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Artificial Intelligence

A conversation on GenAI’s business impact on corporate legal departments

· 5 minute read

· 5 minute read

Jump to the full interview with Thomson Reuters Institute’s Bill Josten.


How do in-house corporate legal departments view the use of generative artificial intelligence (GenAI)? According to 2024 Generative AI in Professional Services, a report released recently by the Thomson Reuter Institute, in-house counsel have generally positive thoughts about GenAI and how it could help boost their work and the companies they work for. In fact, respondents from corporate legal departments were the most likely among all professionals surveyed in the report to believe GenAI could be applied to their work, with 88% answering yes.  

Based on the responses of those surveyed, in-house attorneys are mostly still in learning mode about this emerging technology, as GenAI is just beginning to have an impact on the legal profession 


2024 Generative AI in Professional Services      For a full view on the topic, read the full report,
     2024 Generative AI in Professional Services. 


We asked Bill Josten, a former practicing attorney who now serves as the global coordinator for legal industry thought leadership for the Thomson Reuters Institute about his thoughts on what corporate legal departments should know about GenAI. Josten has broad expertise in the business of law, including aspects such as financial management, practice management, and talent and technology.  

Keep reading for his thoughts, based on his research, regarding in-house counsel and the potential benefits of GenAI.  


Josten: For in-house counsel, AI is really a can’t-say-no proposition. Even if the general counsel (GC) has decided that AI tools currently in the market aren’t right for the law department to be using, the lawyers in the department still need to be familiar with it. The reason for this is that there may be other parts of the business that want to leverage it. By trying to avoid the risks associated with GenAI by just not paying attention to it, you’re actually increasing that risk.

If you are learning about GenAI, you’re learning its pluses, minuses, and its true capabilities. And you’re formulating best practices for how GenAI can be applied to your work.  


Question: What advantages could GenAI provide in-house corporate counsel?  

Josten: The majority of corporate law departments are saying that their matter volumes are increasing, but their budgets and their headcount are staying the same, if not declining. If they can find ways for AI to create the capacity to do more work, that not only helps with matter volumes but it fulfills another need they have. According to our 2024 State of the Corporate Law Department report, 72% of clients say that a big priority for them is finding ways to bring more work in-house. That’s a big part of their cost reduction strategy. =

If your matter volume is increasing but your staff and your budget are decreasing or at best staying the same, it’s very much a situation of doing more with less. How do you do that? You create the ability for each person to accomplish more individually, and you increase the capacity for each individual person within the department. That’s what a lot of corporate law departments are looking at. And that’s why a lot of these departments are looking at GenAI. 


Question: What approaches to GenAI should in-house legal departments help establish? 

Josten: Not a lot of GCs that I’ve talked to are talking about hard-and-fast policies against GenAI. What they’re talking about is placing guardrails around the use of GenAI. They’re opting for common sense, commercially viable guidelines where they’re trying to transform.

Again, it’s important for GCs to understand that parts of the business are going to want to move forward with AI, whether the GC feels it’s right for the law department or not. They still have to be very in tune with what AI is capable of doing, because they need to advise the business on how to best handle it. 


Question: What’s one of the biggest takeaways from the Generative AI in Professional Services report that you’d want in-house counsel to note?  

Josten: One of the biggest things involves education and training on AI. There are still very few businesses that are offering it. You have roughly three-quarters of law firms and corporate legal departments saying they haven’t provided any training on GenAI. And they’re not hiring for specific GenAI skill sets either. But if you’re not training people on GenAI skill sets and you’re not hiring people with existing GenAI skill sets, where does that skill set come from? 



To me, a big lesson for in-house counsel from the report is that there needs to be an effort made to start educating people around it. Starting that GenAI journey involves putting as much information as you can into that. If corporate legal departments aren’t hiring for those skill sets and they aren’t training for those skill sets, there’s a giant red flag there. In-house lawyers need to figure out where the most logical starting point is. And they shouldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Doing something that’s intelligent, focused, and resultsdriven is better than doing nothing and just playing wait-and-see. 



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Bill JostenBill Josten is the Legal Marketplace Innovations Insights Strategist for the Thomson Reuters Institute.  Bill’s work focuses primarily on issues of interest to high-level decision makers in the legal market, including law firm managing partners and C-Level officers, as well as corporate general counsel.  Much of Bill’s research and writing focuses on issues related to law firm profitability and strategy, the future of the legal business, and law firm/client relationships 

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