For at least a decade now lawyers have talked up the impending transformation of their industry, with technology set to play the lead role in a new and better way of doing things. Survey results showed legal teams in North America are enthusiastic supporters of technology. Over half (51%) of those surveyed felt new technology would significantly enhance outcomes within the legal team, while 84% felt it would enhance outcomes to at least some extent.
This time, finally, it might be happening
For at least a decade now lawyers have talked up the impending
transformation of their industry, with technology set to play the
lead role in a new and better way of doing things. Why would
anyone think otherwise? The legal profession, as every GC will
point out, is riddled with inefficiency. Clients are being asked to
pay for things they do not need, and very expensive labour is
routinely assigned to basic tasks.
But recognising the problem and identifying the solution are
two very different things. While almost all GCs can give a long
list of reasons why the profession should change and what
it should look like, far fewer have a roadmap for how to get
there. Until now.
‘There’s a movement afloat’, says Chris Young, general counsel
of Ironclad. ‘For the first time ever in the history of the legal
profession there is cutting-edge technology that allows us to
do our jobs more effectively as lawyers. The whole profession
is now waking up to what it can do differently, and it is in-house
legal teams driving this change.’
But technology is only part of the picture. When it comes to
understanding the changes taking place across corporate
legal teams, the rise of legal operations (legal ops) is just as
important. ‘For years every department at a major company
has had its own ops function’, notes Young. ‘Marketing,
engineering, sales – all of these departments have relied on
operations professionals to keep them moving. Now we are
seeing that in legal teams, and it is having a transformational
impact on the way systems, processes, people and tech work
Ashley Herring, global legal programme manager at BCG, is
among the new breed of ops professionals working to improve
legal teams. Identifying the purpose of the legal function, she
says, is key to unlocking its potential.
‘The temptation for a lot of in-house teams is to set things up
in a very transactional way that looks to a large extent like
the model of an internal law firm. That is not really the best
structure, and it doesn’t give the best results. Legal should
not let itself become a dumping ground – it overburdens the
lawyers and takes away from what the function can deliver to
Setting up things in a way that lets you extract data and make
data-driven decisions is essential to this. Technology can play a
big part here but technology itself should not be the goal. The
goal is being able to structure decisions and processes in a way
that is based on data and numbers.’
In other words, technology is a tactic, not a strategy. While it
can be a useful way of improving the legal function, it will only
work if the function knows what it wants to accomplish. This,
for many GCs, can be a difficult question to answer. But, for
those that have given it thought, the possibilities are endless.
‘I want to be a data-driven lawyer and not just a lawyer who
talks about data’, concludes Young. ‘With the tech that now
exists I can look at our sales contracts historically and generate
data that is of real predictive value. Finally, legal is beginning
to function like any other department and use its data to
accurately forecast what the quarter is going to look like.’
Identifying the ‘why’
To judge from the results of our survey, legal teams in North
America are enthusiastic supporters of technology. Over half
(51%) of those surveyed felt new technology would significantly
enhance outcomes within the legal team, while 84% felt it
would enhance outcomes to at least some extent.
The appetite for technology was just as apparent, with 58%
of respondents saying they wanted to increase the use of
technology within their legal team.
As ever, finding the budget for new tech was the biggest
obstacle they faced, with 62% of teams citing this as a barrier to
change. Over a quarter of legal teams (26%) said they wanted
to introduce new technology but lacked the time to research
available tools, while just 11% said they were unable to find a
solution that met their needs.
However, a sizable number of corporate counsel
(14%) felt they already used too much technology.
As one respondent, general counsel at a Canadian
energy company, noted, ‘Finding technology is not
a problem. Making sure that technology is being
used properly by everyone in the team is the issue.
You can’t execute a legal tech transformation in a
large team without having some form of discipline
and training. You either all do it together or it
doesn’t work. I am quite willing to admit I do not
have the time or expertise to effectively oversee
that sort of project.’
Even the most popular and successful forms of
legal technology, such as contract management
systems, found their critics. ‘Lawyers love contract
management systems, but do they really test
how they’re being used?’, asked one respondent.
‘Of course, if you’re a lawyer then you intuitively
understand why a contract platform would be
useful. Go speak to the sales team that has to use
it and you will hear a different story. I have found
that these things are not actually all that intuitive
at all when they’re out in the wild.’
Still, when it comes to a show of hands the
consensus is that corporate legal functions will
change for good: 91% of those surveyed said they
expected AI to be a disruptor in the legal industry,
with nearly half (47%) saying they expect this
disruption to be significant.
Inevitably, there will be push back. Any legal team over a
certain size recognises that it needs a contract management
system, but a solution that can flag risks or identify and
extract terms is a different matter. For some, the unspoken
message is ‘a machine can do your job, and it will be more
reliable’. But, says Michael Shour of Banyan Software, the
results lawyers can achieve with advanced tools mean
widespread adoption is all but inevitable.
‘Recently, I trained an AI solution to help review a certain
type of regularly occurring contract that was key to our
business. It improved our response times and, I think,
ultimately helped us win deals. It didn't get rid of the
lawyers; it gave us better and more accurate information
and allowed us to handle the matter more effectively.
The use of this technology will continue to evolve and
become more pervasive. Already, service-level agreements
and the general sophistication of providers have improved
considerably. It is incumbent on GCs and legal tech providers
to at least try to keep up with these developments, even if
doing so is not always easy.’
As ever, there will also be strong resistance from State
Bars when it comes to innovative ways of delivering legal
services. But as the legal profession reaches critical mass in
its use of technology, regulation will have to follow suit.