PLI Legal Ops Symposium 2023 - Part 2

Kate Orr's expert moderation of the panel "Legal Ops as a Business Enhancer" as part of the the Practising Law Institute (PLI)’s Legal Operations 2023 Symposium yielded a lot for me to think and act upon. In last week's post I focused on take-aways organized by 3 quotes from the panel.  This week I focus on 5 questions Kate posed in the second half of the session.

In house how do you measure value?

As Katie notes, the bottom line is revenue generation. For example, during the pandemic rolling out an electronic signature solution we were able to see the contract volume getting across the finish line to deliver revenue to the company in a difficult period. Or recently with HearstLab, which is led by our CLO and very much embedded within the department, the market value of the 62 investments we've made has recently reached 2.4b. It has contributed to the bottom line of the company, and contributes to our diversification and innovation in service delivery. Our department has dozens of examples along these lines that are well-socialized within the company.

"To understand the business means getting under the hood to understand the business strategy for winning new revenue or growing revenue, understanding how clients are compensated, and - if a public company - what they are telling shareholders and what are their stated objectives for the year." - Katie DeBord

What types of technology do you define as must haves?

Any technology that helps the attorney, paralegals or other professionals focus their time at the top of their practice and which they will actually use to take repeatable, ministerial or administrative work off their plate. 

A measured approach is advisable in buying a new tool. Take a stop back to determine what makes sense, including change appetite of the team. Can you beg borrow and steal to make it work at an initial stage? 

When you use the tech, you already have you are working where your clients and stakeholders already live and spend their business day. Meeting them where they live*, and where they are working already, makes the journey much easier than forcing clients or partners to navigate to some other channel to find you. 

And work with your outside counsel on the tech side.  The traditional dynamic is the company attorney calls the relationship partner at the firm who has behind the scenes conversations and serves the response back to the relationship attorney at the company who then gives it at the client. Platforms that allow the client to connect on their timetable directly to the service provider while keeping other stakeholders informed is a model closer to current client expectations in many cases. It also takes relationship partners, and their high hourly rates, out of the job of being traffic cops and back to their core role of advice and counsel. Kate also noted the importance of after action or retrospective reviews, and learning from your law firm what technologies were used with quantifiable impact measures.

How is your company approaching generative AI?

There was consensus that there is huge potential that is generally positive but nuanced with respect to risk. Legal departments can mitigate risk in part by doing deals to bring generative AI behind their fire wall.

In terms of legal, generative AI can help with basic research, compiling information, formatting documents, and in some cases initial drafts. Frances noted that if you can optimize what a junior associate is doing, not only are you saving time and creating repeatable processes and consistency, but you are also changing the trajectory of that associate's career by allowing them to focus on more impactful and strategic things. More grunt work becomes just a starting point. Obviously you still have to review and fact check, but there's huge potential there.

Another obvious use is to point the tool to a specific internal curated data set. As Katie noted, you can then get answers to the "tell me what has happened when..." question.

Generative AI has been attracting more interest than is typical for a technology tool and presents an opportunity to engage. At my company we recently held a meeting where an attorney representative for each of our AI tools demonstrated how they use the tool to makes their work easier.  It was truly remarkable afterwards how many people that had been resistant signed up for a license and training. We've explicitly asked people to brainstorm potential use cases for our department.  In addition, each year we participate in pilots or POCs to test market tools, which gives us insight in how we can apply these tools to our work and results in these tools incorporating our needs into their product design. This ensures we'll be able to find a tool that works for us.

Legal can also provide support for the company reach alignment, on allowed use of the tool.  For example, at a media company copyright is paramount, both defending our copyright and making sure we're not infringing others' copyright. For this reason, our guidelines address use cases to preserve copyright.

How do you go about prioritizing projects?

We sit down with our individual clients groups annually then every two years we do a survey to prioritize. We also produce quarterly reports and invite feedback. Our survey last year resulted in 5 pillar projects. We're about that time of year where we need to collect feedback and regroup for next year. We're also about to implement a new tool where people can upvote ideas so we can be more nimble in adjusting our plans.

Frances described her legal ops group, which includes a three-person project management team. Legal Ops has strategic projects and commitments at a department and team level. Priorities are set via alignment to OKRs. They use Agile program management. To be most effective they are upfront and specific about commitments on both sides. They are also clear about what constitutes a discrete project versus a program of ongoing enhancements and maintenance. 

"We are a finite resource. To use our services, the teams we are supporting need to come ready to play… We will allocate resources during the specific period, but this requires you to also allocate the time to work with us. If you can't allocate the time to work with us, then we will put it in the backlog… We have clear and transparent guidelines about what needs to be true to work with us." – Frances Pomposo

 To sum up, what is the one essential "must-have" for change management?

1. An ability to listen and to reflect what the client is asking for with potential solutions.

2. Empathy and hearing people where they are. Give your client space to say "I'm frustrated, this sucks, I have a lot on my plate and you are asking me to do more." Use that to build good will to move forward.

3. Copious communication including a communication-dedicated resource.


* Except email; don't let things get lost in email. Use another tool that if needed sends a notification via email.