Technology is an enabler of simplification: it’s an opportunity for lawyers, not a threat – Connie Brenton
28 July 2021

Technology is an enabler of simplification: it’s an opportunity for lawyers, not a threat – Connie Brenton

Published on 28 July 2021

The legal industry’s shift towards transformative technology is creating opportunities that haven’t even been dreamt of yet. It’s bringing greater efficiency and collaboration, as well as new ways to meld business and legal work together.

Legal innovation and technology allow lawyers to deliver the right services, at the right time, at the right price, says Connie Brenton, Vice President, Law, Technology and Operations at NetApp Inc.

And lawyers that can’t keep pace in terms of knowledge and best practices risk becoming obsolete in the near future. But for those who can, the world is wide open.

The game-changer: digital optimisation

Implementing technologies like AI (artificial intelligence) can streamline low-risk, high-volume work, like reviewing contracts and agreements. And when used in matters such as M&A, it can speed up the process of finding that ever elusive needle in the haystack.

“Machines can do significant parts of work more quickly and accurately than a person can, which simplifies the process and increases efficiency,” Connie says.

“Sometimes, simplification means taking risks, but incremental risks. We start by analysing a current review process, then we write a playbook to automate it using AI. Over time, we move on to more sophisticated cases.”

The result? What once took weeks, now takes minutes.

“Digital optimisation is a fundamental change to how we work. Technology provides an opportunity to deliver services more efficiently and accurately.

“In fact, it’s now becoming a baseline for performing certain types of work competently – as defined by professional responsibility standards,” she says.

Speed is currency                                                  

Connie says that technological innovation has changed how we think.

“We live in a world of constant change, and that drives changes in the law and regulatory frameworks, such as privacy law, data protection laws and antitrust.

“So, the need for lawyers is increasing, but we, as a profession, cannot simply keep throwing bodies at legal issues. We have to learn to work differently.”

According to Connie, that means saving the human touch for the fascinating, complex work requiring expert judgement.

“We’re getting to do more of the work that we got into this profession to do. While much of the grunt work is being standardised.

“Like many in-house legal teams, we have identified that a significant portion of the work we do is routine, and we can address routine matters using technology. Think electronic signatures. No-touch contracting. Enterprise-wide workflow technology.

“AI speeds up the process. And speed is the new currency in running a business.”

Lawyers: choose your own adventure

With technology spend projected to triple in the next four years, legal innovation is not just a game-changer for businesses. Lawyers benefit too.

Traditional roles are changing, and service delivery is moving in-house. And in-house counsel are focusing on solutions to their clients’ business problems and driving a competitive advantage.

“This is all relatively new, and it’s a fantastic change. If you’re interested in the law and process redesign, legal project management and the intersection of legal and business, the opportunities are endless,” Connie says.

“They can and will take you on unexpected adventures in the law.”

The risk in standing still

“If you choose not to evolve with the industry, you will become obsolete very quickly,” Connie cautions.

For experienced lawyers unwilling to evolve, the threat of being replaced is very real, according to Connie. Who will they be replaced by? Either a tech-savvy lawyer, or a ‘T-shaped’ lawyer – someone with deep legal expertise and a solid grounding in another specialist area.

“My advice to legal entrants is to stay abreast of what is going on within the legal ecosystem.

“This might require proactive leg-work on your part, as law students don’t always have exposure to members of the ecosystem outside law school and law firm environments.

“The industry is changing so quickly, and opportunities are expanding exponentially. Keeping current on what is happening within the wider legal ecosystem is a healthy practice for all of us in the industry. And that’s where collaboration comes in,” says Connie.

Connie goes further in her advice for legal entrants, imparting three invaluable tips.

“First, collaborate. Work like a ‘Team of Teams’ – to use a term coined by Stanley McChrystal in his book of the same title.

“As defined by Stanley, this means we should collaborate on projects so that we learn together. And we should consistently share best practices and communicate big wins. Success begets success,” Connie says.

“Second, blow things up. Sometimes it is better, quicker and more efficient to start from scratch.

“Last, work hard, and don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. Put your hands on new technology at every opportunity. And take the time to become proficient at new technology solutions.”

Legal innovation and technology: the “bedrock of collaboration”

“Legal innovation and technology have driven my career,” Connie says. “When I started practising law, I never dreamed I would move into a career centred on technology and innovation.”

One of Connie’s keys to success is collaborating with colleagues and technology and service providers to “simply keep up with the innovation.”

“Legal technology can help the legal team scale across the larger business with lasting impact. In my role at NetApp, I talk to and meet with colleagues and providers to understand what’s new, and what will help our people.

“I’m always looking for ways to do things more quickly, less expensively and with greater impact to NetApp’s strategic objectives and bottom line. Whether this is automated workflow solutions, contract automation, e-discovery, electronic signature, document management or e-billing review,” she says.

Industry bodies creating connection & collaboration

The Centre for Legal Innovation (CLI) is a “very important contributor” in building global relationships, promoting diversity and building an innovative mindset, says Connie.

“CLI has been a leader in the industry since its inception, promoting change and disruption for the benefit of the whole.

“They are tireless in their desire and ability to educate and promote the members of the legal industry – both incoming and existing. It’s bringing together people who are excited about engaging with the changing legal ecosystem.”