GC Spotlight: Jacqueline Schrader, Executive General Manager, General Counsel Group Services Legal, Commonwealth Bank of Australia.

Jacqueline Schrader is the Executive General Manager, General Counsel for Group Services Legal of Commonwealth Bank of Australia, an Australian multinational bank with businesses across New Zealand, Asia, the United States and the United Kingdom. She shares insights on being a modern GC and the challenges she and her legal team faced during the pandemic.

1. Hi Jacqueline! Tell us a little about yourself. What does it mean to you to be a modern GC?

In my current role, I lead the Group Services legal team for the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, which includes around 70 lawyers responsible for litigation, regulatory investigations and proceedings, employment and industrial relations.

I think the modern GC role is multifaceted. The role has moved beyond being the ‘lead lawyer’ to something far more interesting, broad and valuable to an organisation. As a modern GC, I think your licence to operate comes from your legal skills – your reliability, capability and experience as a trusted legal adviser - but there is a real opportunity to contribute through commercial judgment and understanding, strong execution, stakeholder management and an innovative approach.

2. What have been your biggest challenges during the pandemic?

There were so many challenges presented by the pandemic to the economy, the business, our customers and employees. As a major financial institution we had a real opportunity to step up to support our customers through a difficult time and the legal team played a key role in finding pragmatic and innovative solutions to support that.

As a leader, the pandemic presented different challenges to support the wellbeing of the team and help them adapt to remote working. I found that it required a different and more proactive engagement style to keep everyone connected. Interestingly, a lot of the team have come to prefer working at home for at least part of the week and rather than seeing any reduction in productivity, the greater concern quickly became managing workload when remote working had blurred the boundaries between home and work.  

On a personal level, these new working habits presented the opportunity to move back to Hong Kong and continue in my (Sydney) role, working remotely. Managing such a large team from a different country would have previously been out of the question, but it has been seamless.

3. What are your key priorities for the year?

My team manages significant legal and regulatory matters including class actions, regulatory investigations and litigation. Many of these emerged following the Financial Services Royal Commission which critically examined conduct across the financial services industry in Australia. In addition to supporting the resolution of those matters, a key priority is to ensure the learnings are embedded across the business to improve our approach and the way that we manage risk.

The ultimate priority is optimising the way that we work as a team to ensure the team are focused on high value strategic work and have a portfolio view of the most significant legal issues. To create the capacity to do that we are focused on strategic and tactical technology solutions to enable change, reviewing the way that we work through standardisation across the teams and by making conscious and sound choices about the mix of work done by the team vs external firms.

4. What do you think about the use of LegalTech, data analytics and process optimisation to improve your legal department's value (e.g. data relating to contracts, risk, tracking workflows, performance metrics, costs)?

I think there can be some resistance to the idea that in-house legal teams can use data, analytics, performance metrics etc. to improve value because what we do doesn’t feel intuitively measurable beyond outdated metrics like timesheets. However, this is an area where we have increased our focus over the past few years, with a range of measures to improve the way that we collect and use data on how the team is spending their time, the performance and value we receive from external firms and how we can map commonality in processes across teams and standardise to improve efficiency. For example, we are now using MS teams visual management boards and team huddles to track and manage workflow, have a suite of standard processes across teams with common activities and standardised reporting to measure spend and performance across our panel law firms.

5. What developments or trends do you expect to see in the legal services industry in the next 5 years?

I expect ongoing focus on what an in-house legal team should be, what we outsource vs insource (and how we organise a mix of legal and non-legal team members to do it) and the use of offshore. The pandemic has really broken down some of the barriers to remote support and resourcing models and I expect this to become more prevalent.

We are already seeing a huge shift in focus on data integrity, not just the need to frequently advise on how we can use and manage it, but how we protect it as a legal team. Legal teams manage huge volumes of personal and commercially sensitive data; how we manage that, particularly decisions around technology platforms, access and hosting are increasingly material to selecting external technology and legal service providers.

6. Where do you see NewLaw/ALSP fitting in the matrix of your legal department?

Newlaw and alternative legal service providers (ALSP) are playing an increasing role in how we manage large scale matters and flex the capacity of the team to manage workflow.

We have a range of alternative legal models with our panel of law firms and other legal service providers, beyond billing structures, to contemplate flexible resourcing models for secondees and other value-adds. The number of legal consultants, and the calibre of the lawyers working with them, has increased significantly in recent years and we use this model to supplement the internal legal team, increasingly as a preferred alternative to direct contractors or secondees, as we balance what work is to be done internally vs external firms. 

To enable the delivery of legal services differently, the capability of law firms and other legal service providers to manage large scale data collection and review exercises, and the efficiency and accuracy they can bring through their technology capability, is a key differentiator. We are seeing law firms and other legal service providers focus on developing their in-house technology capabilities and our baseline expectations as a client have lifted. This is translating into faster and more cost-effective delivery of legal work on scale projects. We are actively looking at alternative ways to structure our team and integrate external firms and other legal providers to optimise the way that we deliver legal services both in terms of quality and cost.