GenAI and Legal: Five Ways to Win Support and Future-Proof Your Projects

David Mainiero
May 3, 2024

What does the future of legal work look like? 

For years, the profession’s mantra has been focused on reshaping how in-house lawyers spend their time: finding better ways to handle transactional work to refocus on high-value advisory activity. With the advent of Integrated Law™, this has meant not “just” simple and repetitive work but matters where scaled process – and technology-enabled models – can drive the efficiencies that free up lawyer capacity to advise the business.  

But in reality, many organizations have discovered that achieving this can be a “say easy/do hard” challenge. As one common theme, the prior generation of technology enablement often has been big, slow, expensive and in many cases, solving yesterday’s problem by the time implementation is done.    

How is GenAI changing that calculus? GenAI is not a technology (alone) – think of it as a co-worker: GenAI “agents” are not coming for your job; they are coming for bullet points in your job description to free capacity to make you more valuable, higher impact and, in many cases, faster.    

To leverage the power of GenAI, legal leaders need to start with these new understandings as they pivot to understand the implications of AI for their organizations. But speeding progress on your digital journey requires new leadership skills – starting with first mobilizing support and funding for the journey ahead. And given how quickly the underlying technology is changing, this journey almost certainly will not be a straight line with destinations known at the onset.  

In a recent Global Counsel Leaders roundtable on "Speeding Progress on Digital and AI for Legal: How the General Counsel Can Win Support and Funding", an expert panel delved into how legal leaders can effectively advocate for and secure funding for technological advancements within their departments.  

In this article, we share some top tips for future-proofing your projects gleaned from the session, that featured Jennifer McConnell, EVP and GC at Compass, Michael Callier, VP and Global Head of Consulting at Factor, and Alexia J. Maas, former GC of Volvo Financial Services

1. Build the case for change 

Focus on the 'why' behind the push for digital tools and AI in legal departments, articulating the ‘why’ for the business – not just the ‘why’ for your department. Understanding and conveying the strategic benefits – not just the operational efficiencies – of digital transformation is key to garnering support from executives and stakeholders.  

It helps to frame transformation goals by crafting the narrative in a familiar context to gain cross-functional support. Augment that engagement and support with use cases that show value in real-time metrics – and lean on your vendors in a meaningful way in value storytelling by treating them as partners.  

You can then obtain broader buy-in through collaboration on pilot projects: encourage small group tests and demos that showcase success, ensuring diversity in perspectives in your pilot groups to garner balanced feedback.  

The key with pilots is not to try to have GenAI do everything at once. You don’t need to hit a grand slam in your first at bat, so eencourage people to fail fast on micro use cases. You need a minimum viable product that solves a problem for your team to engage influencers at an early stage. 

2. Embrace AI as a collaborative force 

  As a collaborative force, envision GenAI as a partner to be tightly incorporated into workflows. You can do this by engaging and creating influencers to advocate for new initiatives: involve not just legal ops and tech experts in digital transitions, but also the business and the lawyers who will drive the change. These influencers’ support can be crucial in securing the necessary budgets and resources for larger-scale implementations. 

Recognize that AI is sweeping the business, just as it is legal – and it’s a moment when a new generation of HiPo’s (High Potential) teammates will naturally emerge eager to embrace and advance this new world. Seize the moment to proactively identify and mobilize this force for change. It may come from unexpected places! 

3. Emphasize hands-on consultancy to grasp GenAI’s full potential 

Emphasize the pivotal role of legal operations and external consultants in bridging the gap between current practices and future innovations. Engaging external experts early in the process not only helps in making informed decisions but also in managing complex implementation phases effectively. 

The value of consultants as enablers, providing hands-on assistance should not be underplayed – particularly during experimentation with new GenAI tools and applications. Consultants can play vital roles to help imagine and prioritize the possibilities – and then across framing and decision-making, experimentation, integration, and adoption phases. Find the right experts with the approach of “transform while doing, do while transforming” – GenAI is a rapid cycle, fast-changing force, not well suited to traditional consultant PowerPoint-style deliverables.  

As Jennifer McConnell, General Counsel of Compass Group noted: “While budgets might be tight in your legal function, allocating the money for consultancy … will pay off in the long run.” 

4. Seize the opportunity to evolve your operating model when introducing AI 

Strategy and leadership are paramount when it comes to AI adoption – both in where you focus resources and in understanding the boots-on-the-ground perspective of your team.  

As Michael Callier, Global Head of Consulting at Factor, explained: “A target operating model can help you move from where you are to a future state, exploring who does the work, the way they do it to who should be doing it along the way.” 

 GenAI opens new opportunities to evolve the operating model of how legal work gets done, starting with “breaking the monolith” of inflexible technology-defined work processes – disaggregating activities and tasks to more rapidly deploy AI “agents”.     

Legal departments can be a key enabling function when it comes to GenAI adoption, changing the perception of legal departments to influence business decisions positively. So, now is the time to get educated on GenAI, and understand where it’s going to work best for you and your team. Legal operations will play a key role in your next stage of growth: understanding how the technology will get used by users in your environment is sometimes more important than what that technology can do. 

5. Treat adoption as a change management task 

The emotional and logistical effects on teams during technology transitions should not be underplayed. Managing change necessitates taking small steps to assure progress. As you embrace technology, guide teams through the associated changes in job nature, putting the people who will be impacted by the change at the centre of conversation. 

You will inevitably face challenges during the digital transformation journey - underscoring the importance of adaptability and problem-solving. Maintaining momentum is key, even when unexpected obstacles arise. Having contingency plans and maintaining open channels of communication with all stakeholders can help you maneuver through such challenges effectively. 

David Mainiero moderated a session at CLOC (Corporate Legal Operations Consortium) Global Institute on ‘Generative AI: Disruption and Adaptation in Legal Operations’ with panelists including Ashley John, Head of Legal Operations, Anglo AmericanJessica Jones Escalera, Head of Legal Operations – Americas, HSBC, and Sheila Dusseau, Head of Global CLO Operations and Innovation, Ferring Pharmaceuticals. Read the recap here