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Embracing interdisciplinary legal practices

Clients aren’t the only ones who benefit

An interdisciplinary legal team

Clients look for law firms that are committed to understanding their business and how legal services fit into and add to it. This is particularly true when the relationship evolves into an ongoing partnership. One way legal service providers can emphasize that commitment is to employ interdisciplinary teams to tailor their service offerings.

In law, an interdisciplinary team is organized with lawyers and professionals from diverse fields collaborating to address client needs. This approach has the advantage of allowing clients to access more efficient, comprehensive, and affordable work. Interdisciplinary legal practices also provide flexible and adaptable services that are often better equipped to handle specific legal issues.

Take Conor Chell, a leading ESG service provider in Canada, who distinguishes his legal practice by assembling a team of specialized lawyers and engineers to offer interdisciplinary legal services. Primarily an environmental and regulatory lawyer, he serves as a partner and the national leader of ESG legal risk and disclosure at KPMG in Calgary.

Chell caters to a broad range of mid-market and larger clients across Canada in the energy, agriculture, Indigenous, financial services, governmental and mining sectors. In doing so, he has four primary service offerings: Identification and mitigation of ESG legal risk (e.g., greenwashing); development and design of ESG programs, strategies and reporting; integration of Indigenous perspectives and knowledge across ESG topics; and supply chain due diligence (e.g., modern slavery assessment)

He conducted thorough market research before building his team. He spoke to clients about their needs and expectations and learned that they were looking for services that offer comprehensive and holistic solutions to ESG issues that go beyond addressing narrow legal questions. Clients, he says, want a "one-stop shop" for advisory, technical, and legal services.

Chell designed his practice based on the feedback he received and selected team members who can address non-legal issues more efficiently and effectively than a lawyer. He brought in an engineer, Laura Roberts, who worked for an oil and gas company prior to joining Chell's practice. Another team member, Maya Douglas, has extensive experience as a sustainability and risk advisor and consultant.

Chell says his team is more adept at understanding and meeting client needs for several reasons.

First, because members like Roberts and Douglas can "speak the language" of clients and their internal stakeholders and understand the issues that arise from firsthand experience. Roberts says clients appreciate that they really understand how difficult it can be.

“[Some] consultants are out of touch with the reality of trying to run a business,” she adds. She recalls her experience as an engineer with a major oil and gas company, receiving a 50-page text-heavy memorandum from lawyers that did not address the company's concerns.

Roberts and Douglas use information graphics to deliver easily digestible materials in a language that clients understand.

"Every project we do we evolve our deliverables to the client based on what we've learned they want to see," Roberts says.

Second, a team with diverse backgrounds can ensure that all issues and risks are identified and addressed effectively and efficiently.

"When looking for risks and opportunities, having a multidisciplinary team is a really good thing," says Roberts. "With the same background and experience you probably see similar things."

Third, Chell's team can also provide more affordable rates for their tailored services than would be possible with a team made up only of lawyers.

Finally, Chell remains flexible and adaptable by employing a team whose knowledge base reflects current issues in the area. As an added benefit, team members draw upon their different backgrounds and experience to bring unique insight into client expectations and needs. 

Interdisciplinary legal teams may have significant value for legal service providers and clients, particularly in areas of law, such as ESG, that concern legal and non-legal issues. For clients, utilization of an interdisciplinary legal team for mixed law and non-law issues is likely to result in services that are fast, comprehensive and affordable. For lawyers, interdisciplinary teams may mean more flexible and adaptive service offerings.

They can also offer substantial value for both legal service providers and clients, especially in fields like ESG that involve both legal and non-legal considerations. For clients, it can lead to swift, thorough and cost-effective services. For lawyers, the advantage is the ability to offer more flexible and adaptable service that is increasingly in demand.