REUTERS | Ricardo Moraes

Key themes for in-house lawyers from Legal Geek 2019

Legal Geek once again provided plenty of food for thought for in-house lawyers. To my mind, this year’s key themes centred around innovation, collaboration and client-focus.

Empathetic lawyers; not robot lawyers

“Behave like a robot and you will be replaced by one. Work like a robot and you should be replaced by one.”

This quote, and the same speaker’s advice to “get into the soul of the client” was a recurring topic of discussion during the day. Although efficiency tools will gain traction, lawyers can still thrive by focusing their efforts on establishing deep, personal knowledge of their client. Lawyers should be encouraged to listen, be empathetic and provide intricate, tailored, strategic solutions for their client. From an in-house perspective, this means focusing on the end users of your advice: your colleagues.

Work that does not require a human relationship should be automated so that AI does the drudgery. In addition, lawyers need to build on their traditional legal skills and develop future legal skills, such as change management and design thinking, and become comfortable working in multi-disciplinary teams containing other professionals such as:

  • Product designers.
  • Legal engineers.
  • Data scientists.

Legal design can improve engagement with your business

One way in which in-house lawyers can improve their client focus is by thinking about how their audience wants to consume information. One speaker gave an example of an existing online portal that was not being used by the business. It was very wordy and did not make sense to its intended users and, instead of using the available self-help tools, they contacted Legal directly. The portal was re-designed and re-organised by business topic, rather than by legal practice area, which improved engagement with Legal and reduced routine requests by two thirds.

Legal design can have an impact on improving client engagement and empowering business users. Good visual design can help communicate complex information correctly, quickly and memorably, with one speaker showing a vivid visual representation of consequential loss that had been produced to help the business understand the concept. For further information on legal design, see Practice note, An introduction to legal design.

Tech implementation: magpies and scientists

“Don’t run too fast” was the message from one panellist when it came to tech implementation. Innovating within the structure of the business and engaging with the organisation (particularly at board-level) were recommended, while buying ad-hoc legal tech was not regarded as a sensible strategy. Several speakers mentioned that any new technology must be scalable.

Two different but equally valid approaches to purchasing and implementing legal tech were highlighted by another panellist:

  • Scientists. Scientists experiment with different products, try different approaches and are prepared to fail.
  • Magpies. Magpies look at success stories from other organisations and try and steal the best bits for their own business.

Lawyers need to have the time to stop and reflect, think strategically and consider how tech can be used effectively. This task should not be bolted on to their day job. Several speakers suggested larger legal departments should create a legal operations team to do this work.

No innovation without collaboration

Collaboration, co-operation and innovation were referenced throughout the day. One speaker explained that there’s a big difference between merely co-operating (where individual goals are supported) and collaborating (where shared goals are supported). To truly collaborate, there needs to be a shared vision that individual goals are aligned with.

Several speakers confirmed that clients are now demanding genuine collaboration between legal departments, law firms and technology suppliers. They also want law firms to work together with rival firms but sometimes experience resistance as firms refuse to share information. Law firms need to consider how much of their work is truly strategic and not waste time trying to protect information that is not.

Despite the attempts of in-house lawyers to encourage collaboration, in comparison with academia and the start-up community, the legal profession in general is still holding out against sharing data, which is slowing the pace of innovation.

Fitting the jigsaw together: providing a platform for growth

Legal technology is currently a fragmented industry with many solutions focused on solving specific problems and, according to one speaker, this is acting as a brake on change in the legal world. The provision of a trusted platform that enables legal technology providers to come together was proposed as a means of providing much needed simplification that will also act as a spur for creativity. The goal is an open, inter-operable system that enables law firms, corporate legal departments and legal tech suppliers to collaborate and co-operate together.

Another speaker marketed their platform as an “app store for legal”. His company was attempting to create a well-functioning marketplace that provides up-to-date information on legal tech and enables users to evaluate new technology, which is currently a difficult, expensive and time-consuming exercise.

Use what you have: don’t let perfection be the enemy of progress

Most legal departments remain cost-constrained and struggle to understand which tech suppliers to trust. Like last year, in-house lawyers were encouraged to get started by using basic tools (such as Word and Excel) and leverage existing systems (such as Sharepoint). One panellist gave the example of a customer service management tool that was adapted to help Legal understand how work was allocated within the team.

Another speaker reminded lawyers to find out what was hiding in their IT cupboard and consider how they can extract value from it. They may discover that they are already paying for some useful technology as part of a shared budget.

Remember: it’s all about the “legal”, not the “technology”

Legal Geek’ s inaugural Law for Good conference later the same week picked up on several of these themes in the context of projects looking to leverage legal tech to improve access to justice.

Speakers addressed the importance of designing products to suit the needs of end-users, rather than legal practitioners; highlighted new law school modules and university courses aiming to encourage collaboration between law students and computer-science students, and develop and extend the skillsets of the lawyers of tomorrow; and showcased the variety of legal technology products being developed to plug gaps in legal services or smooth the path of those trying to access them.

A key message that emerged from several speakers, which is equally valid to commercial as to pro bono products, was that it is important not to be dazzled by the possibilities of the technology, but to focus on what its purpose is: the effective and efficient delivery of a solution to a legal problem.

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