Senior Counsel / Law Firm Collaboration: their collaboration and innovation journey

Oliver Searle, Senior Counsel at Chevron & Rachel Barnes, Innovation Lead at Herbert Smith Freehills

Herbert Smith Freehills and Chevron have a longstanding relationship. This year, this relationship took on a new theme. The story we are sharing may not involve a unique approach, however it is something which is becoming viewed as a key part of a Law Firm’s value add by clients. Here is the path that Oliver Searle from Chevron and Rachel Barnes from Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) took in exploring collaboration and innovation together.

How did you meet?

Olly: Our GC established our new tech and innovation network (the Digital Advisory Board, aka DAB) in January 2019 and I was asked to be a board member. Not knowing much about the legal innovation or tech market, I reached out to a few of our law firms to investigate. We work closely with HSF and our client relationship manager asked if I’d like to go to lunch to meet their new Head of Innovation. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that such a person existed and gladly accepted. I remember that we had a really interesting discussion over some very average Italian food!

Rachel: Our client relationship manager for Chevron asked if I could pull something together to help inform the relevant Chevron people. We were thinking something like a series of podcasts or videos on various ‘tools to innovate’ followed by a workshop. But I’ve found that the best starting point is to ask people what they want, so we took Olly out for lunch to get some more info on where Chevron stood and what help they needed. Olly chose the ‘average Italian’! ????

How did your relationship develop?

Olly: Rachel is an innovation professional and had a lot of knowledge to share. My developing passion for tech and innovation made me a sponge for information. We’d meet for lunch and just bounce ideas off each other – ok well perhaps it was more me asking lots of questions – but I loved all these new ideas. Rachel was also generous with her contacts which really helped me to build a network and which in turn gave me more ideas and more information.

And it didn’t end there! We started to see that we could help each other out in a more personal capacity. I guess Rachel could see that I was developing a real interest in this area and when we met up, she started to take an interest in my own professional development. She was also able to provide an outsider’s view, in particular as a non-lawyer, and really challenge some of my assumptions around what’s possible. Given she is relatively new to the legal market, I was able to help her understand a little better how to navigate a law firm and the legal profession. The combination of these two perspectives was really powerful. Her guidance and support resulted in me speaking at a recent in-house lawyers’ conference – speaking about mine, and Chevron’s legal, tech and innovation journey this year. Rachel pushed me outside of my comfort zone – I’d never done anything like this before – she decided I was speaking before I had made the decision myself!

Rachel: I really looked forward to our catch ups. It was (and still is) such a pleasure to work with someone with a real passion for change and a mandate to act on that passion. Because of Olly’s sponge like qualities, it was also a pleasure to challenge him and get him outside of his comfort zone – to not just be focussed on what he could do within Chevron, but also on developing himself. I encouraged him to meet peers in the industry and to attend some of the legal innovation events, to start building up his network. I’m a huge fan of the value which can be gained from networking; Olly was pleasantly surprised with how open people are to share their stories. And I have really benefitted from our relationship as well. I’ve only been in the legal sector for 18 months, so I have a lot to learn about lawyers and Olly has been great at giving me the inside scoop. We have developed an open, straightforward and honest relationship, where we are able to challenge each other.

And so what did this mean for Chevron and HSF?

Olly: The knowledge shared by HSF and Rachel was invaluable as we launched the DAB. It helped us understand the market, where to focus our energy, and made us aware of some common pitfalls to avoid. That’s not to say that we didn’t make mistakes, but with this guidance we definitely saved time and money as we started out on our tech journey. We also spent time exploring how we could collaborate to provide training to our lawyers utilising HSF’s broader expertise. We discussed various options and the ideas evolved until we settled on a design thinking workshop, to teach a multi-disciplinary team the DT methodology in a practical setting; exploring a problem statement relevant to our business. It was a great success and we are looking at how we can use DT workshops in other teams within the Chevron law function.

Rachel: Working with someone who is just starting out on the journey is rewarding, as they can be supported in avoiding the things that we and others before us tried and tested unsuccessfully. I took the same approach when I was asked to design the innovation framework at a previous firm. Networking and understanding what worked and what didn’t, before launching anything, was invaluable. If we can help others to do the same, all the better. Designing the practical design thinking workshop was fun too, and a great opportunity to bring different people from Chevron together, who hadn’t yet been involved in their innovation initiative. HSF has such a great wealth of diverse resources, it’s fantastic to be able to leverage them to upskill others. The day was co-run by our CRM and innovation gang, with some of our lawyers joining in to ideate on the problem statement as part of the Chevron team.

This isn’t the usual corporate/law firm collaboration story – there’s no new shiny piece of tech. Is it collaboration, and why is it important?

Olly: Absolutely this is collaboration – it’s long term collaboration with a goal to change and improve the way we practice law and to develop the relationship between our two organisations. Collaboration between a firm and a client doesn’t have to be project specific or result in a piece of technology, it can be longer term and have broader goals. And this is what we value at Chevron – long term relationships with our suppliers built on trust and the sharing of information. Also, we see this kind of long-term collaboration around technology and innovation as a key component of our law firm relationships going forward. This is a new part of the non-legal services add-on, which we see will only become a larger part of the puzzle in the future. Finally, our work this year has seen the relationship between our two organisations grow stronger. This sort of collaboration is a great way to get to know, and understand better, your client.

Rachel: For us, it’s not necessarily about just working with clients to collaborate on the design of specific products or services. We do that too, but it’s also about sharing our knowledge and expertise on what has and hasn’t worked. This way, our clients can learn from us and hopefully avoid repeating some of our less successful experiments. There are so many moving parts, whether you’re looking at the broader picture or just the pace of change around innovation in law, and the pressure on clients to cut costs and do more with less is huge. We are hearing from clients the difficulty they have to do their day jobs as well as to try and stay on top of these changes, understand what tech would be useful versus what is noise. We want to demonstrate to Chevron that we are there for them and care about all aspects of their business, that we are partnering and going on the journey with them.

So, you said this is a long-term collaboration, what does the future hold?

Olly: We’re still figuring that out, but for sure it will involve more sharing of information, more collaboration, and of course more fun. It may lead to a shiny piece of tech, who knows? To underline the importance of innovation to Chevron, I’ve requested that Rachel be included in the Chevron relationship team going forward so that innovation is at the heart of HSF’s delivery of services to us. And at a personal level, I hope we’ll continue to challenge each other to grow professionally. Through our work this year I’ve been fortunate to make a friend.

Rachel: Who knows what the future holds, but I certainly hope that it continues to hold regular contact with Olly, who’s become a friend. As well as further collaboration with Chevron, both generally and on specific challenges…. I think the recent design thinking workshop was just the tip of the iceberg! We’ve had a lot of fun and look where it’s brought us…I’ve got Olly writing articles and speaking at conferences ????


Oliver Searle
Senior Counsel
Oliver is the Senior Counsel for Chevron’s Lubricants businesses in EMEA and is a member of Chevron’s Legal Digital Advisory Board, which is tasked with identifying how and where technology can best be utilised within the legal team. Oliver has worked at Chevron for almost 6 years, prior to which he was a member of Hogan Lovell’s energy and natural resources team. Oliver is passionate about innovation and finding ways we can improve how we work and deliver legal services.


Rachel Barnes
Innovation Lead
Herbert Smith Freehills

Rachel is the Innovation Lead for HSF, UK, US and EMEA. She is responsible for driving the innovation agenda for the firm, focussing on clients, products & services, data and tech. Rachel’s passion is for culture change, creating a creative mind-set and environment, in which ideas can blossom.

Rachel has spent time exploring the broader innovation and start-up space, spending time consulting for Janders Dean, Innovation Beehive, a variety of start-ups and also managing an HR Tech focussed start-up incubator. Prior to that, she had a varied and fruitful 11 years at BNP Paribas running consecutively, the Innovation, Transformation, Client Relationship Management teams in Global Markets.