Recapping Priori’s “Bold Visions for the Future Legal Department” panel at CGI 2023
This year’s CLOC Global Institute (CGI) brought together legal operations experts from across the globe to discuss the issues affecting in-house legal departments. Sessions covered everything from improving outside counsel relationships to burnout to career development. Technology, and particularly artificial intelligence (AI), was probably the most talked about, and that was one of the topics, along with diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and outsourcing, covered at the “Bold Visions for the Future Legal Department” panel hosted by Priori CEO & Co-Founder Basha Rubin.
Darth Vaughn, Litigation Counsel & Legal Innovation & Tech Ops Lead, Ford Motor Company; Julian Tsisin, Director, Global Legal And Compliance Technology, Meta; and Andy Krebs, Senior Director, Head Of Legal Operations, Twilio, joined Rubin to talk about their visions and predictions for the future of legal operations. Contrasting many of the sessions and workshops at CGI that focused on topics and skills that attendees could take back to immediately implement in their work, the speakers on this panel had a chance to pull back and think about more long-term legal operations ideas and what the industry will look like in the future, with and without radical change
The Role of Legal Operations in Improving DEI
Darth Vaughn of Ford Motor Company opened up the panel speaking about a topic that he described as “something that is near and dear to my heart, [but] it is also something that I am sick of talking about. … We’ve been talking about it forever and doing nothing.” It’s not hard to understand his statement. Looking at the history of DEI in the legal industry and the statistics he shared, it paints a picture that is stagnant and shameful.
The conversation around diversity in the legal industry has been happening for more than 20 years. Vaughn pointed to the “Diversity in the Workplace – A Statement of Principle” document, signed by about 500 Chief Legal Officers of major corporations in 1999, and the 2004 “Call to Action” put out by the Association of Corporate Counsel in 2004. While both showed support for DEI, they didn’t result in a significant increase in diversity in the profession. And little progress has been made since these conversations started in the late 1990s.
In addition to simply doing what’s right, the financial case for why legal departments should care about diversity is clear: diverse teams provide a better end product. “They allow my lawyers, my teams, to come up with better solutions, and every metric we have shows this,” explained Vaughn.
So what changes need to happen to improve diversity in the legal industry? From a high level, Vaughn said that even a 2% increase in diverse tenured equity partners at law firms over the next five years would be a big improvement. This is compared to the current pace, where parity for underrepresented groups will take 30-50 years to achieve.
There also needs to be an inflection point: At least one company has to publicly fire a major law firm for failing to meet DEI standards. “I don’t think anything is going to change until that happens,” Vaughn said. “That requires courage.” Beyond this, additional initiatives like accepted industry goals and benchmarks for DEI and rewards for law firms and other providers that promote DEI are necessary to bring about change. “Am I willing to pay for the things I’m asking for? I can’t simultaneously keep asking for rate cuts and diversity.”
Vaughn’s advice for legal operations professionals and in-house legal departments who want to use their roles to improve diversity is to be intentional. “We talk about diversity, equity and inclusion in a way that is not authentic—that we got here by accident,” he said. “And the truth is intentional decisions were made to exclude people and without making an intentional decision to include people, we won’t rectify that and we will never catch up.”
The AI-Enabled Legal Department of the Future
When talking about legal technology at CGI, it was hard to avoid AI. If not at the forefront of a conversation, it was almost always buzzing around somewhere in the background. Julian Tsisin of Meta reminded the audience that, while he is bullish on AI like many others, it is just one piece of the puzzle. “We need to talk about the whole ecosystem, the technology ecosystem that we deal with in the legal space. I’ve been in this area for over 20 years and I’ve seen a lot of technologies come and go. The one thing I noticed is that the needs of the legal department don’t change.”
That being said, Tsisin expects that AI will impact pretty much every type of technology in-house legal departments currently use, from contract management to eDiscovery to matter management and so on. Using contract lifecycle management (CLM) tools as an example, Tsisin expects AI and large language models (LLMs) will dramatically change CLM technology within the next year or two. “You’ll see changes across the full spectrum of CLM. You’ll see in how a contract is being created, how they’re drafted and negotiated—there will be a component of [AI] that will help everywhere across that chain.”
Looking further into the future and thinking about how AI will impact legal operations and in-house lawyers 20 years from now, Tsisin imagined a scenario where his daughter, who is now six years old, becomes an attorney. What would her day-to-day work life look like? “She will need to address the same problems we’re addressing today, but she will address them differently, hopefully.” He then provided two ideas for his vision of what legal work might look like in the future.
Technology integration – As Tsisin explained, legal operations professionals and lawyers of the future will still need to address the problems of today: they will need CLM tools, matter management systems, etc. However he hopes the way they will interact with these technologies will be much different. “She will interact with the proper ‘assistant’ and the system will decide based on the request what tools to bring into the conversation to address her needs. … I don’t think this is really far-fetched because even today GPT is testing something similar.”
Proactive AI – He noted that AI right now is currently very reactive, requiring prompts from a human to do work. However, proactive AI is already being worked on, and Tsisin imagines a future where his daughter is able to wake up and an AI has already gone through her email (or whatever future communication channel she uses) and processed most of the requests automatically based on its knowledge of her playbook.
Shaping the Future of Legal Department Outsourcing
Andy Krebs of Twilio started his section of the session by echoing the points made by Vaughn and Tsisin and explaining how the outsourcing of legal work by legal departments is closely connected to both DEI and technology. “We’re in a really interesting time in the world of outsourcing,” he said. “We have kind of a convergence right now. With the macro environment driving workforce reductions … we’re trying to find out how to be more efficient with fewer resources.”
With AI and new legal technology providing for more workflow automation, and the rise of alternative legal services providers (ALSPs), legal marketplaces like Priori and other outsourcing options, the question becomes how to optimize your legal department’s workload so you’re right sourcing work to the proper provider, and freeing up time for your internal teams to work on the high value tasks that are most important to the business.
In an ideal future, Krebs sees these two trends coming together in a tool that combines technology and data about outside firm or ALSP capabilities to form an integrated predictive analytics dashboard. This would serve up legal operations professionals all of the information they need to make the best possible business decision about a particular matter. “Going in … and saying, ‘I have a litigation matter, this is the opposing counsel, this jurisdiction, this judge,’ and [the system responds with] here are the three firms that we should use based on our records.”
In addition to technology that facilitates outsourcing, another space where Krebs would like to see improvement is in standardization of recurring needs like contracts and NDAs. His future vision is a centralized industry agreement that companies sign onto that would standardize terms and conditions and allow for business to be done much more quickly. In this case, the work is being outsourced to the centralized authority who creates the agreement, and it achieves the same result: allowing for in-house attorneys and outside counsel to focus on other tasks that have a bigger business impact.
From listening to Vaughn, Tsisin and Krebs, the overall takeaway is that the challenges facing legal operations professionals are interconnected. There isn’t one role, one process or one tech solution that will answer all of the interesting and difficult questions brought up during the panel. Making changes and moving toward the ideal future that each of the speakers described is going to take strategic planning and critical thinking. Luckily, that is something that legal operations professionals and legal departments excel at. After hearing all of the incredible knowledge shared at CGI this year, it will be exciting to see where the industry heads from here.