From e-billing to social media, Alexia Henriksen is embracing the role technology can play in maximizing efficiency and bringing together a legal team spread across more than a dozen countries.
Henriksen is the senior vice president and general counsel for Volvo Financial Services (VFS) in Greensboro, North Carolina. She heads up the legal and compliance function for VFS, which provides customer financing and other services for Volvo Group, a Swedish-based manufacturer of trucks, buses, and construction equipment.
She’s been focusing on transforming her team of more than forty people in fifteen countries into a unified global unit that uses a harmonized approach rather than three separate regional departments.
“You’re all branded in the same way, so to speak, but you have that ability to move and remain agile to be able to cope with local jurisdictional needs but at the same time all be moving in the same direction and approaching things in the same way,” Henriksen says.
She acknowledges that it’s not always easy, but she’s leveraging technology to operate more efficiently and add value to the business. It’s typically not the first department on the list for investment in information technology tools, since the legal function is usually seen as a cost center instead of a revenue-generating arm, Henriksen says. She’s working to show how the IT tools can add value to the organization.
“Lawyers can be their own worst enemies—we have a long-standing history through court process and other conventional practices that makes us cling to paper. We need wet ink, I like to say—you want the document with the pen signature on it,” Henriksen says. “The world is moving past that, but the legal profession and the court systems have been a bit slow to follow suit.”
Henriksen is seeing some changes in the industry as it becomes easier to move toward a more virtual workspace. Fewer documents need to be kept in hard copies. Automating routine business processes also helps save time and breaks down regional silos. Henriksen is also exploring social media for internal connectedness. Her team is populated with generations that are used to communicating that way, and it saves overloading e-mail inboxes as well, Henriksen explains.
The department has begun to use a legal-matter management-software platform that combines file management and billing budget control into one tool. The e-billing platform works with external law firms as well. The program allows Henriksen to analyze things like spending, performance, and how much of particular work type is being outsourced. The system provides a platform for analysis and trending on a business level. It helps Henriksen determine where work is coming from and make decisions regarding recruitment. It also helps the team demonstrate operational and cost efficiency.
Digitizing aspects of the company’s global legal functions brings complexities with restrictions on data transfers, confidentiality, and privilege. For example, some jurisdictions require everything be kept on a server in that country, she says.
A significant part of Henriksen’s team is made up of compliance officers, including both legal and regulatory compliance. So she is also looking at new tools to automate the performance and tracking of certain compliance issues rather than manually entering each into a dashboard.
“Lawyers can be their own worst enemies—we have a long-standing history through court process and other conventional practices that makes us cling to paper.”
As a leader, Henriksen uses several different management styles depending on the situation. Sometimes she leads from the front, showing the way and being accountable for the team. Other times, she steps back to give her team the power and resources they need to do their jobs. There also are situations when “you need to roll up your sleeves and just get in side by side with the team and help get the work done—whatever it is that needs to be done,” she says.
Henriksen’s diverse cultural upbringing has shaped her as a leader and helped her navigate a career that’s brought her all over the globe. She was born in the United States, grew up in Scotland, and spent time in Brazil, where her mother was born. Her husband is Norwegian, and they lived in Norway for a time. She has also lived and worked in Sweden before relocating to VFS’s global headquarters in the United States.
From a legal perspective, Henriksen’s international experience has helped her to be conscious of issues that could arise in various countries so she can ask the right questions from the start.
“On personal level, you start to develop an understanding that makes you more appreciative of the value that you can have from a diverse team,” Henriksen says. “But also respectful and mindful of the differences and how that brings strength to your team.”