David Allgood, 66, officially retired as executive vice-president and general counsel of Royal Bank of Canada in April, but after what he said was just two rounds of golf, his brief retirement is over.
Dentons Canada LLP announced this week that Mr. Allgood was joining the firm as counsel. And Mr. Allgood, a long-time leader of the in-house bar who has pushed law firms to cut costs and move away from the billable hour, says Dentons' attitude toward new ways of doing business is part of what attracted him.
Last month, Dentons – a global law firm formed in 2013 when Canadian firm Fraser Milner Casgrain LLP merged with two international firms, and which has since become the world's largest by head count – announced a new "incubator" called NextLaw Labs, which was aimed at developing and testing new technologies "to transform the practice of law around the world."
They are not alone. For the past few years, the normally conservative legal profession has been abuzz with talk of new technologies – artificial intelligence, automation, apps – as well as new ways of billing clients that go beyond the traditional billable hour, such as fixed fees.
Mr. Allgood had been the top lawyer at RBC since 2000, and cites his oversight of the bank's successful defence against a massive U.S. class-action lawsuit launched by Enron Corp. shareholders against RBC and other major banks as a career highlight. But he spent a lot of his time nudging law firms to adopt new billing practices and business methods as part of the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC), a U.S.-based industry group of in-house lawyers that he headed from 2013-14.
"The whole thing that I have been focused on when I was at the bank was in trying to get law firms to work with in-house counsel in a bit of a different way. ... And I thought that this was something that Dentons was trying to do," he said in an interview. "They are trying to change the paradigm."
While he said a couple of other firms were interested in his services after leaving the bank, conversations had already started with Chris Pinnington, Dentons Canada chief executive officer, when Mr. Allgood was still at RBC, a Dentons client. Mr. Pinnington phoned Mr. Allgood to tell him about Dentons landmark merger with Chinese law firm Dacheng in January, a move that made Dentons the world's largest law firm. And the conversations continued.
Mr. Allgood predicts "fairly dramatic" changes to the legal landscape in the next few years, along the lines of the global mergers that have seen Dentons, and before that, Norton Rose Fulbright LLP, come into the Canadian market. And he says the kinds of things he and the ACC have been pushing – to make legal bills more predictable, more transparent and less based on hourly rates – have become a major talking point in law firms. A decade ago, these topics weren't being discussed as much – even if the billable hour still rules.
"The ACC has been a real leader in getting the conversation going around the value proposition," he said, adding that the financial crisis of 2008-09 was also a key driver for companies to try to cut their legal costs. "There's very few conversations you hear in the legal profession, whether it's inside lawyers talking or outside lawyers talking, where the focus is not on, 'How do we get better value to the client?' "
Another factor driving this interest in efficiency among law firms is, he adds, the growth of the in-house bar itself. Canadian companies and big banks, over the past 20 years, have built up larger in-house legal departments. (Mr. Allgood, who surprised many when he left the partnership at Osler Hoskin & Harcourt to go in-house at RBC in 1998, was among those who led that charge.)
"The in-house bar has come from basically someone 20 years ago who just handed out files to law firms, to very sophisticated groups, whether they are big or small," Mr. Allgood said. "And I think that sophistication of the in-house bar is an important element."