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In the first two installments (Part 1, Part 2) of this three-part series, we looked at the evolving role of in-house attorneys, legal operations, and law firms with respect to technology adoption and change management. Last month in the second installment here, we examined how law firms need to partner with in-house in terms of the technology used to ensure transparency and efficiency. In this final post, I’ll examine where the role of the in-house attorney will be in five years.

Looking Into the Future

Ian Connett, legal director for Collective, one of the larger advertising tech companies in NYC, commented that “we shouldn’t fear all this technology and disruption. There’s a lot of opportunity to make our practices better…[and] to be healthier, happier people.” Ian predicted the following for 2020:

  • Collaboration: We are no longer using email and will instead use communication platforms like Slack to do live drafting sessions with customers.
  • Payments: We may use block chain technology, where contracts and contract terms are coded into a structured database for automatic execution.
  • Document automation: Internal personnel will generate, send, and sign the documents all by themselves. We’ll empower the team to overcome legal obstacles and shorten sales cycles.
  • Paperless billing: Our e-billing solution offers budget transparency and provides insight into what other law firms are billing for different matters. So, we’ll be able to approve line items without paper invoices.
  • Capturing innovation: A collaborative IP platform plus an invention management solution will offer an instant status of pending designs and patents as well as workflows. Legal can work on the filing while the engineering team works on the design itself.
  • Using AI for contracts: We’ll use the artificial intelligence (AI) analytics software to shorten the contract life cycle and reduce time spent on mundane contract review by identifying a ratio of rare, missing, or important clauses that are pre-configured and given a score.

Communication, Knowledge, and Numbers

Josh King, general counsel (GC) for Avvo, firmly stated that in-house counsels do not have to be on the cutting edge of technology because there is a cost to being on the bleeding edge. Josh broke down his comments on the future of in-house into three categories:

Constant Communications

“Communicating with people in your business and outside of your business has never been more important, and it’s going to continue. You cannot fulfill your role as a defender, understanding where the risks are bubbling up for your business, and as a business partner being able to guide the business intelligently to take those smart risks, if you’re not constantly talking to people in the business. And the same as it was 20 years ago, that’s going to involve physically leaving your office and walking out through the business, and talking with people in your business at all levels.”

In contrast to Ian above, Josh predicts that you will still be using email even in 10 years, “Because that’s how a lot of business people are going to continue to communicate.”

Knowledge Is Power

“It’s important to be in the know, but there is so much information flow right now. It’s just coming in from everywhere. The volume is increasing. And being able to stay on top of this, this is in the know of not only what’s affecting your legal domain, but also what’s happening with your company and your industry. You can’t rely upon your staff or on being an ivory tower lawyer who sits back in your office. You must know this stuff. Be over-prepared and over-informed, so that when those questions come in, or someone says, ‘Did you see X, Y, and Z?’ It’s like, ‘Oh yeah, I was all on top of that.’ This is where you must be, if not on the bleeding edge, then at least a couple steps behind it. And there are a lot of simple technological tools, as simple as blog readers for setting things up so that you can stay constantly informed.”

Comfort with Numbers

“Twenty years ago you needed to understand how to read a profit and loss statement and some of the basic financial planning stuff. That stuff is as important today as it was then, but it’s increasingly important to understand other numbers like big data. And also, understanding how numbers work because numbers can increasingly be manipulated to tell a story one way or the other. And as lawyers with our skeptical natures, we have the skill set to understand those numbers, at least at some level, so that we can pick them apart and figure out whether they are telling us the right story or not.” This is an area where lawyers need to rely upon other internal departments for assistance and support.

A final word from Lucy Bassli of Microsoft on the multidisciplinary approach needed now and in the future, “You need your IT partner, project and program management, and process help. The lawyer becomes almost the least critical part of that team when you’re implementing technology because the amount of customization and implementation, integration, and change management, is all related to business risk.” The future is filled with opportunity for in-house. #onwards.

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