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The role of in-house counsel is changing rapidly. New skills, attitudes and outlooks are required for in-house legal teams to be effective and innovative. With the shifting role of Legal comes many opportunities and benefits for legal team members, but also new challenges. The advantages will accrue to those in-house lawyers who not only embrace the shifts, but also make use of the modern-day resources available to assist them.
The most effective and innovative in-house counsel must be able to spearhead and follow through on new initiatives. Ideally, they will be able to do this without depending on directives from leadership.
The legal world is ever-evolving, and a passion for being at the forefront of innovation is significant to your legal team moving forward with the times, particularly for businesses at high-growth companies like eCommerce sites. An innovative in-house counsel champions leveraging new and existing data to improve the legal team’s throughput and strengthens best practices across the entire organization.
A true asset to the legal department is counsel that understands the legal organization’s role and goals, and thrives on developing creative ways to meet said goals. Having a strong business acumen sets a candidate apart from others. This person must know how to work collaborative with not only the legal team, but departments across the entire organization.
Today’s in-house counsel needs to remain up-to-date on the latest developments and trends. And they need to be able to work effectively with other parts of the company, while remaining just as conscious as those other departments (sales, IT, procurement, etc.) of minimizing costs, maximizing efficiency, and helping the company’s bottom line.
Two big factors in these “new” in-house skills? Knowing how to implement technology, and revamping legal service provision by revamping the structure of legal teams.
One major advantage of technology for legal teams is the ability to automate. Some legal departments still use manual processes and rely on paper documentation, but the ones that can effectively shift to automation will own the future. Several prime areas of opportunity here are e-billing, workflow management, and contract management.
Tech tools that employ artificial intelligence (AI) will also likely be put into greater use by legal departments. AI can reduce the time to perform laborious tasks, and it can also assist in decision-making. It is highly unlikely AI and machine learning will ever make high-level, complex legal assessments. But these tools can free up the time and brainpower of in-house attorneys so THEY can make those high-level decisions and evaluations.
WATCH: Building a Legal Ops Team from Scratch
Advanced analytics is another tech frontier for legal teams to pursue. Legal teams are already using analytics to manage legal expenditures, such as by analyzing e-billing items from outside counsel that fall outside the company’s billing guidelines. But some emerging uses of analytics are also promising, such as predicting areas of legal risk and liability exposure.
In addition to tech implementation, in-house attorneys will also have to restructure their own teams to reflect the changes in legal service provision. Specifically, they will need to build in a focus on legal operations, either within the legal department itself or as a separate department.
Legal operations is still an emerging field that is constantly evolving, but some common threads can be seen. Legal ops professionals tend to have non-legal backgrounds in diverse fields, such as marketing, finance and analytics. Their focus is on “big picture” areas that busy in-house attorneys often don’t have the bandwidth to deal with, such as project management, tech investment, and strategic planning. And legal ops can serve as the “connective tissue” between Legal and the rest of the company, so the legal team can effectively collaborate with employees company-wide.
With all of these changes comes a myriad of challenges for legal teams. Because let’s face it - attorneys are not taught these skills in law school. Nor does the typically old-school legal profession encourage these skills. It is important to recognize these obstacles so they can be addressed.
One difficulty for attorneys is their natural aversion to new tech tools. Many attorneys see tech tools as a burdensome investment of time and resources, a “side project” that distracts from their “real” work as attorneys. But that investment is actually one of the most important tasks for in-house attorneys. Just consider the initial templates needed for contract lifecycle management (CLM) tools or contract management software, without which those tools would not even function. Legal teams need to see tech implementation and adoption as part of their core duties.
Another challenge for attorneys is the ability to relinquish some duties to legal ops professionals. This is partly due to the tendency of legal teams to “go it alone” without collaborating with the rest of the company. But as we have seen, legal ops actually allows in-house attorneys to offload duties for which they are not well-suited.
These are just a few guideposts for the future of in-house legal. See how other companies are innovating in their hiring and practice of law on our podcast, Legal Departments of the Future.