An economy facing historic upward price pressures might just be the impetus the legal industry needs to move towards even more tech adoption.
To be sure, the COVID-19 pandemic already has pushed the industry to become more tech-savvy. Still, even as legal tech saw the highest growth recently, vendors and legal ops professionals at the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC) Conference 2022, said the one goal even the best solution has been unable to accomplish is educating in-house attorneys and general counsel to adopt new tools before they become vital.
Mary O’Carroll, chief community officer at Ironclad and former director of legal operations, technology, and strategy at Google, has seen the world of tech adoption from both sides and believes the legal industry is at its most open-minded when under pressure.
“Change is happening so fast in this industry that is still really tradition-based, so lawyers are still trained the same way at law schools, they are still trained up the same way at law firms. But the expectations around how legal services are delivered and the skill-set you need to be successful are very different now than they were 10 years ago,” O’Carroll said. “So how do we prep general counsel for being open-minded in leveraging technology? How do we prep them to challenge the status quo in how they have always hired someone in legal operations? There is a lot of education [GCs] need to move away from the ‘it’s not broken, we don’t need to fix it,’ [attitude], but legal ops and legal tech thrive when we are in times of economic pressure.”
As evidence, O’Carroll pointed out that legal ops first took off in 2008 in the depths of the Great Recession, creating demand for innovative cost-cutters all around. Now, as the U.S. faces its highest inflation in decades, general counsel are once again going to have to push themselves out of their solution box, which largely consists of spending and hiring.
“Once they have these constraints, [GCs] start thinking, how can I find the legal ops person who will make magic happen? Who can think about leveraging technology so that I can replace for [full-time equivalents] of lawyers with a new tool? Let’s get legal out of the way and automate some stuff,” she said.
Of course, even with new tools meant to automate legal processes pouring into the market, the actual degree of tech adoption even within legal ops remains an elusive metric, said Keesal Propulsion Labs (KP Labs) director of the digital transformation strategy Jeff Marple.
“I don’t think the pandemic has played a big enough role as everyone wants to say it has in tech transformation [of legal ops],” Marple said. “Yes, it’s made people a bit more tech-friendly. Video conferencing and collaboration has accelerated. I wish it was a better story. But how would I even measure it, to begin with? I can say there’s a lot more to automate out there. A lot of things don’t have to be done in the way they are, and I think there’s room for a digital transformation. That’s why I’m in the business I’m in.”
Some legal technology providers share O’Carroll’s view that a serious lack of training and education around technology is to blame for slow adoption within legal departments. But with increasing costs, tech may become a natural solution, pointed out Evisort founder and CEO Jerry Ting.
“Before the pandemic, legal departments [and firms] looked at contract management tools and said, ‘Wow that’s cool, we probably should have done that 20 years ago,’ Ting said. “I think now, it’s becoming less excusable when they don’t have the tool already. It’s a selling point to their clients. But a lack of knowledge holds them back.”
However, that’s not to say there won’t be progress. In the coming years, Ting forecasted “70% or more mundane legal tasks automated” because the cost of manual processes will outweigh the risk-averse nature of many in the legal sector, from firms to in-house attorneys.