Reflections on The Economist’s General Counsel Summit US

5 October 2022 | Eleanor Lightbody

It’s been a couple of weeks since I was back across the pond in New York for The Economist’s inaugural General Counsel Summit US, where leading in-house lawyers and technology providers came together for an exploration of the evolving, post-pandemic legal landscape. The in-tray of GCs has been significantly added to over the past year: from sanctions resulting from Russian invasion of Ukraine, worldwide inflation and significant supply chain issues to an increasingly complex and fragmented regulatory landscape. Therefore, this year’s conference felt particularly significant, and a chance to hear at length how GCs sought to be proactive in the face of growing economic headwinds.

I was also delighted to participate in a panel alongside Lisa Mather, Vice President and General Counsel at Mars Wrigley and Jose Ramon Gonzalez, Chief Legal Officer and Corporate Secretary at Equitable Holdings, to discuss how the partnerships between legal departments and technology providers have developed in the past few years. Since returning to London, I’ve had time to reflect on the many thought-provoking discussions I was fortunate to share with thought leaders within the legal community, so I thought I would offer my own perspective on some of the key themes that emerged out of those conversations.

The role of General Counsel is evolving

A major theme of the Summit was the growing role of General Counsel. Once confined to a narrow remit of purely legal matters, it was clear that GCs are now more commonly seen as a core component of the C-suite, and their teams are entrusted with a broad range of responsibilities, covering everything from compliance and risk management to proactively sourcing business opportunities. Unsurprisingly, this expanded role brings with it more work and is further complicated by tightened budgets in the current economic climate, increased regulatory thresholds to meet and exploding volumes of legal content in need of review.

It was clear at the conference that time and efficiency pressures are being unanimously felt by in-house lawyers no matter the industry their company operates within, so I was pleased to offer my perspective on how AI can automate standardised and repetitive legal tasks that prevent resource from servicing higher-value work, like proactively surfacing new commercial opportunities or providing strategic counsel to C-suite executives. At Luminance, for example, we recently released the first AI technology in the world that can take a first pass review of an incoming contract, colour-coding areas of compliance and non-compliance against a company’s own playbook. Not only does this mitigate risk, but it also reduces reliance on the time-consuming and outdated process of manually redlining contracts. We recently worked with a listed Spanish security firm who reduced their review time on NDAs by 96%!

As I said on the panel, this is a perfect example of how AI presents an opportunity for lawyers to work differently: to be freed up from the monotonous tasks that a machine can assist with, and instead focus time on areas of work that require the essential human skills of creativity, problem-solving and strategic thinking.

AI isn’t just for law firms anymore

It was clear from the industry professionals I spoke to that in-house legal teams are leaning into technology more and more, in particular to drive forward digital transformation for hybrid workforces and legal innovation. When we first launched Luminance in 2016, AI was largely only spoken about by private practices, and even then, it was very much a novel concept. Looking at the market today, we’re now seeing in-house legal teams spearhead the latest phase of AI adoption.

AI for more than just the Legal function

Perhaps even more interesting was the number of in-house lawyers I spoke to who envisage technology extending beyond legal departments and enhancing coordination with non-legal functions in their business. This is certainly a trend we’re seeing at Luminance: HR teams are deploying our AI to take a first pass review of incoming employment contracts, whilst Sales teams are using our automated AI-powered contract drafting functionality to instantly generate compliant Sales Agreements. Automating these highly-repetitive and administrative processes means they can focus on higher-value work for their business. The inherent flexibility of AI means that its application extends to all parts of a business that interact with contracts or Legal.

Regulatory complexity is a key driver of AI adoption

The pandemic showed us that doing things ‘the way we always have’ is not a viable long-term business strategy, not least because the last few years have taught us that there’s no anticipating how legal exposure might arise. We have now seen the legal and regulatory environment is evolving at a faster rate than many are currently prepared for, from financial and data privacy regulation to ESG reporting and economic sanctions on Russian entities.

Just a few months ago, IDEXX Laboratories, a large US-based biotechnology company, used Luminance to analyse its entire contract database following the sudden introduction of economic sanctions. With Luminance’s AI providing a holistic overview of the organisation’s business activities, identifying all geographies present within contracts and any language referencing Russian places or legal structures, IDEXX completed the review in just 20 minutes.

It's quickly become clear that technology, and AI more specifically, has become a ‘must-have’ for businesses seeking to stay compliant and keep pace with a changing world. AI can locate relevant information across thousands and thousands of contracts much faster than any human can, in turn freeing up the lawyers to look at the findings, consider the implications for the business and mitigate and advise accordingly. The reactivity of AI is essential when it comes to regulatory compliance reviews, allowing lawyers to identify the relevant information for compliance reports or take immediate action in assessing risk exposure.

Trust is key to any partnership

During our panel, we discussed what makes the partnership between a legal team and technology provider work. The resounding answers? Trust and transparency. At Luminance, we think there’s no better way to provide this than offering lawyers the chance to try our AI on their documents for free.

But the legal tech market is incredibly hot right now and the prospect of evaluating what is ‘real’ AI vs what is just a slick demo can be daunting. When speaking to an organisation on the lookout for AI technology, I always propose they have a ‘shopping list’ in the back of their minds. Can the vendor answer ‘yes’ to all these questions? If so, it’s probably AI!

1. Can the AI automatically handle different languages or terminologies?

2. Is the AI deployable instantly, instead of requiring lengthy configuration and customization?

3. Can it scale and maintain the highest levels of security?

4. Does it have a true conceptual understanding of language and inference abilities?

5. Is the AI part of a coherent platform allowing seamless work across all practice areas, rather than just a point solution?