When everything is taken into consideration, in-house lawyers need to create a better future for themselves and the profession, itself.
Back in my first year as an associate lawyer — on my third day of work — a senior partner approached me and said, “Hey Jerry, I need you to download and print Facebook.” Although this was in the early days of the social media platform, even then, downloading and printing out the entirety of Facebook felt downright impossible. But I went about this task in an enthusiastic and confident fashion — my eagerness in the new role fueling my creative problem-solving. I calculated the cost to download (and, yes, print out Facebook!), rent warehouse space, handle shipping logistics, and transport all documents to a storage site. However, in a follow-up meeting about this (now laughable) endeavor, I came to realize the partner’s misconception of technology — and my own mistake — in diving headlong into the project, without clarifying the necessary outcome or solution.
Perhaps nothing illustrates legal’s need for digital disruption better than this scenario. Indeed, I’ve learned a thing or two during my time as a traditional lawyer turned technology-forward attorney. And from these learnings, I extracted a key message — something I often share with my corporate colleagues, whether boomer, gen-Xer, or millennial. That is, it’s never been more necessary to adopt the latest legal technology — to be more efficient and effective in your practices, make higher-level, strategic decisions, and become a good legal leader — than it is today. Here’s why that is exactly.
Practicing ‘Awesome Law’
I don’t remember not having computer systems, chip sets, and doodads in my home, while growing up. And compared to other lawyers, I’ve certainly had a more technology-focused career (although I started out in a rather traditional way). At first, I really thought litigation was my calling, starting out as a judicial clerk before joining a medium-sized firm with lots of high-profile clients in the pharmaceutical, energy, and media industries. But I simply wasn’t happy being a litigator, strongly preferring working on technology projects over going to court and picking up corporate law assignments instead of engaging in motion practice. I eventually started my own law firm centered on technology start-ups, advising sports teams and others on privacy law, and dealing with eDiscovery and computer forensics. Not long after that, I joined a technology company as a GC and corporate secretary — its first — before coming aboard ContractPodAi as a GC and chief (technology) evangelist.
As a legal executive today, I advise customers on their journey to having more digitally driven legal operations. I help them deploy strategic digital solutions for their legal departments and organizations. With a nod to Guy Kawasaki (the original technology product evangelist!), I see my role as delivering the “good news” about legal technology and ensuring new technological concepts benefit our customers and lead them to greater success. It’s my genuine drive to make lawyers and allied professionals better at their jobs and better in their roles.
This hits at the core of what I call ‘awesome law.’ We, lawyers, should embrace legal automation, and seek out the kind of legal work that is particularly meaningful and makes us truly happy. Of course, it would be an exaggeration to say we won’t work another day in their lives because we all have those days in which we find ourselves saying, “Gawd, this work is awful — I can’t believe I have to clean up this mess!” It’s more about being willing to learn a whole new process and technology, and being an ‘awesome lawyer’ for ourselves and the people around us.
Getting Past the ‘Smoke and Mirrors’
Let’s face it, lawyers are prone to thinking there is some sort of magic to what we do (though that’s true in a number of cases!). But a lot of our smaller, day-to-day tasks are at least partially automatable. Take digital tools like contract lifecycle management (CLM) solutions, for example. Without this software, you’re going to take an inordinate amount of time and energy to generate, finalize, store, and manage whole agreements. Also, you’re going to get surpassed by departments, within other companies, who use digital tools to their fullest advantage.
That’s really the aim of modern legal tech: to decrease the amount of mundane legal work, specifically, while lessening workloads department- and even organization-wide. No longer are we keen on manually reviewing standard contracts and extracting key obligations (as opposed to, say, bespoke candle making!).
Avoiding Those Legal Surprises
No lawyer likes surprises. We are, in fact, fairly ‘anti-surprise.’ One of the reasons is we want to have all of the answers, and tell colleagues and clients what they should and shouldn’t be doing, in the legal and operational sense. Consequently, the reason why I’m so fascinated by legal tech —and encourage legal and allied professionals to adopt the newest technology — is its sheer ability to help us know what’s going on, provide better counsel or advice (and hopefully avoid those dreaded late-night surprises!). For many of us, that also means serving as strategic leads and transformative figures within the business.
You don’t need to be a technological expert — say a computer scientist or programmer — to use technology in all matters of the law either. You just need to have a sincere willingness to adopt, implement, and learn it.
Prioritizing Positive Disruption
I must admit I’ve always enjoyed exploring new, shiny technology, finding out how it affects me, professionally, and how it may impact the practice and delivery of law, potentially. But I also recognize that the rapid advancement and adoption of legal tech is happening simply because it needs to happen. We no longer live in a world where we draft a document with a feather pen and conduct research by candlelight (again, unless we handcrafted those pens and candles!)
More importantly, when everything is taken into consideration, in-house lawyers need to create a better future for themselves and the profession, itself. We, lawyers, need to continue to learn and evolve, and discover or forge new paths through advanced technology. We need to free ourselves to do what we absolutely love — and undoubtedly do best — as legal practitioners. After all, with expectations of legal teams growing and in-house legal budgets increasing, there’s a major opportunity for lawyers to invest in AI technology, in particular, to streamline the most repeatable and ho-hum tasks, receive much deeper insights — and, ultimately, prioritize the positive disruption of corporate legal departments.
But actually downloading and disseminating the breadth and depth of Facebook? Well, artificial intelligence can probably help with that now, too!