Guest post: CLOC 2023 – Key insights into how to drive value during changing economic times

By Valerie Chan, founder, Plat4orm PR

I was fortunate last week to attend CLOC’s Global Institute in Las Vegas, which over the years I’ve seen evolve into a show well worth attending for legal operations practitioners looking to collaborate and gain practical advice from their peers.

Yes, there was plenty of social networking at after-parties by vendors such as Icertis, KPMG, Fulcrum and LexisNexis, and invite-only events hosted by Onna, Factor and others. But a lot of the substantive conversations took place at lunches, dinners, the CLOC ‘Brain Date’ lounge, and round-table sessions where legal operator colleagues, vendors or services providers delved into the practical issues that plague us all, ranging from contracts and AI use, to how to stay resilient and drive value during these changing economic times.

Typically, Legalweek has always been focused on eDiscovery, while CLOC was focused on matter management and contracts management. This time I noticed more balance in the vendor hall and sessions, with a broader range of services providers than before, including staffing providers, contracts management vendors and other new entrants in addition to eDiscovery vendors.

One theme dominated the show floor conversations: Over and over, the legal operators I talked with said if their technologies and vendors were able to develop better workflows, achieve more cost savings and report on the metrics that mattered to their GC, the GC could function as more of a business advisor to the C-suite.

While at Legalweek the focus was on generative AI (GenAI) and other future-forward technologies, CLOC was more focused on practicalities, with legal operators discussing topics like how to balance risks, how to gain efficiencies through AI and other technologies, and how and where to find the key resources and technologies that will help them be a more strategic partner for their GCs. Most of the GenAI discussions were focused on self-service initiatives and concerns about managing potential reputational and financial risks.

I was fortunate to talk with more than 25 operators and VCs and also squeezed in time to attend some interesting sessions, including “Maximizing Value in Outside Counsel Relationships—Perspectives From Legal Ops Leads and Law Firms;” “Legal Hiring: The Digital Transformation;” and “Why Legal Tech Investments Are More Important Than Ever: How to Get Budget, Benchmark, and Show ROI,” where panelists discussed how to pitch new technology to their GCs and CEOs. Interestingly in that latter session Olga Mack, Vice President at LexisNexis and CEO of Parley Pro, said that having been on both sides of the coin — GC and CEO — she suggests legal operations professionals making a tech pitch frame it as an opportunity to save or make revenue rather than talking about “risk” or “cost.” Her view is that the days of seeing legal as simply a cost center are over.

One of the most interesting panels I attended was “Three Practical and Impactful AI Use Cases: Exploring the Implications of Generative AI and ChatGPT,” a standing-room only session that covered three generative AI use cases.  The use cases helped reinforce the idea that attorneys are needed to do higher value work, including:

1.) Reviewing of invoices and line items within the invoices. GenAI takes care of 98% of the review with the attorney doing 1%, primarily just to rubber stamp the invoices, but more importantly to identify trends like rate increases or vendor relationships. This would allow attorneys to examine their use of outside counsel—not just subjectively but also based on objective data.

2.) Contracts. GenAI could be used to streamline redlining activities to create a repeatable playbook that could be easily customized and updated. It could also enable contextualized changes and provide a summary of changes and redlines more quickly.

3.) Ticketing automation, where GenAI allows for more efficient data entry. The example given was recognizing a service request in Outlook, identifying the type of request and creating a record by putting that request automatically into different applications to improve workflow. This would allow legal operations to drive decisions within the project management applications more quickly by analyzing where attorneys are directing their efforts. It would also enable more effective resource planning, by helping identify tasks and types of tasks, and then matching them with resources that are available at scale.

While the discussion generated excitement, the panelists agreed that there will need to be guardrails in place on the implementation of GenAI and that it’s still too early for full rollout of GenAI applications, despite the promised efficiencies in managing projects, vendors and law firms. Like any technology, using the technology is based on a threshold of competency. Accuracy and precision remain big concerns, as does having a privacy framework in place to ensure that the information is confidential.

I also attended a session on pivoting legal department/law firm engagement from hourly to AFA. During this session, Heather Newton, senior counsel for Wells Fargo Bank, NA, provided practical guidance on how Wells Fargo was able to change its hourly model into an AFA model. Heather covered the six types of AFAs, how her department achieved the pivot, steps for change management—including how to negotiate with vendors and internal constituents—and steps to manage spend. With the AFA model in place, Wells Fargo was able to gain compliance early on, create more disciplined billing and determine more accurate line items for RFPs. The result was that outside counsel spend became more efficient.

The last session I attended was at the Level Legal Sweet Suite, where legal operators from companies including American Airlines, Direct TV, Raymond James Financial, Tilson Tech, Evisort, Civix, Twilio and others covered topics such as legal operations as a business and how to drive value for GCs.

Ryan O’Leary from IDC who attended that session captured one of the key themes by defining the new role of legal ops as transforming the legal department into a proactive business. Key points for the legal department to become a proactive business included creating scalable processes, data-driven metrics and discussion that lead to vast improvements, and the need to objectively assess outside counsel engagement and the technology workflows that enable the GC role.

The conversations here were reminiscent of some of the other sessions, but richer in the sense that the participants were able to discuss how they defined and grew their legal operations department using the technologies that were given to them. With their roles dependent on what the legal department was willing to support, the operators were concerned about the thoughtful implementation of technology, how to drive value of each tool, how automation could help, the key value of integrated applications in effective data management, and what that GC dashboard could look like. Their attorneys’ pain points were the chief drivers of the solutions that were implemented. They agreed on the importance of having a system to classify data to achieve data transformation that translates into action.

CLOC for me was a landmark event, with attorneys and providers alike focused on using technology to achieve thoughtful, noticeable improvements in efficiency and value that would support their GC’s role as a contributor to the C-Suite.  The business of legal is changing, and the technology to help run a modern law firm within a corporation exists, but the technology will only ever be as useful as the legal minds that shape its use and leverage the insights it offers.

Valerie Chan founded Plat4form in 2005. Plat4orm is a full-service communications agency made up of tech industry specialists with offices in Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York, and an international network of senior-level consultants.