"We're always trying to fit the right skill-set in the right place, always looking through the prism of the client perspective, with the Holy Grail being to enhance what is already a very strong relationship between Linklaters and the client in question."
In most cases, one needs more than a year to assess whether a major project has been a success. Re:link, Linklaters' platform that connects contract lawyers of the highest quality with the firm's client base and some of their important assignments, is an exception to that rule.
As the one-year anniversary of Re:link's launch approached on April 30th, client feedback on Re:link was already positive – a pleasing number of repeat or extended contracts granted to lawyers from the platform confirmed this. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the experience of the contract lawyers themselves has been similarly encouraging. And as for other seasoned market observers? Well, the highly respected legal publishing group, Chambers and Partners, recently granted Re:link a Band 1 seal of approval for Alternative Legal Service Providers. Not bad going for twelve months' work.
Naturally delighted though they are at the results so far, the people at Linklaters most intimately connected with the operation of Re:link are not surprised by the platform's progress. "We've been thrilled by the speed of the success, but not surprised," observes Jas Mundae, the firm's Global Head of Alternative Legal Services. "Re:link has had fantastic support throughout the firm, including at the highest levels of management. Linklaters has always been a firm where thinking proactively has brought great success."
Re:link comprises three major strategic parts – resourcing contract lawyers of the highest quality, managing that community of lawyers and offering resourcing solutions to the firm's clients and practices. "Everything at Re:link is underpinned by the highest quality," explains Jennifer Cozens, who oversees the resourcing side of the platform. "The Linklaters brand speaks for itself in that sense and it is that quality that we look for above everything else when we're assessing the merits of those who seek to join Re:link. It's a rigorous process. Whether our contract lawyers are ex-Linklaters people or not they all have to secure partner approval before joining the platform. That approach means that we're not going to be the biggest outfit in the contract market but nor do we want to be – we're fishing in a relatively small talent pool at the highest level."
The bespoke flexibility that Re:link offers its contract lawyers is another key to how far it has flourished. In order to provide a truly bespoke option to those lawyers, it is crucial that the firm should understand them on a level beyond the merely professional. Izelle McKelvie, who takes overall responsibility for managing the relationships between Linklaters and its contract lawyers, explains further: "You have to know each lawyer personally, what they are looking for, what makes them tick, their outside interests and so on. The better we know them, the more exactly we can offer them work that fits in with their requirements and their framework. It is totally a win/win situation – we and our lawyers value each other and equally importantly, our clients, who are well-versed in the need for adaptability and are increasingly insisting on it from their lawyers, value what we are offering."
That client buy-in is, of course, where the success of a platform such as Re:link ultimately stands or falls. For Martin Laing, charged with the task of matching the correct lawyer to the correct client and the right project, there is satisfaction in how widespread that buy-in has been. "Clients have been kind enough to pass on comments to the effect that they ‘would give the process a ten out of ten' or that ‘the experience could not have been better', which is hugely encouraging for us," he says. "We're always trying to fit the right skill-set in the right place, always looking through the prism of the client perspective, with the Holy Grail being to enhance what is already a very strong relationship between Linklaters and the client in question."
"Linklaters is already about being responsive, supportive and proactive for our clients in so many ways and Re:link aims to bolster that further," Martin continues. "Whether our contract lawyers are operating client side or as an essential part of our established teams that lead the global market in their disciplines, they are giving our clients access to an extra reserve of calm, serious, resilient professionals, who offer reassurance, reliability and flexibility to deal with any situation. At times like these, it is an extra resource that can be especially invaluable, particularly when you consider the variety and range of different skill-sets that these lawyers can apply to any situation."
The stresses of the Covid-19 pandemic on lives and businesses cannot even begin to be quantified yet and will give rise to problems that require far more than one solution. Re:link does not pretend to be a universal panacea but in its encouragement of thinking about working in different ways, it does offer a pointer to the new world in which we can all expect to be thrust when the current one has regained a semblance of normality. Jennifer, Izelle and Martin speak with one voice about what the Re:link platform's flexibility has already shown: "If you are someone who is looking for a balance of the best quality work with your other interests and you want to embrace the opportunity to work in different ways to achieve that, then this is such a good way forward. Clients increasingly want that kind of flexibility for their own workforces, given today's pressures so this is a solution that hits an equally sweet spot for them and their lawyers."
This is Linklaters that we're talking about and, as one would expect, there is no trace of complacency within the Re:link brains trust despite the platform's excellent start. "There's always room for improvement," laughs Izelle, "and we shall continue to try to make the experience even better for clients, lawyers and the firm as a whole as we go along. If you want to try to look at possible future developments, perhaps spreading the Re:link platform across jurisdictions would be one obvious one. To make it a truly alternative career path for lawyers anywhere in the world would be a really exciting goal."
As Jas Mundae concludes, however, this may not be a time when peering into a crystal ball is either possible or advisable. "Who can tell the future at the moment?" she asks. "What I do know is that our clients are increasingly looking at their ways of working and were doing so even before we were engulfed by coronavirus. Everyone wants to be prepared for anything that may happen; no-one wants to be caught out by a lack of flexibility. In that context, I am confident that Re:link will continue to be a key part of our service to clients for a long time to come."