Our final event of the spring season was again covering the topic of the tech savvy in-house lawyer, this time in New York. The panel offered a variety of experiences working in or with in-house legal departments for companies of differing sizes and in different fields.
As has been noted in other panels, the pressure has never been greater on in-house legal departments and the general counsel as they are today. The job inherently involves a considerable amount of reporting and documentation, but now GCs are being asked to do more with less. For the more forward thinking, that involves changing the way things have been done in the past. Technology offers a new and more efficient way of in-house legal to manage their work, and for those especially committed to change, adopting some of the principles widely used in the technology field is a way to improve their processes as well.
Part of the challenge of the increased workload is that GCs can no longer spend the amount of time they would like overseeing the work done by outside counsel. They want transparency into the work and the spend from outside counsel, but it isn't feasible for them to be in touch constantly to monitor progress. While there isn't a specific tech solution to this particular problem, GCs who are able to leverage their existing tools to craft a method of tracking matters and the spend on them are better able to keep a firm grasp on their budgets and timelines. And even if there were to be a solution to this specific problem, or any problem facing an in-house legal department, trying to get a new process or new software into their department faces the hurdles of bureaucracy, regulation and an institutional unwillingness to change how things are done.
GCs are also increasingly pushed towards the role of project manager, a role most may not be comfortable with. The GC isn't going to have anyone dictating to them what their priorities are, so they have to learn what those are within this new environment and which projects to prioritize. A GC's estimation of themselves has to change as well, as their value to a company isn't billable hours but problems solved. An in-house lawyer needs to shift their mindset to focus on helping the company rather than merely acting as a lawyer employed by a business. And as part of a legal team, the GC or in-house counsel needs to sharpen the teamwork skills that aren't often needed at a law firm.
For clients, whether they be the business side of a company or an outside client, what ultimately matters is having the work done at a reasonable, predictable price. For legal departments, they need to be able to inspire confidence that they are able to meet those goals, and the best way to achieve that is through using data and technology. It isn't enough to tell their clients that they're doing the best, most efficient job for them they can; they need to have the data on hand to show this , and the processes and systems in place to ensure that the work is not only done efficiently, but that nothing will be missed. Being able to provide tables, charts and numbers allows in-house legal departments to articulate their value to the company where rhetoric falls short.
There are any number of areas that are ripe for innovation that could help in-house legal departments, from document automation to contract management to contract analysis. But the biggest hurdle legal tech faces in its push for adoption is getting the legal field as an entity to buy into it, and getting the individual attorneys that make up law firms and in-house legal departments to use it and capture the work they do and the information they create. Big companies are predisposed to stick to the way they've always done things, and even small tech fixes can balloon into big projects when subjected to corporate processes. And lawyers are hesitant of change and reluctant to cede any of their authority as an expert to data-driven technology.
So how can legal tech get in the door with in house legal departments and GCs? Most importantly, they need to solve a pain point big enough for them to be willing to adopt new technology and new processes. Getting in the door with firms working with companies is another great way to gain exposure to bigger corporate entities, as they can leverage legal tech from their vendors rather than having to implement it themselves as a way of mitigating risk.