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Helena Samaha – Hang In There

In this episode, Elevate’s Stephen Allen, Vice President, Get Sh*t Done, talks with Helena Samaha, the President, and CEO of Lex Mundi.

Now More Than Ever – Keep an Eye on the Horizon

In this episode, Elevate’s Stephen Allen, Vice President, Get Sh*t Done, talks with Helena Samaha, the President, and CEO of Lex Mundi.  Lex Mundi is the world´s largest law firm network, providing information to its member firms about developments in local and global law.

  • [01:17] – Lex Mundi – the who, what, and why.
  • [02:30] – Helena’s view on innovation and strategy.
  • [04:40] – Lex Mundi is evolving – talent and technology.
  • [07:42] – Equisphere – a solution to coordinate global delivery across countries and firms.
  • [10:42] – 2021 – The state of law firms.
  • [12:49] – What’s next?
  • [14:01] – Advice on managing change.


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Podcast Transcript

Note: This transcript has been adjusted to improve readability. Transcripts are generated using speech recognition software and human transcribers. The context and more than 95% of the actual transcript have been preserved.  We strongly encourage our listeners to listen to the audio.


Nicole Giantonio: Welcome to the Elevate. Together. Podcast: Voices of Change in the Business of Law

Hello, this is Nicole Giantonio, the Head of Global Marketing at Elevate. The podcast episode you’re about to hear is part of our impact series, featuring Elevate customers implementing transformative change. In this episode, Elevate’s Stephen Allen talks with the President and CEO of Lex Mundi Helena Samaha. Lex Mundi is the world’s largest law firm network, providing information to its member firms about developments in local and global law. They recently introduced Equisphere for an aligned and enhanced worldwide customer experience. Elevate has the pleasure of providing consulting support to Lex Mundi.


Stephen Allen: Welcome to the Elevate Podcast. I’m going to be talking innovation and strategy with Helena Samaha, the CEO of Lex Mundi. My name’s Stephen Allen. I am Vice President of Get Sh*t Done at Elevate, and I deal with law firms and law departments in helping device strategy and innovative solutions. But, for the much more interesting introduction, I’ll pass it over to Helena.


Helena Samaha: Thank you, Stephen. So my name is Helena Samaha, I am the President and CEO of Lex Mundi, and I’m based in London. Lex Mundi is an international organisation. We are a membership organisation, bringing together law firms from 100 countries and more. We provide a range of services and products to them to collaborate and join up as they serve international clients. I am a lawyer by background. Even though I’m in a managerial role right now, I’m a French and UK qualified lawyer, and I have spent several years working both in private practice and serving as a general counsel.


SA: Great, thank you. We’ve known each other for probably longer than we both care to mention. Still, we had a brief chat about this before we started the call, and, as you know, as those listening will know, Elevate works with a lot of organisations around strategy and change transformation. Sometimes that change is kind of existential, the “Why” or the “What” of an organisation, and sometimes it’s more tactical, kind of “how can we do what” we call that the “job to be done.” I know you’ve got a really interesting viewpoint on innovation and strategy and how to approach that. Do you mind just telling us a bit about that view and what you’ve done and seen in past roles?


HS: Sure, I think I would start by saying I’ve been fortunate in that wherever I’ve landed in a role, I have needed to bring about some change. But I’ve been fortunate to join companies that are successful and on a growing track, and I think that’s an important starting point because if you come in as a leader into an organisation that is about to fall off a cliff, then your perspective on changes and what you need to do is a very different than what I’ve experienced. And in a way, it’s almost more challenging when you have a successful company that you’re trying to make even more successful and redirect and grow. If a company is about to fall off the cliff, then anything you do will be good, pretty much. It’s going to be better. So, I have embraced sort of incremental change. I think that a lot of the situations that I have come into have required buy-in from multiple stakeholders to affect that change and that growth and mindset, and so I am a great believer in working with people, in persuasion, in buy-in and inclusion to affect long-term and lasting change.

I’ve had to do that in several organisations, the first time I was in a senior in-house legal position at the Virgin Group. I joined Virgin in the ’90s, and the group at group level, at the shareholder level, and the group was about to undertake quite a substantial international expansion. So I was part of the team that helped make that happen. When I joined OSN in Dubai as general counsel, the company had just done a merger and completed a post-merger integration and wanted to get ready for a potential listing in London. And so you can imagine the sheer amount of work and change required there. Always the context was one of positive growth, ambitious plans, exciting developments.


SA: Right, and now you’re at Lex Mundi, which is a very successful organisation, but I know, having worked and talked with you, that that itself is looking to transform and change and evolve. What does it mean for you today at Lex Mundi, in your role as President CEO?


HS: I joined nine months before this crisis started. If I had to bet all my money that this would happen, I wouldn’t have been able to, and I know that many people feel the same way. And so I didn’t expect to have this to manage in my first year. But in reality, as you said, Lex Mundi is a successful and established organisation, and importantly, our members are incredibly successful firms in their jurisdictions. What that meant is observing what’s been going on for some time actually in the legal services industry, and the crisis is accelerating that, how do we remain high value and very relevant to our clients?

We’ve been thrilled to work with the team at Elevate on our strategic plan, which is coming together very nicely now. What we’re seeing is how to do each change and bring our members along the journey. We are not a law firm, but our members are, so really the change that we need to effect and the direction of travel relevant to us impacts the entire legal services industry, and we are a lot more digital than we were ourselves this time last year. We have focused our energy on two particular areas of work that we do with our clients, and our clients, remember, are the member firms, and that’s how do we continue to bring value in today’s world to them, to their talents. Our focus is on talent and technology solutions for our member firms and their clients as well. How does what we do for our members translate into a value-add for their clients? The technology solutions piece is very important there, and we have a lot of energy directed into our new initiative called Equisphere. We’re starting to get some fantastic results there.

But I do think it’s too soon to call where the dust is going to settle on this crisis. A lot of the people we talked to are very focused on their day-to-day working arrangements. There is a lot of concern around team cohesion, company culture, and new people joining companies in a remote world. At the same time, there’s a recognition that the legal services industry has been perhaps overly conservative about the way people work and accepting flexibility and empowerment and moving away from a traditional way of working. So we’ll see where the dust will settle, but I hope that we will emerge stronger by reflecting on all the things that we did well and that our clients appreciate. We should continue to do those things and adapt new ways of thinking and doing things into our day-to-day work because we’ve learned now that there are things that work well and that our talent appreciates and values.

…there’s a recognition that the legal services industry has been perhaps overly conservative about the way people work and accepting flexibility and empowerment and moving away from a traditional way of working.

Helena Samaha

SA: I think that’s a really interesting focus around talent and technology. You and I have spoken before about how law firms or organisations can differentiate and how law firms can create resilience. It almost feels that the talent is around the differentiation; it’s your people who bring the organization’s particular essence, and technology can greatly help with resilience. On Equisphere, do you want to talk a little bit more about that? I know it’s been a huge undertaking for Lex Mundi and it’s been very well received by your members. Do you want to explain more to everybody who’s listening what it is and how it works?


HS: Absolutely. I’ve served as a general counsel for many years in multinational companies, so I tend to look through the client lens when I talk about the work that we do, and it is very important to me. Equisphere is our client service delivery solution.  Suppose you have an organisation like Lex Mundi, which has top-tier law firms whose strategy is to be an independent firm with the means and talent, and experience to work very effectively on a cross-border basis by being members in Lex Mundi. In that case, they create that international capability, and we bring the solutions. We have people who help with client service delivery. We’ve invested in technology platforms to coordinate that delivery. We have elaborated processes to make it all seamless, and that’s what we do.

I’ve served as a general counsel for many years in multinational companies, so I tend to look through the client lens when I talk about the work that we do, and it is very important to me.

Helena Samaha

NG: I know from my days as a GC and speaking to many peers, that is the clincher if you ask me when you’re a general counsel in a business that’s in 32 jurisdictions, and you have the option of working with the best law firms in each of those jurisdictions, you need to have the ease of the user experience. It can’t be 32 different relationships to manage and all of these moving parts. God knows how many engagement letters and bills; those are not coming at the same time, in the same form, and so we have taken all of that hassle away with Equisphere. And so you genuinely have that single concentrated coordination function through Equisphere, and we can provide that for 100 country plus coverage. So, we have members that bring clients into the network who sometimes have the most unusual footprint, and no one else can match that footprint in the way we can.


SA: That is a huge piece of innovation – so much for gradual change. It feels to me quite an epic piece of innovation, and certainly enabling those firms to work off a single platform and a single approach will greatly enhance their opportunity to win those international engagements. One of the things that I feel very strongly about, and I know you do as well, is often in the press, we hear, “Well, is it the end of the law firm, or are the law firms still relevant?”  I think we obviously both feel law firms are incredibly still relevant. Regarding the kinds of issues you’re hearing from your members, do they differ based on size and geography? Are there some common themes that are coming through? I know you’ve just done a huge series of listening sessions with some of your key members.


HS: Absolutely. I’ve spoken to about 90 of our managing partners worldwide, one-on-one, and we’ve conducted some team visits with another 37-odd law firms. Anything you want to know about the legal industry anywhere in the world, I’m your girl. But in reality, the thing that does strike me within our environment at Lex Mundi is those conversations have been practically identical, whether I’ve been speaking to a member firm with six lawyers on a Caribbean island or one of our largest firms with a thousand lawyers. That, to me, really is, again, a testament to the consistency that we’ve created within our network as we very carefully select our members; we are very demanding in terms of the conditions for membership.

We have many commonalities across the network, and they care about the same things. They’re focused on the same things, and they’re dealing with them in the same way. Obviously, there are external factors that are specific to jurisdictions, whether they’re political or climate. Some of our members are on islands where they get hit by terrible hurricanes every year. So, there are always external factors.  In terms of the essence of the law firm, the culture, and the spirit, one of the things that I’ve taken away from this listening exercise, as you call it, is how very similar those conversations are. I was joking with our chairman the other day, thinking if we recorded one of them and just played it out to the others, would anyone notice? But that’s fantastic. To me, that’s very affirming when it comes to what our network stands for.


SA: We haven’t discussed this before, but I’d be interesting to get your thoughts on this. In certain jurisdictions in the UK and Australia, we’ve seen a broadening of who can practice law. Certainly, there are certain states like Utah or Arizona, where that’s being expanded. Do you think there will ever be a time where Lex Mundi might have non-law firm members? Will you have what people call ALSPs, or Alternative Law Services Providers, as part of the mix?


HS: At this stage, I think anything is possible. We are certainly very open-minded about moving with the markets. We also have a very large and varied group of stakeholders. When I say buy-in is essential, there are certain fundamental changes or structural changes if we wanted to do something like that that would require consensus among the members. So, at this point, whether they would be actual members or strategic partners, certainly there are more possibilities to explore than there have been in the past.


SA: I suspect watching the regulatory change happen and helping your members navigate what that means for them is particularly key, as we’ve seen in the UK and Australia, but we’re starting to see some change in some of the states in the US. So I suspect your view and your ability to bring people together to share experiences in this kind of brave new world is going to be critical. As a CEO, what advice would you give to managing partners, CEOs, or organisation leaders, either born from your experience managing change and transformation, or even a lesson which has come from the big social experiment we’ve all been on for the last year or so?


HS: I’ve been thinking about that, and I remembered a conversation I had in October 2019. I’d been in my role for six months, and one of our firms had a newly appointed managing partner, and I saw him at an event, and he said to me, “Well, you’re six months in, and I’ve just started. What advice do you have for me?” And my instinctive reaction was to say to him, “Hang in there”. And that was before COVID. I think now more than ever, we really need to hang in there and keep an eye on the broader and more distant horizon because this is not the first world crisis, and it’s not going to be the last. Perhaps my generation hasn’t experienced many of these situations yet.  But there’s always a start, and it’s going to pass. And certainly, what we’ve been very focused on in our discussions with our members and internally at Lex Mundi is taking care of our people. I think it is very important because it’s a very challenging time. Remember it’s going to pass and think ahead in terms of when it does pass, and how will we have emerged stronger.


SA: Fabulous. Helena, thank you very much.


HS: Thank you.


NG: Tune in to the next episode of the Elevate. Together. Podcast, available on Apple Podcasts, SoundCloud, Stitcher, Spotify, and

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