As technology reshapes the legal industry, we interview three senior lawyers about their attempts to grapple with change at their companies.
Gloria Sánchez Soriano, head of transformation – legal department, Santander
When our group general counsel, Óscar García Maceiras, joined two years ago, he came with the idea of transforming the legal department. But Santander as a business is also in a huge process of transformation. Maceiras had a concern that we in our legal department – and in many other legal departments – were working the same way as 100 years ago. We have legal databases, word processing, some digital resources, but we were not doing anything special. So the project he envisioned was not only to implement a range of technologies, but to foster a savvier legal department, with fewer pain points and better co-ordination and efficiency.
The head of transformation role was created a year ago. There was a need in our legal department to transform the way we work and start implementing legal technologies, but also to [introduce] more measures to improve processes and look at how we work with people in the team – which types of lawyers we need now and which type of profiles we will need in the future.
Leading the charge
I am not running a department with many people that I am taking care of – what I do involves different people from across the department in each project. Day-to-day, I meet these people for different projects, I also meet providers, I do my own analysis of processes. Right now I am analysing a specific department within legal: what they do, how they work, what things they will need to start doing and what they need to stop doing.
I also go to conferences and seminars, because you need to be talking to many people. Recently, I visited London to see what UK law firms are doing in technology and innovation, as the UK is often regarded as best-in-class in innovation from law firms.
I am mostly talking to law firms: people similar to me, such as innovation directors. But I am also talking to people in-house who, in addition to their own duties, are in charge of innovation. The problem in many cases is these people don’t have a real budget for implementation or do not have the support from the wider business. In some cases their GC says: ‘We need to innovate, but you need to do your own work as well.’ If you do not have support, it is very difficult to do anything.
At the moment, implementation of technology is a process. We are implementing a document management system, which is traditional in law firms but not so much in corporate in-house departments. We also have a contract management system.
We are starting to use some tools to give legal advice, for example, chatbots, which our internal clients can use before going to the legal department for repetitive questions or areas where there are clear prescribed procedures, like GDPR. To complement these, we are implementing automated workflows to simplify processes and avoid huge amounts of emails.
One area where Santander is at the cutting edge is using data extraction and data analysis tools for specific projects. We are using this for cases where otherwise we would need to have a large number of contracts reviewed.
The reality is the transformation process is about much more than technology. It is more about how to deal with culture change because in many cases, people are afraid to change, either consciously or unconsciously.
As lawyers, we are used to working in a traditional way. This mindset is difficult to change. But I see it as though you are conquering different areas. First, you have some people who are more tech savvy and happy to change. But you also have some reluctant people, so you need to try to get buy-in for new ways of working. To do that, you need to do learning activities, you need to involve people in the project, you need to involve people in the development. Also, critical people will tell you things you were not thinking at the beginning – so stakeholder engagement, early and often, is critical. The future relates to being more efficient and leaving out some tasks that will be automated.
Moving forward means going back
If you want to automate contracts, you can do it in different ways. You can do that externally, or internally – but, for that, you need to train people. Training in automation is not coding – it is a language – but it is quite similar to coding, so you need to find people who are good at it and who have the time and then you need to organise a team. We subcontract the automation, but we will be having a small team of lawyers and paralegals who are able to create or update templates.
Some of our legal departments in other countries use data visualisation tools – so you need your lawyers to be trained in using these tools, because they are very useful for handling massive amounts of data. You do not need your lawyers to be data scientists, but you need them to know how to use the tools. However, many people who have been working for a long time are reluctant – so then it becomes about demonstrating the difference the tools make.
Santander is doing great things in innovation – we have projects focused on everything from blockchain to machine learning – so as lawyers, we need to understand these technologies, but also provide legal advice for the new challenges that will arise as a business. We will be considering all of this for the training we need to give to our lawyers and the people we will be hiring in the future, so we are able to provide legal advice to innovative projects.
Adaptability and creativity will be very important. You sometimes find lawyers who think they do not need anything more. That is the opposite of my expectations. They need to be learning all the time.
Nina Barakzai, general counsel for data protection and group data protection officer, Unilever
IHL: What are the main themes running through Unilever’s use of technology?
Nina Barakzai (NB): Firstly, that tools should help us work more efficiently; secondly, implementation is a journey and we must see benefit; and thirdly, technology is disruptive but helps us build our professional competence as an in-house legal team.
IHL: Can you give examples of initiatives used at Unilever?
NB: We aim to be at the top of the list when it comes to talking about tools to help us work more efficiently. Some parts of our business use blockchain for certain activities; others have introduced a chatbot with machine learning to continuously improve the systems they use. Legal is building knowledge management tools to get to a single source of truth – a lot of the technology we are using, because we are operating at scale, supports us when we need to have information held reasonably accessible so everybody can rely on them.
Implementation of this new capability is an ongoing journey to embed benefits and improve our processes and contract management. For example, procurement implemented a contract lifecycle management tool. During implementation, we found the learning process was as much about adjusting to the realities of the software as about doing what we needed to do.
IHL: What are the challenges of rolling out new technology?
NB: There is an enormous appetite for doing things efficiently. It is obviously challenging if we are in 190 countries and generate 190 country contract processes along the way. We have about 80 preferred partners worldwide who are working alongside us, who design things with us. That creative engagement is vital.
Some of the billing we get with our preferred external law firms has been adjusted so we both can work within those formatted structures, and use platforms that are well established. Our focus is to help ourselves and our partners manage how we work together, so we know when they are getting certain information, and how to keep everything running smoothly.
For some, anything new is a challenge to understand, learn and embrace. Others ask what will make life easier and want it immediately. There will be others who like to experiment and gradually incorporate new tools into their activities.
I like working with technology that is disruptive – I get to experience exciting developments, with the added benefit of making my life easier. Everyone who is in a fast-paced environment works to stay relevant and up-to-date, or risks disempowering themselves. Working with technology needs to be made accessible. It is easy to switch people off by making them feel they are less capable because they cannot work a particular system or device.
IHL: What does new technology mean for you?
NB: I want to be able to handle data responsibly all the time, every day, every minute. I will always look for tools that keep me up-to-date and enable me to deliver privacy advice smoothly. I want and enjoy doing a better job for my clients, so I work hard to understand the environment in which my clients are operating. Clients are doing more with more data, and that brings scale and complexity. I need to understand that.
One of my tasks is to help design control solutions in a privacy context. If there is an easy way of determining whether, say, control 623 is more relevant than control 17, when working with hundreds of controls, that will help me.
People are more likely to make errors when operating in teams, running at speed to deliver cyber security and privacy controls. If internal advisers are on the move in factories or out in the field looking at tea crops, raw materials and other front-line activities, how do we make sure they can see privacy advice and have information in bite-sized chunks, at their fingertips? So, as in our everyday lives we look at platforms like YouTube to see how to work the cooker, we are making more video blogs and developing alternative ways for the business to access information on legal, privacy and cyber security topics. I am looking to make things available via mobile, on devices.
A key requirement is to make sure these alternatives work across multiple jurisdictions, making it easier for people to learn from the materials and leverage their skills.
IHL: Is there any technology you would like to have in future?
NB: I would like an AI bot for developing what I nickname a ‘privacy university’. My hope is my colleagues can ask a simple question all the way through to a more complex query. A privacy bot that can give a quick answer, in a tailored business context, could help a colleague along an entire spectrum of knowledge, simply by being a starting point for additional resources. My task in privacy is to help change their inner thought of ‘I do not know what the question means’ to a feeling that they know where to get guidance or, better still, find an answer that can be tailored and made relevant for the issue they are working on.
Alexander Steinbrecher, head of group corporate, M&A and legal affairs, Bombardier Transportation
At Bombardier Transportation Group, we are not using technology in the way we could and should be using it – I would say that we are in the bottom third if I look around – but we have taken the decision, as the leadership team in the legal community, to tackle it.
I see two challenges of employing technology in an in-house legal context. One is budget and the second is we need software applications that work around the globe. It does not help us if we find the perfect solution for the legal team in Germany – we need to find the global application the legal team can use in the UK, France, Sweden, Thailand, the US – you name it. It needs to be a software that is so generic that it can be universally used, possibly also in different language settings, because despite being a global firm where English is the company’s language, we still do have local languages used in contracts.
Be brave: think long term
Budget is always an issue because you need to have a convincing business case. But I would not like a conversation where the CFO says: ‘Sure, I will give you the budget of X, but then please sign here that you will, in return, reduce the head count in your legal team by 20% or 30%.’ It does not work like that.
The return on investment in legal tech is mid-term and long term, not short term. If that is the equation, the equation will fail and in-house legal teams will be shooting themselves in the foot. You need to be brave to make the investment, because it is difficult to predict the yield of return from the investment for the legal team.
Window shopping for tools… and best practice
The benefits of legal tech software are not as a means to cut headcount but as a means for in-house lawyers to be relieved of wasting their time on administrative, repetitive work, so they have more time to spend on brain work. I see it as an enabler to focus more on value-added legal work to support bringing the business forward. I’m coming from the perspective of increasing the efficiency, effectiveness and impact of in-house lawyers, rather than just cost-cutting.
Recently, a German law firm showed me a smart contract generator tool. The software asks you questions and then, after 50 questions, you have a fully-fledged procurement contract. It is such an easy approach because a company that develops tech software for lay people came up with this idea and they just transferred this approach – a way of guiding a lay person through legally relevant stuff to create the output, which then is a contract.
I see various applications for that – for simple contracts that are standardised, like non-disclosure agreements, a simple labour contract. Whatever the contract, on a repetitive basis, it can be easily standardised and then created by clicking the mouse, rather than typing letters and numbers for hours.
Another area is copying what service providers have created for end users. One telecommunications company in Germany created an application that you can use if you are suffering from problems in your WiFi at home. Rather than calling a service line and waiting for 30 minutes hearing lousy music, the app connects to your WiFi router and tests the connection without you seeing it. If the app detects a problem, it guides you through solving the problem. Something like that could also be used for standard legal questions in a big company that the business asks again and again.
The magic pill I would like to find is an application we feed with the terms and conditions of our contracts. Based on our project execution experience, the software tells me which are the clauses and the cold clauses and, on the hot clauses, what different clauses we have used and how we can improve those hot clauses by learning from our contracts around the globe. We can greatly improve knowledge management when it comes to our contract execution around the globe.
I was reading the other day that, according to one global consulting firm, 85% of the jobs people will have in 2030 do not exist today – which is frightening. But I would not say that 85% of what I am doing with my legal team will no longer be done by us in 2030; I see different angles. There is one angle where I have the private citizen in mind and, yes, there will be a huge disruption of how people like you and I, in our private lives, use legal services. If you look at the available tools already now, there will be less and less need to engage a lawyer to help you resolve your legal questions and legal disputes.
For companies, by 2030, if they are smart, will have smaller legal teams but still continue to insource legal services, so they will use less and less external legal advice. Smart in-house legal teams will have managed to develop legal expertise and knowledge in areas where they are no longer dependent on external lawyers, and they can only do that because they are no longer wasting time and energy on low-skilled, legal admin work. It will help the smart legal teams to improve quality in areas where they are currently dependent on external experts, so it will be tight for external lawyers rather than for in-house lawyers.
But not for the real global law firms who make a fortune from global transactions, where you need so much more brains and hands than a mid-size law firm can possibly get together. For mid-size law firms, it will be tough. You see it already: there’s a big trend of consolidation in mid-sized law firms. The landscape of law firms will look very different in 2030.
We are a conservative profession, at least in Germany, and we are under immense pressure to stop conserving the way we work rather than opening ourselves up to new ways of working. We all need to step up our technical skills and internet skills and software skills, because our way of working as lawyers, and in-house lawyers, is pretty much the same as in the 1980s – and I don’t think that’s sustainable.
Alex Speirs is editor-in-chief of GC
Greg Hall is managing editor at GC
Catherine Wycherley is features writer at GC