We were in Toronto for our latest Tech Savvy In-House Legal event, kindly hosted by the good people of McCarthy Tetrault. Toronto has a vibrant legal technology scene, so it was an exciting opportunity to discuss the role that legal tech, and technology in general, is playing in the lives of the general counsel and in-house legal departments, and how that will continue to grow and change moving forward.
In the modern landscape, how has the role of the general counsel evolved? Perhaps the biggest pressure facing GCs is the demand to do more with less. The modern GC is being asked not only to deal with far more data than their predecessors, they are having to perform more functions within the company. As a result of these pressures, there is an ever-increasing need for in-house legal departments to be more efficient, which is where technology ideally would come in. But these same restraints can present hurdles to implementing technology. Companies are less likely to want to invest IT dollars into cost centers like their legal departments as opposed to areas that are client-facing and revenue generators. In order to bring in the technology that they'll need to do their work efficiently going forward, GCs will need to be able to demonstrate that there will be an return on investment for those tech dollars, and that involves data.
If GCs want to bring in new tech solutions, they'll need to make the case for the data and KPIs to help demonstrate how tech can help run the business more efficiently and effectively. Companies will see the opportunity cost; it's the job of the GC to show them the value that can be added with technology. It can help companies figure out how to best allocate their legal resources by analyzing the work the in-house legal department is doing. And beyond the dollars and cents, implementing tech shows clients that you can be innovative. Ultimately, using data can be a cost saving measure if you can overcome the hesitance to invest. Pilot projects can be a good way to demonstrate that value and convince company of the need to spend on technology without having to make a big commitment up front.
So how can in-house GCs use and analyze data at a time when they're so stretched with so many other responsibilities? Many GCs are hiring department operations specialists who are business minded to do the heavy lifting of collecting and sorting the data for them. For others without that luxury, they simply have to find the time, as they are under pressure to demonstrate their department's value. But the data does serve an important purpose that justifies the time spent on it. It allows them to show their resources through numbers and pictures as any other department within the company would. Operating as simply another department within a company is something that the modern GC is forced to do, as their jobs evolve into managers who have to be able to understand and analyze data. They also need to have a firm grasp of the processes that are in place within the legal department in order to understand where the inefficiencies are that could be improved with technology.
Legal tech companies are always hustling to try and build partnerships with law firms and in-house legal departments. So how can legal tech companies engage with GCs? Having a specialized niche that is a pain point for a lot of people or companies or firms is a better approach than trying to be too broad with your product or solution. It also helps to have cheerleaders and advocates withing a company or firm who are willing to advocate for your product, because it solves a problem for them. Legal tech companies also need to understand and differentiate between what in-house legal departments need to have, and what would be nice for them to have. With resources limited for legal departments, any legal tech solution needs to provide an essential function. Take any feedback from those you do partner with to build upon and improve product. Another way to get an in with a company is by working with the law firm that they work with.
As technology solutions continue to develop and increase in number, there will be a shift towards bringing certain services back in-house. Legal tech solutions can now offer a range of different services once provided by counsel, usually at a significantly reduced cost. In order to stay relevant, law firms are going to have to be able to deliver value to their clients. While you still need attorney expertise for court matters and other high-level things, technology can handle the administrative work and save companies money.In order to survive, smart firms will have to look to partner with tech companies or build their own technology.
Ultimately the challenge of technology in law is one of adoption. The tools already exist for attorneys at in-house legal departments or law firms of any size to do their jobs more efficiently; now it remains a matter of convincing attorneys to change the way they do things. It has to be a patient process. Technological change tends to be incremental, and law is slower than most at adopting. But the key to adoption is convincing attorneys and GCs that they can be a better way to do things through technology.