The Tech-Savvy General Counsel: Notes from a Future GC

Topics: Corporate Legal, Data Analytics, Efficiency, Legal Innovation


Earlier this summer, Evolve Law hosted an event for tech-savvy in-house attorneys in New York City, sponsored by Thomas Reuters, that focused on technology solutions for in-house legal departments, including general counsel (GC) legal operations.

We kicked off the event with a five-minute talk on a day in the life of a GC in the year 2020. Ian Connett, legal director for Collective, one of the larger advertising tech companies in New York, walked us through that life:

  • Starting Slow: When you wake up, you do yoga and drink your organic smoothie; you do not check email. Legal technology allows you to do more with less; it takes a lot of the drudgery work out of the practice of law and actually gives you time to check in with yourself and be a little bit healthier.
  • Driving Tech: At about 8 am, you start your driver-less car and access your contract management system (CMS) right from the car’s dashboard. You’ve got an instant overview of pending contracts, renewals, terminations and negotiations. You can practice law anywhere through a cloud-hosted CMS.
  • Easily Collaborating: At the office, you open legal Slack, because I actually don’t think we’re using email in five years. Instead, you’ll be doing live drafting sessions with your customers. You may use blockchain technology, where contracts and contract terms are coded into a structured database for automatic execution.
  • Simplifying Documents: Next, you get an urgent request from your Senior VP of sales for a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). The SVP is able to generate, send, and sign the document all by himself. We empower the team to overcome legal obstacles and shorten sales cycles — and, again, we’re happier because of this.
  • Paperless Billing: You’ll boot up an e-billing solution that offers budget transparency and provides insight into what other law firms are actually billing for different matters. So, you’ll be able to approve line items without paper savvy
  • Capturing Innovation: Your meeting with the engineering team uses an intellectual property (IP) platform and an invention management platform, which offers an instant status of pending designs and patents, as well as workflows. You can actually work on the filing while the rest of the team works on the design itself.
  • Using AI for Contracts: Finally, you boot up a contract analytics application for 10 new contracts, which instantly identifies a ratio of rare, missing or important clauses that are pre-configured and given a score. You use the artificial intelligence (AI) analytics software to shorten the contract life cycle and reduce time spent on mundane contract review.

“We shouldn’t fear all this technology and disruption,” Connett said in closing. “There’s a lot of opportunity to make our practices better, but also to be healthier, happier people.”

Next, our Tech Savvy panel, including Connett, discussed what technology in-house counsel uses today and how it measures up to Connett’s predictions for 2020 that we would be without email and not bothered by redlines.

This raised the question: Are lawyers prepared to be tech savvy?

“You come into a company because you had really specialized subject matter expertise. But now, it seems like in-house counsel are expected to have business acumen to come with data to back up their intuition and their recommendations, and to be able to process these huge volumes of legal work product efficiently and cost effectively,” commented Lawton Penn, the head of DWT De Novo, the dedicated legal solutions design and innovation team at Davis Wright Tremaine, adding that this can be a challenge for many attorneys.

“We shouldn’t fear all this technology and disruption. There’s a lot of opportunity to make our practices better, but also to be healthier, happier people.”

—Ian Connett

Underscoring the challenges of technology implementation was Mike McQueeney, Senior Vice President and Deputy General Counsel of Litigation and Regulatory Affairs at Pearson PLC, who offered two examples:

  • The first focused on e-billing technology that he and his team “were able to implement by first lining up our policies and using our outside counsels’ guidelines.” Then were able to “demonstrate cost savings both in reduction of outside counsel cost as well as in-house billing resources.” He and his team moved the project to implementation within two months.
  • The second example involved implementing a litigation-hold software, and the situation is much different than the first example. “Budgets have become very tight, and IT is going through a restructuring,” McQueeney said. “They’re trying to reduce the number of applications they have to one-third or less than what they have presently.” The litigation-hold software doesn’t have immediate cost savings, and IT doesn’t really understand the software’s capability. “As a result, we’ve been trying for over nine months to get this in place, and we’re still not there,” he said. “And it’s both an issue of the product as well as what’s going on within the organization.”

Penn commented that because the law is not the core business of the company, in-house technology needs often fall to the bottom of the list. Her team designed a client dashboard that solved the legal department’s needs for matter and financial real-time tracking, and legal loved it. Five months later, they still can’t get IT to prioritize getting this application through the firewall. So, the lawyers can use this dashboard from their home computers and from their iPads, but not from a company-issued laptop.

Given the lively discussion at this event, the jury is still out on whether all of Ian Connett’s predictions for 2020 will come true, but we seem to be moving in the right direction.

Join us in Seattle for Evolve Law’s next Tech Savvy In-house Counsel event