(Photo: Giligone, via Wikimedia Commons) (Photo: Giligone, via Wikimedia Commons)

 

There are a handful of generalizations that can be made about the legal profession that, more often than not, are true: Lawyers don’t like risk. They are wary of change. And the profession moves slowly. The 2017 Corporate Legal Operations Consortium’s (CLOC) institute in Las Vegas, however, proves that there are hundreds of lawyers, legal operations professionals and others in the profession who are open to changing some of that.

The three-day event hit on themes that are to be expected at a conference aimed at those in the legal industry. Corporate legal departments are always looking for ways to decrease legal spend, for instance, especially when it comes to outside counsel. To that end, DHL’s general counsel and chief compliance officer of supply chain operations in the Americas revealed at the conference that his outside counsel spend has been significantly reduced because of law firm convergence.

But other sessions at CLOC 2017 hinted at some of the changes that might be on the horizon. For one, despite fears that artificial intelligence may replace lawyers, panelists at the conference not only explored ways to use AI as a complement to lawyers, but also how to practically implement it in legal departments. Another session highlighted growing interest in addressing issues in areas such as billing, while also focusing on the debate over whether attorneys should embrace non-lawyers in legal leadership roles.

A Question of the Bottom Line: Legal Operations as Integral to the Business Unit

The CLOC conference was also a type of vindication for a group of in-house professionals who, only a few years ago, were uncertain their positions would still be around. But today, legal operations is one of the fastest growing, and an increasingly important, part of the legal department. And when in-house corporate legal departments see the need to get leaner and rely more heavily on data for decision making, it is often the legal operations staff who are tasked with turning ideas into reality.

But while some legal operations teams have modernized through the use of machine learning, data governance and metrics, the majority are still in the planning stages. In the process, many are learning that technology is not implemented in a vacuum. Further, streamlining their legal services is not just a question of implementing technology; just as importantly, it’s a matter of holistically managing personnel and processes.

Oftentimes legal operations efforts can be stifled by ambition. Many, after all, strive to develop the most advanced processes and tools. But far more important and feasible is building a foundation for future technology, and achieving quick wins to prove to the C-suite that such an effort is possible.

Legal operations teams should not underestimate the task at hand. Nor should they think about or discuss their projects solely in limited terms. Though a part of the legal department, ongoing support of operations depends on their ability to frame their efforts along the lines of solving business challenges, and helping the organization’s bottom line.