By David Gingell, chief marketing officer at Seal Software.

It is hard to believe that the CLOC conference, which began on Sunday this week, is only in its 3rd year. From a standing start in 2016, when 500 Legal Ops professionals came together in San Francisco (generously supported by 60 sponsors), a mere two years later, over 2400 have gathered in Las Vegas for this year’s jamboree.

CLOC is an acronym for the Corporate Legal Operations Council and is the de facto professional body for legal operations professionals, although it is growing its influence and membership to more general legal functionaries as well. Founded and driven by a number of senior legal operations executives from half-a-dozen technology companies including Google, Adobe, NetApp and Cisco, CLOC have defined what it means to be a legal ops professional.

The mission of CLOC is to help legal operations professionals and other core corporate legal industry players (e.g. tech providers, law firms, LPO’s, law schools, etc.) optimize the legal service delivery models needed to support the needs of small, medium and large legal departments. CLOC have codified a set of 12 core competences and much of the content at this year’s conference has been focused on helping attendees move forward in their proficiency in those core areas.

The growth in interest and attendees has been dramatic, and the agenda reflects that. 80 break-out sessions over 8 tracks, which cover the key competences, from planning and change management through tools, tech and processes, to information governance and knowledge management, supplemented by over 60 demo sessions.

Kicking off the conference, Connie Brenton, President & CEO of CLOC (and senior director of legal ops for IT vendor NetApp), outlined the key themes for the conference as ‘leadership’, ‘pricing practices’, ‘planning’ and ‘change management’. Connie spoke powerfully of the growth of the Institute and the responsibility of all its members to drive forward the significance and importance of the legal ops role, in a progressive and business focused legal department. “We’ve reached a tipping point” she opined “we are realizing that a fundamental re-invention of the legal industry is underway”.

If that sounds hyperbolic, the fact that CLOC members collectively control over $50bn in spend on legal services should cause a pause for thought. Unsurprisingly technology is a core component of that re-invention. With over 125 sponsors showing their wares, the buzz around legal IT shows no sign of abating.

In a session entitled “Practical Magic: Using advanced technology to achieve results”, Stephen Poor, Emeritus Chair at Seyfarth Shaw, a Law100 firm, put it rather neatly – “technology can change the old adage that lawyers move forward by looking backwards”. It is legal tech that is going to drive this fundamental re-invention, just as fintech and regtech are fundamentally changing financial services and governance, risk and compliance.

Yet, it is clear from several of the sessions that there is more ‘selling’ to be done in order to prove the value and benefits of AI technology for legal ops. The title of one particular panel – “Brutally Honest AI: Dispatches from real-world implementation projects” – gave a flavour of some of the challenges facing AI today. “Cautious optimism” probably best described that panel’s view of where we are with legal tech.

Yet, as Mike Naughton from Cisco said, “as regards AI, we’ve moved from fear to hype and are on the road to substantive benefit”. In short order the legal profession has broadly accepted that AI will replace some low level repetitive tasks, such as document review, and that it is here to stay. Laurie Brasner, GC at Seal Software, adds “Any successful implementation is a mix of technology, people and processes.” So it’s good to know #ai won’t replace lawyers. It’ll just make them more efficient.

“Crossing the Chasm” and the “Hype Cycle”

Are we in a period of hype? Well, no AI presentation seems to be complete these days without the Gartner Hype Cycle for AI being shown as some sort of evidence, and pleasingly it appeared on several occasions.

In an insightful session, Tariq Abdullah, senior director, of Legal Ops & Data & analytics at Walmart said that “AI is an augmentation and not replacement. Be a leader or get run over by it. Align with business outcomes and operational goals”. The message being clear – get with the program, or you risk being left behind.

There were several companies prepared to discuss the successes they have been enjoying, none more so than Docusign, a digital transformation company well-known for its digital signature technology.

Reggie Davis, Docusign’s General Counsel described how Docusign had utilised a leading contracts discovery and analytics platform to pull out specific data breach and security language across tens of thousands of contracts and were now running the solution more broadly for other use cases across their global business. Reggie discussed how organizations can jump on the #digitaltransformation train using “land and expand” concept, by starting with one use case and growing from there.

As Davis says, “lawyers go from being Dr No and a risk manager to being a change agent in the company by adopting these technologies”.

Isn’t that refreshing for any legal professional?

Perhaps we should bear in mind Roy Amara’s Law – “technology is often overestimated in the short term but underestimated in the long term” – for legal tech it may be never be more true, but with the caveat that as witnessed with outstanding growth of CLOC, the long term is really only just around the corner. 

David Gingell is Seal Software’s Chief Marketing Officer. He joined Seal in February 2017 after 25 years of experience in hi-tech sales and marketing, most recently as CMO of TeamViewer GmbH, the remote access and control software specialist. Prior to that role he was the VP Marketing for EMEA for major tech brands EMC, Adobe and NetApp over a ten-year period.