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What Will Legal Departments Of The Future Look Like?

Legal Operations
Legal Operations

What the legal industry of the future might look like really depends on your worldview, meaning your beliefs and assumptions and how this translates to how you see the world.

Psychology theory indicates that most people fall on a continuum with people tending to be focused on the past (upholding of tradition), present (concerned with what is happening now), and future oriented (change, technology, opportunity). Where do you sit?

Upholding tradition vs the technology revolution

Applying this concept to the legal industry, imagine a continuum with traditionalists at one end and technology advocates at the other. The traditionalists want to hold onto the old ways of doing things, may even be still using paper files (yes, it does happens!) however, a traditionalist is also likely to highly value the personal relationship and the power of human interaction. At the other end of the continuum, the tech enthusiasts may strongly believe that the future legal department will be completely virtual with a technology powered environment using AI tools to replace the human element.

Technology is creating change

In reality, the legal department of the future will probably fall somewhere between the two extremes. There is no doubt that technology availability and greater functionality will continue to influence and demand change in how work is currently done – but regardless of the media hype, robots are not taking over the world.

How and what in-house lawyers do will change

Even looking back 25 years, there has been a significant change in the practices of the legal department, with email, video conferencing, smart phones and even the way that documents are signed all changing the ways in which we work. Technology has also changed and influenced what the in-house lawyer is doing in terms of legal practice and service delivery. Looking forward 25 years, this change will continue with technology removing much of the mundane and manual activities and providing significant assistance in delivery of skilled legal advice. Having said that, organisations are still oriented towards humans as a key resource, with humans on the Board of Directors and leading teams, and as humans, we still demand and need interaction, collaboration, creativity and trust. Access to knowledge and process will be enhanced by technology, but that human perspective will still be crucial.

They’ll need to deliver more

In the future, legal departments will need to deliver more and turn it around quicker. Regulatory requirements will only grow, and expectations will be high in terms of enhancing commercial outcomes.

They’ll need to partner with internal clients

The skills to develop strong relationships and build a personal brand (and legal function brand) within an organisation will be critical to success. This will enable members of the legal department to network internally, be invited to collaborate, problem solve, add value and reduce the need be reactive to issues. Whilst this isn’t the traditional area of expertise or comfort for many of today’s lawyers, it will become the differentiating factor for a successful legal department of the future.

Delivering more will be easier

The ability to work more closely with your internal clients and focus on strategic, value-adding work, will be incredibly rewarding and challenging. This will only happen with the use of technology solutions to enable efficient workflows, inputs, outputs, improved decision making and accountability.

More flexibility

We can also sustain a hope that in-house lawyers can achieve a work-life balance and flexibility that can make for happier people. Technology can assist with this.

More rewarding work

The future legal department will also have less admin and manual tasks as these will be automated. High volume, low complexity work will also be automated while even more complex, knowledge-based matters will be supported by AI tools. Less time doing the boring work means more time doing interesting work and, hopefully, less time in the office!

Demonstrating results will be expected

Data capture and collation hasn’t been something that in-house lawyers have had to focus on, but that is starting to change. Legal departments of the future will thrive on data capture, collation, analytics and reporting and this will all take place automatically. The insights resulting from this will play a powerful role in identifying positive commercial outcomes, opportunities for improvement and also enable a high performing team. Business analysts as well as operations experts will be a key part of the legal departments to work alongside the lawyers to support the delivery of better outcomes for the organisation.

The future is already here (well, part of it 😉)

Some of what we’ve described sounds pretty exciting, right? The thing is that much of this is already here. There are great workflows tools that manage matter intake, project management and work allocation. Workflow tools can also seamlessly receive and brief work externally and make it easy to manage scope, budget and invoices. There are also some fantastic document automation tools and contract management platforms that take the headache out of time-consuming documents, contracts and agreements. AI will be a game-changer and something that is on the roadmap of most advanced legal tech company today.

What we have seen in the market now will be a drop in the ocean compared to what will come.

If you haven’t yet started to think about how you are going to get from the legal department of today to the legal department of the future, now is a good time to start. If you need some support and ideas on how to determine where and how to get started you can download our General Counsel’s Guide to Legal Transformation. It includes some tips for running an internal workshop and downloadable PowerPoint slides to start mapping out a roadmap for how to get there.

If you want to continue to be part of the conversation, subscribe to our mailing list, arrange a call with one of our team or even book a demonstration of Lawcadia for an easy way to get started on your digital transformation roadmap.