By Peter Frankl.

In-house lawyers from the largest and most influential organisations wanted to be part of the Legal Operations revolution. The rhetoric was irresistible and the hype was contagious. Thousands of in-house lawyers from around the world have jumped on board.

Lawyers have been coalescing around a young organisation called Corporate Legal Operations Consortium or CLOC.

The CLOC vision is about creating the legal department of the future for the organisation of the future. It is not just hype. It is real and it is exciting. CLOC is an international organisation with the majority of its members based in North America.

The second annual Australian CLOC conference was held in Sydney recently at the Westin Grand Ballroom, Martin Place. It is a large venue that was filled mostly with lawyers from the biggest and best known corporations in Australia.

CLOC President Mary O’Carroll (Director of Legal Operations at Google and based in California) gave the opening remarks to the conference. She is renowned for her dynamic speeches to CLOC gatherings. This one was more about getting work done in the present and less about the excitement of the future. Having set the tone, the first session opened on the topic of Data. That’s right, Data.

Why Data?

Before the story of data was presented, there was a brief overview of a survey that measured progress on the 12 core competencies in legal operations. Indicators were pointing in the right direction and then we moved on to the topic of Data.

Why Data and why was this topic given such prominence to an audience of in-house lawyers?

The three people on the stage telling us about their stories of data were:

Neil Cook – Head of Legal Operations, Woolworths
Dion Harrington – Managing Attorney & Chief Counsel, Rio Tinto
Steven Walker – Managing Director Law Dept. Consulting APAC, Elevate

Steven Walker set the context including reminding us that data sits at the base of the information, knowledge, wisdom pyramid.

Start with Culture

We then heard from Neil Cook of Woolworths. As you can imagine, Woolworths is a data-rich company. He gave the impression that no one in the company starts any conversation without reference to data. Data is part of the operational culture.

One of Mr Cook’s key points was: before the legal department gets buried in new technology and process evaluations, the culture around data needs to be understood. The success of any legal operations initiative will depend on the culture being in the right place.

For personnel in a legal department there is risk in what data will reveal. Data may be uncomfortable, raise uncomfortable conversations and lead to hard decisions. Data is neither good nor bad and it can bite back.

The digital transformation wave won’t stop at the office of the general counsel

Dion Harrington of Rio Tinto opened up about the way lawyers work. He said that legal departments and law firms have been able to get away with not being measurable. The focus has been on providing quality legal services. The cost of these services is the cost. He believes that these are no longer safe operating assumptions for the future.

The digital transformation that is occurring in his company and the entire economy for that matter will not stop at the office of the general counsel. Measuring and analysing what we do and how we do it has become business as usual. Mr Harrington emphasised his point by telling us that data will be a matter of ‘survival of the fittest’ for law firms and legal departments.

Where do you find data? In most legal departments you will have to go digging for it. Will this mean more work and data entry for most legal departments? Yes it will, at least in the early phases.

It was pointed out that managers may get more excited about this new river of data than the operators (lawyers) creating it.

In every organisation you can expect that data will break through eventually. Once the data starts flowing, you won’t be able to put it back in its box. For legal departments there will be no turning back to the old ways.

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