CLOC Global Institute (CGI) 2023 wrapped up recently, and I walked away from the conference energized … and a little mystified.
For those unfamiliar, CLOC is the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium. It’s an industry group created to connect legal ops professionals—and many others in the legal ecosystem—for networking, education, and career support. The group publishes resources on the ins and outs of legal operations and related functions, hosts a job board, and puts on community events throughout the year. Their biggest annual event is CGI, where members can connect, engage, share knowledge, and get familiar with the latest developments in this crucial in-house function.
CGI is chock full of inspirational sessions about how legal operations professionals are transforming their companies through big and little initiatives. In fact, “Transformation” was the theme for CGI 2023—and wow, does “transformation” sound big, bold, and a little intimidating.
Our legal operations team at Relativity joined other CLOC members at CGI to find answers to a simple but critical question: How can we, with assists from our partners and technology providers, help each other transform the way legal teams work?
When it comes down to it, we’re at a critical point in the evolution of corporate legal work: one where our teams are faced with crazy amounts and types of data, constrained resources, an ever-changing regulatory landscape, and all the same challenges we’re long used to encountering (think short deadlines and tricky collaboration dynamics). I was really excited to attend CGI and get a glimpse of the creative, impactful ways my peers are changing the game.
Read on for a bit of what we learned at this year’s CLOC conference.
#1: Legal: the underused strategic partner!
Have you ever overheard the bone chilling phrase, just don’t tell Legal? Are you combating the perception that the in-house legal team is the Bermuda Triangle—things (ideas, initiatives) go in, but nothing ever comes out? It seems like everyone is trying to figure out the secret sauce to changing how the legal function is perceived within our organizations. We want to be seen as a strategic partner to the business and we constantly complain that the business circumvents us—but are we doing enough to transform that perception?
Look, we all have limited resources, and our legal colleagues are so bogged down with blocking and tackling issues that there is rarely enough time for us to get out there and interface with other stakeholders when pressing issues sit in our queues. But legal ops can be the team that connects “Legal” to the rest of the organization. We should be educating other teams about what we do, what our skillsets are, and how to leverage us to make sure we’re providing the organization with the most value.
Legal operations professionals can and should be the face of the legal department—and we should be building relationships with key stakeholders throughout our organizations. By doing so, we can figure out what matters to them and how we can best partner together to innovate and drive our businesses forward.
#2: Transform the way your legal team works by learning how to say “no” more productively.
I think someone in every organization can relate to this: we spend hours developing our roadmaps. We interview internal and external stakeholders, assess process and tooling gaps, watch demos, develop project plans, draw out detailed timelines, align resources, and ensure we have the right budget in place to accomplish each key initiative. We feel great about where we’re heading, and we’ve sold all our stakeholders on the plan—because it’s clear that we’re going to transform the way our legal team works to better align to business processes and help our company achieve our objectives.
But suddenly, an urgent project comes up. We feel compelled to trash our roadmap and pivot to deal with this new project or problem instead—right? Well, maybe we shouldn’t.
Even though saying “yes” feels so good—more collaborative, more friendly, more accommodating—sometimes the urgent project or problem is just noise. A big, loud, clanging noise that distracts us from our carefully curated roadmap and all the long-term benefits it promises.
So before we say “yes” to the next fire drill, maybe we should consider saying “no, because…” instead.
Saying “No, because…” may not make the noise go away, but it will invite a conversation about prioritization, project ROI, and how we can achieve our broader business objectives if we start to deviate from our established roadmap.
#3: AI: it’s a thing. It’s going to be transformational, and no one really knows what it’s going to mean for legal teams.
The topic du jour at CGI was AI. It came up in every session I attended, and legal ops professions are mostly psyched about potential use cases for AI. We’re talking about incorporating it into virtually every tool and process we have, and when you pause to consider the implications of all that change (and the unknown legal risks in play)—well, that’s where the intimidating part of “transformation” comes in really clearly.
No one seemed to have a clear and defined path forward on how they plan to use AI in their organization (perhaps partly because it's evolving so quickly), but what was most helpful to witness was the spectrum of opportunities to be had. What we all seemed to agree on was that the legal risks of using AI are uncertain, but we’re going to forge ahead with examining how best to implement AI at our organizations—because AI will ultimately make our work more impactful and more efficient. We should seek assistance and guidance from trusted service providers, technology experts, and industry peers to help us all identify the right baby steps for us to incorporate AI into our roadmaps.
The biggest thing to remember is that, no matter where you are on your legal operations journey, transformation can be brought about via quick, simple initiatives as well as large, complex initiatives. What truly matters is figuring out what change will bring your organization the biggest ROI—and committing to the right path forward.
Graphics for this article were created by Sarah Vachlon.