Future-proofing Your Legal Department: Insights from General Counsel East

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Last week at ALM/Corporate Counsel’s General Counsel East conference in New York City, over 200 in-house legal team executives gathered to share their experiences and lessons learned on succeeding in their role as both a legal department leader and business strategist. Sessions included conversations on how the legal function has pivoted towards not just being responsible for broad-based risk management and legal affairs, but also being a driver for IPO/M&A preparation, crisis/COVID planning, corporate social responsibility initiatives, and cybersecurity/vendor risk management. 

One particularly salient topic from the conference was technology selection and implementation strategy to create better outcomes. DISCO’s Vice President, Product Strategy, Kristin Zmrhal led a stimulating discussion with Jeffrey Salling (Global Director eDiscovery & Senior Legal Counsel, Novartis) and Angela Ni (Director of Underwriting and Data Science Strategies, Corporate Counsel, Parabellum Capital LLC) on creating an in-house legal team designed to thrive in the years ahead. 

The conversation centered around three key themes: 

  • Priorities for balance of 2021 into next year
  • Buy vs build when it comes to new technology 
  • Getting team buy-in for change

Focus on the most common tasks like contracts and ediscovery

Panelists discussed the need to prioritize change initiatives on the everyday tasks that fill the day. “To create meaningful change, uncover where people are spending their time. Focus on making that one activity more efficient. You can’t solve everything,” said Salling, who in addition to being in his role at Novartis, teaches ediscovery at John Marshall Law School. He is currently focusing on activities like contract management and analytics, in addition to making ediscovery more efficient by applying continuous active learning (CAL) and technology assisted review (TAR). 

Considerations for “buy vs versus build” with legal technology 

Once there is consensus that a new way forward is needed, Ni advised session attendees to get smart about the space, learn about solutions available, and weigh the advantages and disadvantages of whether to buy and/or build technology. Each strategy requires buy-in with the relevant groups of people, and she advised that building technology has a host of considerations, including having a team of developers committed to the build and on-hand to maintain and continuously improve the solution. 

Getting buy-in to change in the way legal work gets done

Zmrhal, who before coming to DISCO led ediscovery at Google, explained, “When implementing technology, involving end users is key to both evaluating a tech provider and putting a strong pilot in place.” Salling also suggested getting executive sponsorship for any change initiative, as it helps remove roadblocks and sends the signal to the team that there is organizational commitment to a new approach and tools. Salling also suggested gaining interest in the initiative by surveying team members upfront on what is most repetitive in their day. This gives them visibility into the objective for new tech adoption, as well as providing the needed information to create the needed focus for the project. 

The session wrapped with the importance of technology providers and in-house legal teams to be transparent with one another in order to create better solutions. Salling said that he responds positively when a technology sales person offers up not only what a solution can do, but also what it cannot. On the tech provider side, Zmrhal explained that the candor and transparent feedback received from clients helps DISCO to create a better product and a better plan for future advancements. 

To catch DISCO at future conferences, check out our events page

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