Retail runs right through the Dentons DNA and so it was fitting that this year we sponsored the Retail Trust Leaders’ Summit. It was an inspiring event providing a unique snapshot of how the retail industry is evolving. The event brought together mental health leaders and retailers to debate the challenges and opportunities around wellbeing in the retail sector and showcase solutions. The Summit featured discussions on how to address issues, ranging from achieving a successful work-life balance to combatting domestic abuse. It is a shocking statistic, but recent research conducted by the Retail Trust showed that 83% of retail employees have experienced a deterioration in their mental health in the last year.

Turbulent times

Partnering with the Retail Trust is just one aspect of our deep involvement in the retail sector which we have had for decades, helping retailers both in the UK and globally. Through our Dentons Helix solution specifically, we are an extension of some of the high street's biggest legal teams. We support their wider business and transform their legal functions.

This close and constant engagement with the sector gives us a unique perspective on the challenges confronting retailers in today’s turbulent times – high inflation, a shift to online shopping, sustainability issues around packaging, employee wellbeing and (how can we forget?) soaring energy bills. These challenges demand fresh thinking and new solutions.

Key areas to consider

Faced with relentlessly rising costs of legal salaries, high private practice fees, rapidly evolving technologies and escalating expectations from the C-suite, retailers are increasingly seeking new ways of efficiently managing their legal needs.

Our everyday client conversations and experience highlight the need to focus on four key areas if you want to strengthen your in-house legal team.

  • First, focus on your team. It is difficult for any General Counsel to bring together the diversity of experience, background and skillsets needed to provide truly holistic legal support. It is even harder at a time when workloads are fluctuating unpredictably. Look at your team. Make sure you have resilient and diverse people and a team the right size for your requirements now and in the near future. A recession will have a massive impact on retailers (some will fare much better than others), so think about where you will need to upskill your team as they may need to fulfil different types of work.
  • Secondly, look at your external spend and see where you can cut costs. Perhaps you could use alternative legal service providers or increase the use of technology and automation in your routine matters – utilise these to your advantage. For those larger retailers who outsource high volumes of work, make the most of alternative fee arrangements so you can do things cheaper, where you can package your external legal work rather than continuing an hourly rate model.
  • Thirdly, look at how you can improve your team’s efficiency. In challenging times, it is inevitable that efficiency comes into focus – with the legal function being among the top candidates for cost-cutting. Make sure your processes are designed in a way to allow agility and flexibility to political, economic, environmental and societal changes. This will benefit not only your team’s mental health, therefore lowering employee turnover (as your team will be focusing on the work that adds real value), but will also allow you to reduce costs and risk.
  • Fourthly, but not least, utilise whatever data you have. Having timely, relevant and accurate data – and being able to generate meaningful insights – is key to your legal function’s ability to operate effectively and meet customers’ needs. It can then demonstrate that the in-house legal function can be a true partner to the wider business. Make sure you control and listen to that data so you can then defend yourself to show the business why you are doing what you are doing. Retailers are increasingly adopting a digital first approach with customers, but make sure you also apply this mindset to your legal team – data can be your best friend, so use it to your advantage.

The power of the package

In many cases, Dentons Helix’s solution helps address all the above challenges. We streamline processes and have a fixed monthly fee in return for an all-inclusive legal service, with a team built specifically for your needs and dedicated to you. For those retailers concerned about the bottom line, we guarantee to provide a cost reduction of between 10% and 20%.

To bring our offering to life ... on one occasion, a Dentons Helix retail client was being challenged by a board director who said the legal function was holding up a contract negotiation with a supplier. Fortunately, the General Counsel had access to detailed data on the process. They could analyse this to drill down into the root causes of the delay. What did they find? True, the contract had languished in the business for 49 days. However, it had only been with the legal team for 9.4 hours of that time – and had spent the rest of it sitting with the business. As well as vindicating the legal function’s effectiveness, this revelation also prompted a wider review of the company’s supplier contracts, opening the way to further improvements.

Consider a new operating model

As retailers enter 2023 and look to realise the Retail Trust’s vision for a sustainable and successful future, the new year provides an opportunity to consider an innovative operating model for legal – one that harnesses the power of managed services. It is like choosing a package holiday – with its convenience, clarity and certainty – over a build-your-own assemblage of different elements. Apply this approach to your legal team, during what are likely to be challenging times ahead, and the outcome will be maximum efficiency with minimum risk.