital and transformation officer at UnitedLex, indicated that in order to serve the needs of legal departments undergoing a digital transformation, the provider needed to become “multi-threaded”—in other words, bolster its existing bench of legal expertise with knowledge of technology, digital experience and service delivery.
Finding that kind of unified talent and experience inside the legal industry could be a challenge. “The strengths that the Big Four brought, especially around experience, change management and good operations, true delivery excellence and also great client management—was just lacking across the board,” Edelheit said.
Timing was also of the essence. Edelheit cited an increased sense of urgency among legal departments as they seek to accelerate their digital transformation. A big part of that impetus flows from the COVID-19 pandemic, which has required strong remote working tools and digital solutions, such as contract management systems.
However, legal departments are also facing pressure from their C-suites to accomplish more with fewer resources, as well as to collaborate efficiently with other business units within the organization. Edelheit pointed to artificial intelligence and automated technologies as a big priority for legal departments moving forward.
“Legal is a big bottleneck to acceleration. One of our clients is going to be seeing 60% to 70% growth this year, [but] … they are actually having to reduce targets because legal can’t get their act together, in being effective in contracting. Imagine being the department that’s slowing things down from achieving the revenue targets. The shareholders won’t stand for that,” he said.
For UnitedLex, meeting those needs will ultimately mean a heavy investment in money and talent. Last September, the company released version 2.0 of its cloud-based legal workflow platform, called Vantage. The recruitment of talent rooted in areas like technology or experience will also remain a priority.
“We’re being highly aggressive in the market in making sure that we are balancing out all of these different components together. So we’re not focused on ‘oh yeah, we’ve got money into technology.’ We have to balance both,” Edelheit said.
But to be sure, UnitedLex isn’t the only service provider on the block looking to help legal departments navigate digital transformation. Deloitte, for example, is also positioning itself as a resource boasting the same experience that UnitedLex is looking to showcase. Don Fancher, global forensic leader at Deloitte, told Legaltech News that has already helped to enable digital transformations inside of Human Resources or information technology departments and can apply those lessons to legal.
Still, Edelheit, at UnitedLex, believes that a proprietary platform such as Vantage could give the company an edge. “We actually have a big technology platform and that’s an important thing. With the Big Four, that’s always been a challenge,” he acknowledged. “How they can offer software as [a] service? And what would that actually look like? Tying together different platforms and not having any conflicts [when] working with a number of other technology providers,” he said, are among the highest hurdles ahead.
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