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Reflections on The Economist’s 18th annual General Counsel Summit

12 November 2021 | Eleanor Weaver, CEO, Luminance

Last week, I attended The Economist’s 18th annual General Counsel Summit. This dynamic event brings together legal professionals, C-suite executives and innovation experts for a day of open and honest discussion about the issues affecting General Counsel, their teams and the organisations they represent.

After an unprecedented eighteen months for the legal sector and the wider business community, it was clear that the pandemic has served as a wake-up call to those too reliant on outdated ways of working. Lawyers from organisations of all sizes and geographies were in agreement that remote working, increased market volatility and ever more complex regulatory requirements are creating a legal landscape that is ripe for technological transformation.

Indeed, the importance of next-generation technology dominated much of the conversation at the Summit. Legal teams represent the beating heart of an organisation, without which no other departments can function, yet they have often been the last to innovate. I left the Summit last week with the clear sense that this is changing, and in-house counsel now recognise the need to adopt technology – and more specifically AI – in order to keep pace with the rate of global digitisation.

The Expanding Role of General Counsel

One thing that became clear throughout the Summit’s variety of panel discussions and keynote presentations was the changing role of General Counsel and indeed, how important these business leaders and their teams are becoming to modern organisations. The 2020 ACC Chief Legal Officers Survey found that 93% of GCs are now members of their company’s executive management team and are seen as business enablers, helping to navigate complex legal and regulatory issues. It was clear that the pandemic exacerbated this trend, with a sudden shift in the legal landscape placing great emphasis on legal teams and their handling of unexpected issues. For instance, in the real estate sector, legal teams needed to quickly and thoroughly assess their contracts to understand whether they contained force majeure clauses which specifically mentioned a pandemic.

Another key theme that struck me was the idea of in-house counsel having the unique ability to be both preventative and pragmatic. No other function in an organisation, nor any external advisors, can foresee impending issues that arise from contractual obligations to the same extent, neither can they combine their knowledge of the law with their understanding of the business to offer such pragmatic and valuable advice.

In all of these conversations, there was a consistent thread of opinion amongst the speakers that technology is going to be crucial to a functioning and forward-thinking in-house legal team in the future. Whilst some pointed to the fact that they are increasingly demanding that their outside counsel use the latest technologies in order to drive efficiencies into legal services and pass on the subsequent cost savings, others were already using artificial intelligence to keep more legal work in-house and reduce their reliance on external advisors.

A Future with AI

The Summit also provided an apt opportunity for Luminance to demonstrate its brand new product – ‘Luminance Corporate’ - to a room full of eager lawyers. Following a 40% increase in the number of in-house legal teams deploying Luminance’s AI-powered document review tool, we developed Luminance Corporate in May of this year to expedite and augment the entire contract lifecycle process, from contract creation and templating to negotiation and post-execution analysis. The technology acts as an intelligent index of all contracts within an enterprise, whether pre or post-execution, providing lawyers with an interactive, visual overview of their contractual landscape. Through a unique combination of supervised and unsupervised machine learning, Luminance Corporate can read and form an understanding of any dataset irrespective of volume or language, presenting this analysis back to the lawyer and highlighting key information such as missing or non-compliant clauses or governing laws present.

I left the Summit firm in the belief that GCs are on board with the tech revolution, particularly those ambitious in-house counsel who understand that they are increasingly playing a crucial role in driving the growth of their company and are therefore eager to see how innovative solutions can support them. It has been no mean feat for Luminance’s brilliant tech team to develop the third product in the Luminance suite, so I was delighted to be surrounded by prominent General Counsel and their teams and find them ready to embrace change.