Legal departments across industries have been very active in recent months figuring out how they can use artificial intelligence, particularly the latest generative AI, to enhance their work.
The rapid pace of technological change and strong desire among in-house teams to adopt emerging tools has presented a golden opportunity for the legal operations profession to demonstrate its worth.
Industry leaders point to legal ops professionals’ expertise in helping companies establish new ways of doing business that are faster and more effective as key reasons the current AI moment offers ops with a chance to shine.
"AI can be the transformational force for legal operations, bringing to the table its capacity to streamline workflows, cut down costs and propel business growth,” said Tom Stephenson, Legal.io’s vice president of community and legal operations.
Experts such as Stephenson highlight that legal ops and AI tools have alignment in several key respects.
Ops teams frequently help their legal departments implement process improvements, which often occur with the aid of automation.
Along those lines, many of the AI tools targeted to in-house legal users can automate workflows such as the intake of requests for legal assistance.
Some of the AI platforms on the market also can automate the fulfillment of some incoming requests, such as those for non-disclosure agreements or vendor purchasing contracts.
Contracting is a key area of focus for legal ops given that it’s major part of what legal departments do on a daily basis, and some CLM platforms powered by generative AI can aid in-house teams with contract review and redlining.
Most AI tools are designed to help legal users complete tasks in quicker fashion, which aligns with the desire of ops teams to boost legal department efficiency.
For example, a recent survey of legal professionals found that more than 80% agree that generative AI will create “transformative efficiencies” for research and routine tasks.
Enhanced speed can help legal teams accomplish another priority for legal ops, reducing costs, including by decreasing outside counsel spend on certain manners.
Mary O’Carroll, the former head of legal operations at Google, said ops functions that help in-house professionals save time on mundane work via AI provide their colleagues greater bandwidth for more strategic work. This, too, is an important ops objective.
“I really believe that if AI is deployed in the right way, it's going to allow us to elevate and to focus on the right aspects of the work, the work that offers the most value,” said O’Carroll, the chief community officer at CLM provider Ironclad.
Legal chiefs’ view
Shelley McKinley, chief legal officer at GitHub, said in-house teams have not always understood how much they needed legal operations.
Rapid technological developments, including in AI, have helped change legal leaders’ perspective, she said.
McKinley described the role legal operations should play in helping in-house teams utilize AI as “absolutely central.”
Specifically, she said legal ops teams should be called on to assist with the review of AI use cases and the creation of implementation plans.
“This is what the legal ops team should be focused on,” McKinley said during an Ironclad webinar about AI.
Niki Armstrong, the chief legal and compliance officer at Pure Storage, said her legal ops team is helping the company’s legal department examine potential AI use cases in the realm of predictive analytics.
For example, she is hopeful the ops team’s planned use of generative AI to review a workload assessment could help her department more effectively distribute work among personnel moving forward.
“Legal ops teams are at the forefront of figuring out how to scale and how to do things more efficiently,” Armstrong said.
Legal operations teams can also play a key educational role when it comes to AI, said Ken Crutchfield, the VP and General Manager of Legal Markets at Wolters Kluwer Legal & Regulatory U.S.
This educational work could include making sure law departments understand how AI tools operate and what their limitations are, as well as the risks associated with using the various technologies.
Legal ops also has the opportunity to explain that not all AI is generative AI, Crutchfield said, and emphasize that the work of AI tools should be reviewed by humans.
He said legal operations professionals are well-positioned to play this educational role because “they tend to be the people that are looking at technology and trying to understand technology and how to apply it to the problems of law departments.”
These efforts, Crutchfield said, could help dispel some of the fear and uncertainty about AI tools.
Crutchfield also highlighted that change brought about by AI is happening very quickly and at a much faster clip than previous periods of technological breakthroughs.
As a result, he said legal ops leaders should encourage their law departments “to dream a bit” about how the latest tech could boost their performance.
“That may be the way to identify the thing that you've never been able to do before that might be very possible with generative AI,” Crutchfield said.
O’Carroll, while speaking during a Counselwell conference on AI in June, struck a similar note encouraging legal teams to embrace the potential of AI moving forward.
“We are entering a new world here, and no one knows what the twists and turns that AI will take and bring us,” she said. “But you can be sure that the winners of tomorrow are going to be those that get started on legal ops and AI adoption today.”