Editor’s Note: This post was inspired by a panel discussion on the topic of “In-House Lawyers of the 2020s,” hosted by Brightflag’s VP of Customer Success, Peter Lyon, at the Association of Corporate Counsel Europe’s Annual Conference 2019. We would like to thank our participating panelists — and emphasize that the opinions expressed by those quoted below are personal views which should not be construed to represent the perspectives of their associated organizations.
You’re unlikely to read an industry newsletter or conference agenda these days that doesn’t hint at how technology will transform the legal profession in the next few years.
And while we think some of these assertions are closer to logical prediction than reckless speculation, forecasting is an exercise that can make anyone look foolish over time.
So as you try to make sense of all the projections for our potential future, it would probably be wise to filter them through a few legal tech truths that won’t be changing anytime soon.
The day-to-day tasks of a modern marketer would barely be recognizable to a practitioner from the late 1980s. Two in-house attorneys separated by that same timeline, however, would have much less trouble seeing their resemblance in one another (fashion choices aside).
The slower pace of change experienced by corporate legal departments may even convince some that their profession will remain relatively immune to technological disruption. Of all possible predictions, though, this is the least likely to come true.
Sure, other departments may continue to be the testing ground for cutting-edge innovations. But progress won in these areas will inevitably inspire lateral applications to the legal function. The business advantages are simply too compelling to ignore for teams under pressure to find new efficiencies amid a growing volume of work.
Tech innovation doesn’t have to be as hard as some business teams make it look. In fact, in-house attorneys already have two natural advantages.
The healthy sense of skepticism held by most lawyers can be a powerful shield against the hype that so often inspires ill-fated technology investments. Instead of instantly being seduced by the allure of a shiny new tool, lawyers are more likely to take their time discerning the truth and value of its alleged benefits.
Combine this quality with a talent for persuasive argument, and you’ll have the beginnings of the kind of business case all legal tech purchases should be held to.
"Get people behind the why. They have to understand what the value is to them."
- Hans Albers, Associate General Counsel, Juniper Networks and President of ACC Europe
Without a clear explanation of the broader business benefits to be gained from product adoption, you may never secure budget authorization in the first place. And without concrete examples of the potential impact day-to-day users will enjoy, approved purchases may never be fully embraced by the team.
By starting with why you’ll quickly rule out tools that don’t belong and consistently inspire enthusiasm for the few that truly do.
It may take months (or years) to successfully advocate for a new tech investment. In many cases, though, that’s just the start of the story.
Considering the sensitivity and complexity of the work you’ll be applying legal tech solutions toward, some level of customization and configuration will likely be required at first. And once the new tool is tailored to fit your unique environment, the challenge shifts from technical to social.
“Training is so important...even an incentive for some staff.”
- Gloria Sanchez, Chief Transformation Officer at Santander
Assuming that your procurement process “started with why,” your colleagues will already understand their incentives for updating their everyday habits to incorporate this promising new tool. But you can’t just email them an account activation link and wish them well.
Even the best legal tech tools carry some learning curve — and those training requirements typically increase in proportion to the scope of the business problem you’re hoping to solve. So be sure to budget ample time for internal change management as well. (Note: The best tech vendors will operate more like partners, supporting you past the initial purchase and accelerating your transitional period.)
Risk is a four-letter word nobody in the legal department wants to hear. It’s a factor you’ll have to tolerate, however, if you’re hoping to reap the rewards of any new tech investment.
The risks range from the strictly financial (ex. delayed ROI) to the deeply personal (ex. damaged reputations). But there’s often a far greater set of risks associated with the alternative path: Taking no action to address a mounting business problem.
So don’t be deterred by the thought of what could go wrong. In fact, it’s best to accept the fact that something likely will. Meaningful progress rarely occurs in a linear fashion after all.
“Failing can be almost as important as succeeding.”
- Miguel Viedma, VP and Group Legal Director Digital at Capgemini
The trick is to create systems (technical AND social) that don’t treat minor mistakes as fatal errors. Because oftentimes it’s those small setbacks that end up fueling the largest breakthroughs.
While experience may be the best teacher, there’s little sense in learning hard lessons you don’t have to yourself. So perhaps the best advice we can leave you with is a call to build more peer connections.
Seek out the perspectives of others facing similar challenges. Attend industry conferences or arrange local events if you can. Subscribe to interesting news outlets and interview series in between.
And when you feel like you may have some earned wisdom to impart, pay it forward by finding (or creating) a platform where you can share it.