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Artificial Intelligence and the General Counsel

By Jim Vint, Rebecca Patterson

May 22, 2018

Corporate legal counsel doesn’t need to be sold on the value of artificial intelligence (AI). Industry-leading corporations are driving the growing application of AI, using it with greater frequency for internal legal process work, and encouraging its use by their outside law firms.

Yet even though companies have embraced the benefits of AI, corporate counsel still must develop a strategy to ensure the successful implementation of AI within the legal department.

General counsel needs buy-in from leaders throughout the senior levels in the organization, making sure that key executives understand the direct applications of AI in legal work, and gaining their support and collaboration.

Corporate counsel needs to inform leadership that AI is not a stand-alone solution for making the legal department more efficient and cost-effective. It is one tool in that process.

And general counsel must anticipate that increased opportunities to apply AI to legal work is creating a “war for talent”; corporate legal departments are already seeking to diversify their legal expertise with lawyers and nonlawyers with backgrounds in business and technology.

AI is causing dramatic changes in the legal industry, and general counsel must develop internal measures to make sure their organizations stay ahead of the rapid developments.

Here are three strategies for success:

1. Support from Leadership

Innovation within an organization has the most impact and greatest chance of adoption when it has the support of leadership. It is no different with the use of AI.

In most cases, general counsel can’t successfully implement AI in the legal practice on its own. It needs the support of other top executives within the company, including the chief financial officer, chief information officer, chief technology officer, and others.

Counsel needs to inform leadership on how AI is used in legal work, and manage expectations around the outcomes. Leadership needs to commit to providing the resources — both financial and human capital — to ensure success. It is a collaborative effort that requires top-down internal support.

In short, general counsel must be granted the authority to have open communication with colleagues up and down the organizational chart — to be a champion for legal AI.

2. Part of the Solution

A key lesson in the education process for senior leadership is the understanding that AI is part of the solution, not the complete answer to making the legal department more efficient.

The first reaction for many professionals when they hear the phrase “artificial intelligence” is the fear that their jobs could be eliminated by a machine. Within the legal community, it’s more likely that some of the more repetitive tasks, such as contract review and document searches, will be left to technology, thereby freeing up attorneys to perform more skilled work.

General counsel must inform corporate leadership that AI won’t immediately translate into earth-shattering savings. Rather, those funds freed up by AI can be reinvested in the delivery of more sophisticated attorney work and the fine-tuning of AI solutions. The return on investment is twofold: mitigating costs from repetitive processes and investing in the intelligent use of staff attorneys.

Leadership also must be amenable to the implementation of AI and a shift away from the traditional structure of the legal department. AI, in its broadest definition, includes, among other things, machine learning, natural language processing, predictive analytics, voice to text, and robot-processing automation. The emerging legal departments will leverage the appropriate AI solution, or blend of solutions, based on its needs.

Leadership must understand that these AI capabilities aren’t going to replace lawyers. When AI completes its work and produces its results, there is still a need for knowledgeable attorney review to interpret the information, make adjustments, reiterate, and reprocess if needed.

General counsel must send the message that AI will create long-term benefits in the legal department by enabling staff attorneys to do their jobs more intelligently, freeing them up from performing the repetitive tasks so they can tackle more sophisticated issues.

3. War for Talent

The expanding use of AI has corporate legal departments searching for new hires with a different skillset. Historically, corporations have hired junior lawyers to handle many of the routine duties, such as contract review. AI has the potential to shift that focus and replace it with a demand for employees with skills in law, business, and technology.

The outcome of this trend is a so-called war for talent, a search for resources with knowledge of the complexities of law, an understanding of the technology behind AI, and the capacity to identify its business applications. These are the same talented individuals being sought by law firms and allied professional services firms.

This doesn’t mean that companies must hire only people with a law degree, an MBA, or a doctorate in data science. Nor does it mean that an attorney must know how to code. But it does suggest that general counsel should be on the hunt for people who possess skills beyond a law degree. It may also mean hiring specialists in technology who don’t have a law degree, but can work symbiotically on a team with staff attorneys.

For lawyers, the trend clearly signals the need to embrace change. More law schools are incorporating AI and technology into their curriculums to address this trend. New lawyers, in-house or law firm-based, will always be able to supplement technical requirements with allied professional firms, but they will be looked to by clients for an understanding of the technology, or the results, produced by AI.

Change is Now

Just as corporations have encouraged their outside counsel to attain greater efficiencies through AI, general counsel are being asked to leverage advanced technologies to implement change now.

Given the rapid changes AI is making in our lives — think of the proliferation of digital personal assistants and call-center bots — general counsel should realize that technological innovations will likely transform the legal industry sooner than anticipated.

By developing a solid strategy to incorporate AI into the legal department, general counsel can take the lead on implementation and increase the chances of a successful outcome. The strategy requires support from the top, collaboration across the organization, and a reimagining of what the corporate legal department will look like in the near future.