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Gazing into the crystal ball of in-house legal

Given that the world is in a constant state of flux, crystal ball gazing is as likely to show the way forward as any of the more traditional or accepted methods of predicting the future. What is certain however is that the many and varied tentacles of technology have already or are working their way into every industry, and the law is no exception.

How, we ask, will in-house counsel evolve?

Strategic advisors

Legal teams of the future may want to rethink their title as legal heavy lifting will be only one part of their job. Increasingly it is recognized that counsel can provide not just legal advice but immense commercial and strategic value.

An article in the Financial Times highlighted the legal function at Qantas, stating that while the airline battled to stay afloat during the pandemic, "they raised new funds, negotiated agreements with suppliers, and helped the airline to shift quickly to running repatriation flights for Australian citizens and freight services during the country's pandemic lockdown".

Their actions went far beyond the typical scope of a legal team's work and provided direct, tangible value to the business. Expect to see more of this from legal functions across the globe.

Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG)

ESG is becoming crucial for business and multinational corporations as consumers and shareholders demand companies go further than just turning a profit, that they contribute to the triple bottom line. ESG work is a burgeoning field for lawyers and in-house counsel should expect it to become more prominent in their line of work.

EMA Partners call ESG "the next big thing". Think of it like social media in 2010, you want to be an early adopter and you certainly don't want to get left behind. In the next decade, regulatory mandates of ESG disclosures and stakeholder demands will prove that companies' actions, or worse, inaction, will make or break them.

Thomson Reuters report that in April 2021, a quarter of European investment funds classified themselves as "sustainable", adhering to ESG demands. KPMG estimate that 65 percent of international dealmakers see ESG as a critical consideration for M&A deals and investments.

Law firms are currently servicing the majority of the ESG market, with Thomson and Reuters reporting that 42 percent of big law firms have ESG practices. However, no business likes to rely on external counsel so an in-house demand for ESG acumen and savvy is expected.

The potential for positive change offered by ESG is exciting for counsel on a personal level. Many lawyers went to law school to make a difference so the opportunity to be change-makers in-house is inspiring.

Having a law degree won't always be necessary

Lawyers have a shared struggle - law school. It's a rite of passage filled with late nights and headaches. But the struggle is worth the grind as graduating with a law degree allows one into the legal world. Going forward, this won't always be the case and there are lawyers who will be dismayed to learn that having a law degree won't always be necessary to fill a legal role.

We've already witnessed the birth of legal operations and the burgeoning field of Alternative Legal Service Professionals. As these roles expand and technology develops, the traditional makeup of a legal team will change. Legal operations professionals are in essence tech and operational experts, not lawyers, so a law degree has little to do with their remit.

KPMG points out that the increased reliance on automated solutions, chatbots, and other tech legal services will call for a more diverse workforce. "In fact, the proportion of legal work done by paralegals, data analysts, operational experts and other specialists in the legal function might rise to the point where legal professionals become almost a minority."

DATA - the new gold

There are two facets to this one. Firstly, the increasingly complex field of data and privacy regulation. Second is the richness of legal data and its potential use. As the use of contract and matter management platforms becomes commonplace, legal teams will have the ability to gather, store and analyze their own data to create insights that allow for informed actions.

The use of analytics has numerous benefits - improving organizational efficiency, optimizing legal spend and outsourcing, and reducing risk through data-based decision-making.

Data is already making a profound impact on the law in litigation. For instance, Thomson Reuters states that attorneys use analytics to understand a judge's past rulings and give them insight that may influence their case. Similarly, they can gain insight into opposing counsel's approach and use legal research tools.

Self-service legal tools

The never-ending pressure on legal teams to do more with less will result in creative solutions to empower business users to self-serve. Soon business users will be able to generate, amend, negotiate and sign contracts digitally without the help of in-house counsel.

Allen & Overy's The Future of the In-house Legal Function report identifies what self-service legal help will look like in the future. They expect to see templates of varying counterparty documentation that standardize an organization's opening position in contractual negotiation as well as supply approved negotiated provisions the business will accept.

Electra Japonas,
CEO of oneNDA, is an example of this. Frustrated with the process of custom NDA costing more than it was worth, she created oneNDA to automate a standardized NDA across the legal industry.

Legal chatbots will provide business users with answers to frequently asked questions. While this tech is still immature it's fair to say chatbots could support triaging by pointing a user to the correct self-service legal documentation.

All these self-service options will require regular maintenance by the legal function to ensure the technology is quality assured, up-to-date, and that it has tight risk parameters.

Legal tech will be a necessity rather than a nice to have

In-house teams are still in the adoption phase of legal tech. Fast-forward a decade and matter management and contract management software will be a typical and integral part of all in-house teams - not to mention the self-service technology discussed above.

Legacy tech that serves specific legal needs will be eschewed for holistic providers that meet all needs. The centralization of contract and matter management creates a single source of truth, reduces spend, and increases efficiency and accuracy. It's a no-brainer that legal workspaces will become as commonplace as CRMs.

As we navigate tough economic times, legal teams across the globe are re-evaluating their cost and potential efficiencies. Adopting legal tech is very often the outcome as it cuts costs and improves accuracy. Think of the recession as the final push to adopt tech. It will soon become the status quo. If a legal team doesn't embrace it, their function will definitely be a cost center.

Dual leadership - Chief Legal Officers (CLO) and General Counsel (GC)

The increased use of legal technology means a growing remit for the in-house legal function. This growth coincides with the GC's own portfolio, which will expand beyond measure. As well as legal depth, they will be expected to oversee strategy, legal tech, drive efficiencies, and perhaps advise on commercial and marketing decisions.

This calls for another leader, a CLO. Expect to see more of them in the future. We delve deeper into the distinction between these two legal leaders here but let's briefly discuss the key differences in their responsibilities. The role of the CLO is not a purely legal one. Think of them as a linchpin connecting the legal function to the wider business whilst focusing on the integration and optimization of technology and processes to add value. The GC, on the other hand, will continue to act as a watchdog, providing expert advice on the legal compliance and corporate governance of a company.

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