General Counsel & Senior in-house lawyers roundtable: Technology & Innovation

Following our third General Counsel roundtable discussion, we outline the key themes that emerged.

Following our third General Counsel roundtable discussion, we outline the key themes that emerged.

Date: 27 June 2019

Location: The Ivy, Manchester

Participants:

  • Simon Colvin – Partner, Weightmans
  • Derek Southall – Founder and CEO, Hyperscale Group
  • Stuart Whittle – Partner, Business Services and Innovation Director, Weightmans
  • Catriona Wolfenden – Partner and Innovation Manager, Weightmans

As well as delegates from BASF, BES Utilities, Well Pharmacy, Bruntwood and Munnelly Group PLC

Key take-aways

  • Automation is already helping in-house legal teams streamline processes and free up employees to work on more complex tasks.
  • Well-deployed software platforms can boost engagement with the legal function across a business, but people and processes remain the key consideration.
  • As technology investment in functions across a business, including finance and HR, is growing, board-level buy-in for investment in legal technology is becoming easier to obtain, while technology has also been coming down in cost.
  • No-code systems that can be adopted without advanced software skills have lowered barriers to adoption.
  • In-house legal teams face a challenging balancing act. They often bear the weighty responsibility of ensuring deals being struck across an organisation are legally sound while avoiding being perceived as business blockers.
  • In most cases, this challenge is compounded by the need to operate with ruthless efficiency and to always ‘do more with less’.
  • In recent years, a host of technology-based solutions have emerged to help in-house lawyers meet these significant demands. These range from relatively simple cloud-based platforms designed to streamline processes, to sophisticated robotic-process-automation and artificial intelligence-based solutions.

Key talking points

To hear the latest on the state of play in this dynamic area, we held a round-table discussion recently, strictly under the Chatham House rule, bringing together in-house lawyers from a range of leading businesses with consultants in private practice to discuss their experiences of legal tech.

Here is a summary of the key talking points.

Appetite for in-house legal tech is growing

There is a growing trend of lawyers moving in-house, and some sources suggest that the number of legal professionals working in non-legal businesses has increased three-fold over the past 15 years.

This has seen an influx of lawyers from private practice, who bring with them raised expectations about the systems that need to be in place to allow a legal team to function efficiently.

At the same time, the cost of implementing systems, and the speed with which they can be put in place, have both decreased dramatically in the past decade.

In the not-too-distant past, implementing a document and email management system across a medium or large enterprise would have cost hundreds of thousands of pounds. Today, a whole host of cloud-based solutions are available with low up-front costs and minimal integration, making businesses much more willing to experiment with new technology.

Tackling the underlying challenges

A common concern raised by many of the General Counsels (GCs) working in larger businesses was the challenge of understanding the complex web of legacy systems that can develop within an organisation in order to identify the priority areas for investment.

Too often, it was argued, decision makers jump on the latest emerging disruptive technology without first understanding and tackling the underlying cause of existing pain points. This can then compound the problem by adding a further tech platform to an already flawed patchwork of legacy systems.

Best practice for legal tech

‘Doing more with less’ is a commonly stated goal for in-house legal teams, but for many of the attendees at the debate, it’s also about doing better with less. The aim should be to empower teams across a business to deliver what they need to deliver, and to be free to use the latest technology to do more.

The way in which technology is helping to do this can be broken into two distinct areas. Firstly, there are platforms that make core processes more organised and streamlined – and secondly automation technology can perform more sophisticated tasks that would previously have required human input.

In terms of the first category, many in-house teams are beginning to make use of platforms such as Office 365 to streamline email and document management processes. Spend and asset management dashboards have also become commonplace.

On the more sophisticated side, automated contract analysis platforms are beginning to emerge that can review intricate contracts and flag up the areas that need attention.These systems can be trained to identify issues with individual clauses and recommend amendments.

Platforms such as LegalSifter, Juris and Synergist among others offer this functionality and they can slash the time a lawyer needs to review a contract by up to half.

Triaging work from across an organisation is another key area. AI platforms that use chatbots to deliver responses to the most basic questions that come into the legal department to do exactly that are on the rise.

While it was agreed that these are not a substitute for upskilling colleagues to work more efficiently with the legal team, they can help small teams of legal professionals to focus less on reactive responses and more on strategic thinking and problem solving.

If you would like further information regarding our event programme for General Counsel and Senior In-House Lawyers, please visit our General Counsel initiative webpage.

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