GC Spotlight: Roger Wong discusses how change is unavoidable but creates opportunity for legal teams.

Roger is a senior financial services lawyer with over 20 years of experience and is currently General Counsel, Asia for Lombard Odier, a boutique Swiss private bank, where he has worked since 2015. He previously worked at Allens and AMP Capital (in Sydney) and Credit Suisse (in Sydney and Hong Kong). He is presently based in Singapore. As the Bank’s sole lawyer in the region, Roger has constantly grappled with the challenges of “doing more with less”. Roger is passionate about the topics of innovation and business strategy thinking. Roger holds an LLM from UNSW and an MBA (Exec) from AGSM, and is admitted in New South Wales, the Commonwealth of Australia and Hong Kong.

1. Hi Roger, can you tell us a little about your role and journey into law? What excites you outside of work? 

I’m General Counsel for Lombard Odier’s Asia business. Lombard Odier is a Swiss private bank, headquartered in Geneva with over 200 years of history. My role covers any and all legal issues, ranging from client documentation and onboarding issues, through to employment, governance and contentious matters for our business in Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan. It’s a pretty broad and interesting remit. My path to here is a reasonably well-trodden one: I started my life as a lawyer in private practice (Allens in Sydney), then went in-house at around the time I was finishing my MBA. This journey has taken me around the region – I count myself fortunate to have had the opportunity to work in Sydney, Hong Kong and Singapore. Outside of the immediate confines of my role, I’m always fascinated to watch the twin processes of disruptive innovation and creative destruction at play. I can think of no better example than AI (yes, I know it’s a crowded bandwagon). Before that, we had globalisation and the impact of Web 1.0. If I’m stepping completely outside of a work context, I’ll confess to being the daggy dad and say that my kids (boy 9 and girl 5) are the two people that excite me most. They are hilarious, lively and engaged. My wife and I just wish they would sleep a bit more. If I’m indulging in some “me time”, you’ll probably find me buried in a book (non-fiction) or training for my latest form of athletic lunacy – my sport de jeur is Spartan racing and Hyrox. I’m a recovered Crossfitter and dabble in strongman training.

2. As a GC, what are some of the challenges that keep you up at night? How are you addressing them? 

It’s the black swans (the paradigm shifting, completely unexpected events) and the boiling frogs (the issues that slowly and imperceptibly build up to the point of materiality over a long time horizon) that have me worried. Both catch us off guard and can have a massive impact on business, lives and livelihoods. Beyond relying on the Boy Scout adage of “be prepared”, sometimes the best defence is a good offence. By that I mean that the best way to deal with the effects of disruptive change is to drive your own change agenda, and not be caught adrift. To that end, a key focus has been on revisiting the design of our Legal function, keeping in mind the Peter Drucker adage: “Efficiency is doing things right. Effectiveness is doing the right things.”. The challenge that I’m working towards is to ensure that the Legal function is delivering against the right outcomes. This means a significant redesign of the function and will require taking a different approach to legal risk, as well as re-examining long held notions around how a legal function should operate (for example, how most inhouse teams operate as a small law firm and deal with matters on a “first-in, first-out” basis). Suffice to say, this task is a “BHAG” (big, hairy audacious goal) and a work-in-progress.

3. What do you think about the use of LegalTech, data analytics and process optimisation to improve your legal department's value? 

Apropos the above on blacks swans, boiling frogs and legal function redesign, you want to have as many tools in the toolbox as possible to deal with the many challenges that we face. A no-brainer is using LegalTech to free up or enhance capacity and capability. Not doing so would be like relying on loose-leaf services in the digital age (confession: I still prefer hardcopy texts). Equally, having data on what the team is doing, what resources are required to deliver it, and how it is being delivered is key to a well-run operation, especially when the use of data is increasingly pervasive in so much of work. Put another way, if everyone is talking in terms of data then the lawyers must learn to speak the same language (or at least be functionally fluent in it).

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

Change, change and more change. AI will clearly have an impact, but I don’t see it so much in terms of job destruction (although some form of loss is an unavoidable part of any change) as a case of individual enhancement. I think AI tools will become as pervasive and commonplace as Google and online tools are now.

I think there is a real opportunity for inhouse legal teams to move from being a “blocking” function and cost centre, to being a source of strategic value. Regulatory change will continue to be an inescapable part of life (just look at what is happening around sustainability, AI and carbon regulation now – it will make FATCA and CRS look easy and minor) and it will be incumbent on lawyers to move beyond being mere guides and oracles through this change, but to instead look to identify and drive opportunities. More broadly, I suspect that the legal services industry may end up a much bigger “church”, with AI being one of the immediate drivers of change (again, I know… it’s a crowded bandwagon).

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

Old habits die hard – I still talk to my lawyers. But NewLaw and ALSPs have a permanent and growing place in the matrix of my department – this is the new reality.

5. Your favourite tune? And why? 

Paul Oakenfold’s “Ready, Steady, Go”. It’s catchy, has a sold beat and it was the soundtrack to Jason Bourne ripping up Paris in an old school Mini.

Lily Evans and Roger Wong