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How in-house lawyers can become “digital” lawyers

Are ‘bots a good thing? That was the question posed by IAG’s Head of Digital at our recent legal conference as he espoused the virtues of businesses keeping pace with digital developments to confront the threats such advances could otherwise pose. The legal and compliance teams from each group company had met to discuss best practice, provide an update on IAG’s strategic focus and digital initiatives, and team-build through exploring our own and our team’s personality traits.

Perhaps unsurprisingly for a corporate lawyer, my personality mapping plotted me firmly on the logical and outcome-focused spectrum with little, if any, spontaneous, radical or conceptual association. The idea that I could be replaced by a robot or Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the near future therefore filled me with dread.

So, are we about to be replaced by robots?

Nesta’s quiz Will a robot take my job? helped put my mind at ease to some extent though I admit I answered the questions with my M&A hat firmly in place. A complex transaction such as IAG’s recent acquisition of Aer Lingus, which involved government negotiations, structuring considerations and tactical judgments to reach a successful outcome, isn’t quite AI-ready. However, had I taken the quiz with standard form NDAs and adviser Ts&Cs in mind, my “profession” may not have been quite so resilient. In fact, there are already companies offering AI technology in the legal space that can carry out “first reviews” of contracts or provide comments on standard form documents. Who wouldn’t appreciate the extra time that this could afford to focus on the more intricate, and often more interesting, work?

What does this mean for in-house lawyers?

As technology advances and more businesses start to focus on the impact the digital world will have on the future direction, strategy and even success of their company, in-house lawyers will need to adapt. We will need to understand and advise on the implications of creating, utilising or challenging such technology and, from a cost and efficiency perspective, we are likely to face pressure to adapt our own style of working to take advantage of such tools. In turn, we will expect our external advisers do the same.

Choosing to work with law firms that are innovative and creative in their approach to staffing work will inevitably become a key part of our decision-making process. The Financial Times’ Innovative Lawyers 2016 supplement applauded those firms who are pushing the boundaries and re-thinking their approach. As in-house lawyers, it is our responsibility to ensure that we not only use those types of firms but that we keep pace with them so that we are able to utilise their systems and processes.

Universities and law schools also need to consider the evolving workplace as they turn out the next generation of lawyers. The skills required to best serve the needs of our clients is changing, and graduates who can demonstrate digital aptitude, alongside their legal knowledge, will find themselves well-positioned in the job market.

How is the IAG legal team adapting?

Digital mind-set is now one of the key management development metrics within IAG.  As the business expands its focus on digital, an increasing amount of work coming across the legal teams’ desks has a digital element, giving us the chance to advise on innovative and interesting work. IAG recently announced its first accelerator programme, Hangar 51, which will work with start-ups to find solutions to genuine business and customer challenges with the potential of investment where opportunities are identified. Running a programme such as this is unchartered territory for IAG. Not only does it present the legal team with the chance to advise on areas we otherwise might not get exposure to, such as investing in fledgling companies, it allows us to work alongside young, energetic companies emerging from places such as Silicon Valley and Israel.

We are also seeking to take advantage of new technology to help us work in a more efficient and connected way, especially as the IAG legal team spans the UK, USA, Spain and Ireland.  Though sometimes viewing lawyers as the Luddites in the group, the IAG Digital team chose the legal conference as the test bed for a new event app.  The app allowed attendees to find details of the venue, view the agenda and speaker profiles, as well as personal profiles of their colleagues, ask questions, post comments and photos and compete for the top spot on a leader board. We were actively encouraged to interact with the app and each other.  Several specialist topic forums were established to enable the app to remain as a mechanism for communicating in a less formal way and encourage continued networking and knowledge sharing. The competition and compliance teams are currently in the final stages of launching apps that our business clients can use as a first port of call if they have concerns around potential competition or bribery risks.

On a personal level, as part of my next SRA competence review, I will certainly be reflecting on the need to keep up-to-date with legal changes that sit alongside the developing digital space and consider the ways in which I can adapt my own style of working and delivering legal services.

To be a “digital” lawyer, we don’t need to find a new profession and allow a robot to take our seat. We should instead embrace digital technology in ways that enhance our ability to service the requirements of our clients, improve our efficiency and cost-base, and welcome the new legal challenges the developing technology will undoubtedly provide.

Beth Marsden

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