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Part 3: Future-proofing

In this third part of our series, “The Essential Skills of a Future-facing Law Department,” we discuss the technological and data skills needed for the future.

This article is based upon the Practice Note “In-House Counsel Skills Needed to Support Emerging Law Department Responsibilities,” one of the more than 65,000 resources available in Practical Law.

A general counsel needs to do two things: deliver the right legal advice to the larger company and do it on time and within budget. But that company may be asking for advice on matters that were outside the GC’s purview twenty years ago, and they are asking the GC to run their department like any other function, with a yearly budget and plan.

How can a GC deliver that kind of stability in an ever-changing legal world?

According to the 2019 State of Corporate Law Departments report jointly produced by Thomson Reuters and Acritas, high-performing legal departments deliver superior value by maximizing their organization’s success and by providing long-term shareholder value.

And that means that your department needs to be able to flex with your company’s needs: the skills that got you here today aren’t necessarily the ones that will be needed tomorrow.

In the third of three articles, we’ll look at the technological and data skills that your department will need in the future.

Technological competence

Rapid advancements in technology are affecting every aspect of law department operations. In-house counsel must be aware of and comfortable using technology, so that they properly manage their departments, effectively protect and advance their organizations’ interests, and comply with their ethical obligations.

As a result, law departments are increasingly using technology to:

  • Conduct their internal operations such including financial management, project prioritization, and work allocation
  • Improve the quality and efficiency of legal services in the areas of contracting, litigation management, and compliance
  • Streamline the support of their organizations through client self-service tools, process automation, and training and education
  • Interact with law firms and other third-party service providers in areas such as retention, communication, matter management, collaboration, E-billing

Information generation

Technological developments are also increasing the availability of information used by in-house counsel to operate their departments and advise their organizations. Technology tools such as contract management systems, claims registers, and litigation databases provide in-house counsel with valuable data for the organization, including:

  • Risk profile. Collecting, tracking, and analyzing data can help in-house counsel advise the organization on current and emerging risks in areas such as the organization’s lines of business, commercial relationships, litigation exposure, industry, and locations of operation. This data can help organizations identify, contain, and reduce, rather than simply manage its risk.
  • Decision making. In-house counsel with access to historical data on the results of decisions made by their organization can use that data to identify and train those departments or lines of business that generate an excessive number of legal issues. This helps to ensure that the organization considers all relevant factors when making decisions and provides informed advice to the organization on when to take calculated risks. It also helps distinguish between commercial projects that the organization should pursue and those projects it should avoid.
  • Operations. Technology tools provide useful information about a law department’s operations, including, in-house counsel workloads and productivity, department spending, client satisfaction, and outside counsel performance.

Data analytics

In-house counsel must:

  • Develop a working knowledge of how to access, review, and synthesize data
  • Be able to integrate data collection and disposal tools into their processes and workflows to ensure that the data is properly retained or discarded
  • Learn to distinguish between relevant and irrelevant data as more sources of information become available
  • Be able to effectively use data when they provide legal services to their organizations

Data privacy

In-house counsel must also be aware of how their organizations use technology and how that use affects their organizations’ legal responsibilities.

Examples include:

  • Ensuring that third-party service providers with access to the organization’s sensitive and confidential business data have the proper data security measures in place
  • Understanding and advising on the legal and regulatory requirements that are applicable to the organization’s use, storage, and protection of customer and employee information
  • Negotiating appropriate contractual rights in the areas of data security, data breach notification, representations and warranties, limitations of liability, indemnification, and insurance
Enhance your law department

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