Generative AI: Disruption and Adaptation in Legal Operations

David Mainiero
May 21, 2024

It’s taken more than a decade for legal operations to become a de rigueur function in most in-house legal departments.  Now, the advent of Generative AI (GenAI) is reshaping the landscape, putting legal operations at the epicenter of unlocking GenAI’s potential to transform  – for the better – how legal services are delivered across the business.  

During May’s CLOC (Corporate Legal Operations Consortium) Global Institute 2024, the GenAI conversation palpably shifted from job displacement fears and zero-sum automation to a focus on the possibilities to enhance the lawyer experience and value.  The new mantra:  a “co-worker” mentality to not only shift routine tasks, but to amplify and augment strategic and critical thinking – the high-impact core of the lawyer value proposition to their organization.    

David Mainiero moderated a session on ‘Generative AI: Disruption and Adaptation in Legal Operations’ with panelists including Ashley John, Head of Legal Operations at Anglo American; Sheila Dusseau, Head of Global CLO Operations and Innovation at Ferring Pharmaceuticals; and Jessica Jones Escalera, Head of Legal Operations – Americas, HSBC. 

The discussion provided insights into how GenAI is affecting legal operations and the necessity of leading these changes to stay competitive.  It showcased the pivotal shift towards a dynamic and innovative legal landscape, where technology and human potential blend to redefine what's possible. 

If you missed it, here are the key takeaways:  

Staying agile is key 

David highlighted the significant impact of GenAI on the strategic roadmaps of in-house legal teams. As legal operations professionals navigate through these transformations, the emphasis on adapting strategies to integrate GenAI's capabilities is crucial.  

He emphasized the importance of user-centric approaches in adapting to AI's transformative potential.  Each legal function must chart its own course in this new terrain, future-proofing projects and maintaining flexibility in long-term planning amidst the rapidly changing technological landscape.

Remember the human in the loop  

One key point that emerged from the discussion was the importance of "remembering the human in the loop."  

“Despite the rapid advancements in AI, the need for sensibility – blending technical and analytical sense-making with leadership acumen – remains paramount,” said David.  

This human-centric approach ensures that the integration of GenAI does not overlook the human elements that are critical in legal practices. 

The panel stressed the need for blending technical prowess with leadership acumen, ensuring that GenAI integration respects and enhances human judgment rather than replacing it.  

Focus on discovery, not design 

The concept of "discovery, not design" was another focal point of the discussion. This paradigm shift encourages legal professionals to explore and experiment rather than strictly adhere to traditional systems-oriented thinking and deployment methods. This approach is particularly relevant in a field like legal operations where GenAI is introducing new possibilities that require flexible and adaptive strategies. 

The session highlighted how GenAI is not merely a new technology but a shift in how legal operations approach problem-solving and innovation. In part, lawyers and others will build their own digital helpers … and legal operations can help guide and enable these possibilities

Unlike traditional software, GenAI can handle the grey areas and ambiguities in legal workflows, offering solutions where previous technologies fell short. The panel explored how legal language, a fundamental tool in the profession, is central to evolving and leveraging large language models (LLMs) that drive GenAI. 

Do more with less – now with an AI-enabled accelerant   

The panel discussed the challenge of "doing more with less," noting that, with GenAI, legal teams have the opportunity to enhance efficiency and productivity far beyond traditional capabilities. This shift is not just about cost savings but about leveraging AI to foster deeper insights and improved decision-making processes. 

Jessica Jones Escalera emphasized the need for a solid foundation in legal data management to maximize GenAI's benefits. 

While David noted that the adaptability of GenAI in modern Contract Lifecycle Management (CLM) systems presents first-time and experienced users with opportunities to improve efficiency and user experience significantly. 

Keep stakeholders at the center of transformation 

As the conversation progressed, the panel highlighted the importance of placing internal clients that legal departments serve and external stakeholders at the center of transformation efforts. In an era where client expectations are continuously evolving, legal operations must remain agile and responsive. This client-centric approach is not just about improving efficiency but also about building a practice that is responsive to the needs and expectations of clients in a technologically-advanced landscape. 

Your teams will lead the way – empower them with the right guard rails versus control 

In many cases, the application of GenAI will happen organically and in a distributed way, with lawyers discovering their own use cases.  A great analogy is building one’s own Excel macros – job aids that individuals create to automate and power their spreadsheet tasks – so will use cases for GenAI flower and spread.    

Legal operations can play a central role in providing the right guardrails, proactively driving the upskilling, and reskilling their teams to accelerate organic adoption. As GenAI becomes more integral to legal, fostering an environment rich in AI collaboration will be essential. This involves preparing legal teams not just technically but also culturally, ensuring they are ready to integrate new technologies and methods into their workflows. 

Sheila Dusseau discussed initiatives at Ferring to enhance team readiness for GenAI, focusing on creativity and proactive learning; while Ashley John talked about addressing skepticism and the importance of positioning legal operations advantageously within the broader enterprise. 

Lead the charge on harnessing AI 

The session highlighted the transformative impact of GenAI on legal operations with the panel calling for a proactive stance on adapting to change, urging legal professionals to not only keep pace with technological advancements but to lead the charge in harnessing the potential.  

Summary of Key Themes and Strategic Imperatives: 

  • Prepare Your People: Training and engaging your team to utilize GenAI effectively. 
  • Enhance Your Knowledge Infrastructure: Building a robust data and knowledge management system that GenAI can leverage. 
  • Revisit In-flight Initiatives: Continuously evaluating existing initiatives to integrate GenAI innovations and accelerate goal achievement. 

The session wrapped up with a focus on the role of GenAI as a co-worker rather than merely a tool, predicting that within the next few years, proficiency with GenAI tools will be table stakes for legal professionals. David encouraged attendees to experiment with GenAI, fostering a culture of rapid learning and adaptation to enhance legal services delivery.