For most in-house legal teams, 2023 has become the year of “doing more with less.” In fact, 79 percent of respondents of Relativity and FTI’s General Counsel Report said they were experiencing a strain on legal department resources, budget, and/or capacity.
While under intense pressure to meet the bottom line, how can an in-house team set themselves up for success? At CLOC’s Global Institute (CGI) 2023, many sessions set out to answer this question. We’ve compiled the best advice from the conference, along with the latest research into how corporate legal teams can advance despite the challenging environment we find ourselves in today.
Become an Engine Room of Transformation and Overcome the Department of “No”
In the not-too-distant past, many in-house teams found themselves an island away from their colleagues across other departments. From “don’t tell Legal” to “the fastest way to ‘no’ is Legal,” there was a wall between the legal department and—well, everyone else. That wall prevented in-house teams from being seen as strategic partners to accelerating business objectives, but it also shielded the budget, with department spend being accepted as simply the cost of legal operations.
Fast forward to today, and becoming an active partner in business communications has not come without costs (literally). Still, lifting the veil on organizational budgets and becoming an active partner in everyday business has been to the benefit of most legal departments. This participation has enabled in-house teams to push back on requests and initiatives that don’t meet overall business needs, avoid burnout, and become the “engine room of transformation” or their organizations.
At CGI, Megan Niedermeyer, CLO at Apollo.io, and Gary Spiegal, former SVP and GC at Anaplan, discussed how, despite the unfortunate reputation of being the “department of no” when it came to progress, “no” was, ironically, not a major part of yesterday’s legal teams’ vocabulary when taking on business requests. Pushing back isn’t a conversation in-house teams are used to conducting, because they want to get everything done for everybody—but as both speakers shared, the pushback doesn’t need to be an “either/or thing.”
Learning to push back effectively is more about demonstrating to the business how accomplishing X objective requires Y resources; when those resources are stretched across more objectives than were initially planned for, only some objectives can be accomplished. By clarifying which objectives take strategic priority, in-house teams—and in particular, legal operations—can drive transformation by providing efficiency and increasing bandwidth across policies, processes, and platforms.
Conquer Short Message Data and Build Internal Best Practices in Management
From 2020-2022, Microsoft Teams has seen a 743 percent increase in active users. In fact, data from short messages is anticipated to eclipse email in RelativityOne in 2024. Few organizations were prepared for the work-from-home scenario of COVID-19 or the popularity short message platforms like Teams, Slack, and Skype would have in a remote workforce.
As Toby Stinson, manager of law data and applications at Chevron, put it at CGI: “Teams is a triggering word for me. It’s a great business productivity tool, we rolled it out one month before COVID and it took off like wildfire. But we struggled a lot in collecting it. We didn’t know where the data was. Not to mention the side-car data, the holes, the meeting chats, loop files, et cetera.”
Despite these initial challenges, Toby offered valuable advice to legal operations professionals in similar positions: “find a partner that [you can] build with: identify market leaders, build relationships with them, then leverage those relationships to see how [you] can better slice and dice the data.”
In the Relativity and FTI General Counsel Report, 55.17 percent reported not having experienced new challenges from emerging data—yet 56.67 percent are concerned about the impact of unsanctioned emerging data source use! In-house teams are seeing the same challenges in the preservation and collection of short message data; further complicating matters is how the amount of this data is increasing at an exponential rate, but the responsiveness rate is much lower than in emails.
On most teams, employees are chatting about their personal lives in the same threads as their work—creating a mammoth-sized amount of labor in determining what is and what isn’t responsive or relevant in a given case.
Innovate and Improve Regardless of Shrinking Resources
Despite the “do more with less” motto of 2023, David Pearson, global law services operations manager at John Deere, had a much more positive spin in his session at CGI: “Stop saying less; we’re not doing it with more, but doing it with different [resources]. Doing more, different.”
Legal has long been seen as the last department to embrace technology, but technology is exactly what in-house teams need to embrace the call to “do more” with constricting resources. Interestingly, despite the 79 percent of respondents mentioned earlier who were seeing cost reductions, 51 percent of law departments reported anticipating increased technology budgets in the HBR Consulting 2023 Annual Law Department Survey.
In fact, Gartner predicted in 2021 that legal technology spend will increase threefold by 2025, due to headcounts remaining flat, economic constraints, and a long overdue need to modernize. This prediction appears to be coming true, with more in-house teams incorporating “riskier” technology like generative AI into their roadmaps.
While 71 percent of respondents highlighted risks relating to AI as a key threat in the Relativity and FTI General Counsel Report, 77 percent of attorneys and law students in the LexisNexis March 2023 Survey saw potential for generative AI to advance the practice of law. At CGI, nearly 60 percent of the audience at a session on practical and impactful AI use cases had generative AI in their roadmap for the next year, with a little more than 10 percent of those attendees already using it.
How can in-house teams do more differently (with less resources)? By leveraging technology to be more efficient, find insights faster, and replace admin work with true value-add work that combats burnout.
Navigate the Risk and Bias Landscape with AI
While advanced technology like AI and automation presents an exciting opportunity for legal departments—particularly those tasked with large e-discovery or internal investigation volumes—not all technology is created equal, and internal buy-in is key for any successful implementation.
As Eric Sedwick, senior director and head of legal operations at TIAA, and Eric Ortman, senior director of legal operations at BeiGene, discussed at CGI this year, risk from one vendor to another should be handled differently. It’s all about guardrails, and risk isn’t singular. You need to think about what level you can move the slider on when it comes to each type of risk: financial, reputational, regulatory, and so on. And you cannot rush that move!
When evaluating each risk, in-house legal teams should look at how their vendors consider security as a priority. For example, at Relativity, beyond building on Microsoft Azure and leveraging our IT team to keep our tech running in tip-top shape, our global cybersecurity team, Calder7, monitors our ecosystem 24/7.
In-house teams also need to look for vendors with strong AI principles; responsible technology providers evaluate and adjust their AI models on a regular basis to address bias, and use thoughtful consideration before deploying new solutions. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) recently acknowledged that “bias in AI manifests not only in their algorithms and the data used to train them, but also in the societal context in which AI systems are used.”
With ESG and DEI considerations emerging as top legal risks for in-house teams, being aware of bias in your vendor’s AI is critical. At Relativity, one of our five AI principles is to ensure fairness is front and center in our AI development. This means we aren’t always first to market with some of our AI capabilities, because prioritizing fit for purpose and preventing harm takes precedent. With sentiment analysis in RelativityOne, for example, we were first to market with a custom-built AI model that took bias into account.
A Thoughtful Way Forward for In-house Legal Teams
2023 has presented more challenges than strictly comfortable for in-house legal teams, but also clear opportunities for growth and transformation. Technology is quickly evolving to help corporate teams manage workloads more effectively and adopt a proactive approach to managing new sources of data. Along that trajectory, onboarding thoughtful applications for AI is key to becoming and remaining an “engine room of transformation” internally.
As the legal profession continues to evolve, in-house teams should keep a careful eye on who they are choosing to partner with when it comes to technology vendors. Your vendors should reflect your own values and principles to ensure long-term stability and department success.
Graphics for this article were created by Kael Rose.