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The Next Frontier: A.I. and the Efficiently Resourced Legal Department

Anna Ni Chiaruain Anna Ni Chiaruain 5 min read 09/07/2019
The Next Frontier: A.I. and the Efficiently Resourced Legal Department
Anna Ni Chiaruain Anna Ni Chiaruain 5 min read 09/07/2019

On June 20th, 2019, Brightflag hosted a panel discussion in Melbourne which explored the future of the in-house legal department and the legal resourcing mix. Colin Laird, Director of Sales for the Asia-Pacific region at Brightflag, was joined by Jenny Rees, Director at LOD Innovate, Kate Carlile, Chief Legal Officer at Toll Group, and Richard Dammery, Managing Principal at Emerald Hill Associates Pty. The panelists provided their insights on how implementing new technology, such as Artificial Intelligence (A.I.), will impact the culture of a legal department, the legal resourcing mix, the measures of a legal function, and the role of future lawyers. Below is a summarized version of the discussion, including some of the panelists’ quotes. Their quotes and opinions included below are their personal views and do not represent the views of the organizations for whom they work. 

 

Implementing technology on a busy schedule

When we think about modernizing legal departments by implementing technology, it’s often the case that busy schedules can prevent these processes from moving forward. Our panelists began the discussion by sharing their priorities for the implementation of technology while managing the day-to-day running of a busy corporate legal team. 

 

Jenny asserted that identifying a team’s pain points should take precedence over launching straight into implementing technology. Building a business case for legal technology implementation can be difficult. Her advice was to firstly think about the legal department’s goals and the business’ overall strategy as the legal team is part of a wider organization. 

 

Richard said that having visibility within your organization should be the starting point. It’s important to understand how you align your lawyers to the business as well as having sufficient data before implementing any technology: “I don’t think you can start this journey and I certainly don’t think you can carry it forward unless you have really great information about what’s going on in the function right now.

 

So, having a deep and clear macro-level understanding of the current processes within the legal function, but also of the organization as a whole is fundamental when considering the implementation of automation or technology. Ensuring the proposed technology will address the main pain points your legal department is facing means your new software is more likely to be successful in addressing them. 

 

Managing cultural and organizational change

The topic of the A.I. hype cycle was raised as we can often get waylaid by the various A.I. products claiming to have the ability to solve a multitude of problems. Kate explained that she is in the early stages of modernizing her team and wants to focus on further improvements and not get too distracted by all the “shiny, new tech toys”. She also observed that fundamentally humans don’t tend to like change, “even if it is ultimately a better system”, so it is important for everyone within the legal team and within the organization to be on the same page when approaching any new processes or strategies.  It’s also crucial for legal teams to understand the software first as they may not use it to its full capacity if there is a lack of knowledge surrounding the product’s capabilities. The caliber of onboarding and training by vendors is a key moment in the success of software adoption.

 

Aligning a legal team is clearly an essential step when thinking about adopting automation for assisting certain processes within the legal function. Ensuring that everyone on the team is comfortable with using the software and understands how it can be leveraged for optimal results is also a vital component of implementing any new technology. 

 

ALSPs and the changing resourcing mix

Colin broached the topic of Alternative Legal Service Providers (ALSPs) and legal process outsourcing to the panelists. It was clear that the use of ALSPs is certainly on their radars. Kate pointed out that a lot of legal work is moving towards being assisted by automation and Jenny noted the various options lawyers have when choosing where they should resource their legal work, such as off-shore LPOs for more standardized customer contracts:  “I would agree with Kate that some of that stuff is now actually moving towards automation assisting it”. Jenny went on to discuss how combining process, technology, and people to create a better solution can enable legal departments to not only have the right resourcing mix but to also learn about the business processes along the way. The sum of the whole could be greater than the sum of the parts.

 

Richard contended that automating many of the manual processes involved in completing certain legal work is inevitable: “I think the future as it’s going to exist in five years’ time, and certainly no more than 10 years’ time, will be to say ‘why do we need people touching this process at all?’”. When it comes to options renewal processes, for example, Richard thought automation was the way forward. 

 

The panel agreed that a significant problem facing legal departments is a distinct lack of data available in order for them to make strategic decisions. Richard pointed out that there are many lawyers who are unable to get their heads around tech, code, and data, which makes it harder for them to take the leap of faith to replace current processes that are carried out by people with a machine-based learning tool. Similarly, Kate expressed how difficult it is to showcase the value of a legal department: "how do you demonstrate the value of legal to the organization?”. However, Richard ultimately believes that this capability will come in time: “if you can show that you’re running your function like a business because you’ve got proper data and you can tell the clients what’s going on, that gives you huge credibility.”

 

The most important measures for legal functions

Colin made the point that a primary focus for legal teams is cost efficiency and asked the audience and the panelists about their experiences with establishing other measures for their legal functions. As an audience member pointed out, it is very easy to evaluate cost so it makes sense that cost control would be an important measure for a legal department to focus on. 

 

However, Jenny stated that speed is also a critical factor, particularly “if it’s turning on revenue from customers”. Management of the trade-off between legal service delivery and risk mitigation continues to be something senior legal leaders grapple with. She continued, “what can be quite empowering is if you are able to go beyond what is just in the legal component of it but a whole process that is a business process”. Having an automated system to complete some of the manual tasks inhibiting members of a legal team from accomplishing higher value work in a timely manner will continue to be an important factor for legal departments when considering A.I. implementation. 

 

Lawyers and technology: “if it takes away the pain and mundane, then who wouldn’t like that?”

As technology is becoming more prevalent among legal teams, it’s evident the next generation of lawyers coming through the ranks will be affected in some way. It could even get to the stage where lawyers will need to have proficient experience with these technologies in order to be considered for certain roles within the legal function. 

 

Jenny made the comment that “if it takes away the pain and mundane, then who wouldn’t like that?”. But she also noted that A.I. needs human intervention, which the new generation of lawyers can handle. Kate pointed out that you can no longer get away with saying “I’m a lawyer, I’m no good with technology” because the role has evolved so much in recent years. 

 

It’s no secret that the brand of the internal legal department is changing as it’s required to become more open, more data-driven, and more engaged with the business. In order for this to become a reality, corporate legal teams need to consider implementing A.I.-powered solutions. People, i.e. lawyers, are needed to monitor this automation as it is still early days. As newly qualified lawyers enter an ever-evolving field, the scope of their skill sets will have to extend beyond just legal. They must have a strong handle on technological solutions and how to implement them if they want to thrive in this new age of legal operations. However, it’s clear that there is a genuine desire to experiment with new ideas among legal operations professionals, and as Colin wrapped up the breakfast briefing: “you don’t know how something is going to work until you try it.”

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Thank you to each of our panelists and guests for partaking in our discussion. We are very grateful to you all for taking the time to attend. 

 

If you are interested in finding out more about how legal teams can effectively utilize A.I., why not talk to a member of our team and book a demo now?