GC of one of the region's largest conglomerates and head of the Australia chapter of CLOC,
Sheldon Renkema has had plenty of opportunity to reflect on changes facing the in-house role.
It's fair to say that legal operations in Australia has evolved
differently to the US, where businesses typically have
much larger legal functions with many more lawyers in the
organisation. There's quite a sophisticated supporting structure
around all of that which has effectively been brought into the
legal operations umbrella. Australia is a little different.
The Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC) in Australia
evolved out of a desire to bring together a group of legal staff
working at some of the larger companies who had an interest
in sharing things that we were learning through our operational
improvement initiatives. That included technology but it
also included other less tech-focused initiatives aimed at just
improving our efficiency and service delivery.
CLOC, particularly in the US, also has quite an extensive array
of online resources and online collaboration tools, including
some active chat forums where people ask information about
what's happening, and seek insights from other CLOC members
that might help them with particular problems that they're
facing or issues they need to solve. In the last year or so, CLOC
has also put in place a law firm membership so that external
legal service providers can share what they're doing from an
operational improvement perspective.
Legal operational enhancement can be a real challenge if you're
starting entirely from the ground up. One of the great things
about CLOC is that you can very easily learn from what others
are doing, so that you're not reinventing the wheel. You are
learning from others' experiences, which makes it a really good
forum for embarking on that journey, connecting with people
who've been through similar experiences and being able to
benefit from their experience of the things that have gone well
or not gone well in that context.
It's very difficult to actually objectively assess whether what
legal tech providers are saying their product or service
delivers is actually what it delivers. Being able to leverage
the experience of people who have used those products and
services to see what the actual output is helpful.
In my own in-house legal department, we were using an array
of technology from the very basic, starting out at the bottom
end in terms of core functionality, things like an internal matter
management system, which generates data about what the
team is doing and feeds into reporting on what we're up to. We
also have a document management system as well, that allows
for ready storage of documents.
We've built a number of these tools, for example, a self-serve nondisclosure agreement tool that allows people in our businesses
- without having contact with a lawyer - to be able to generate
and execute a compliant confidentiality agreement. There's also
marketing review tools and a contract review tool that we've
built and are continuing to evolve. Our objective is to identify
processes that our lawyers would otherwise do that are not
particularly complex and not particularly strategically significant.
And where we can, making use of a tool so that can be done
within the business in a user-friendly way that manages the risk.
Going forward, we are exploring the use of more sophisticated
tools, particularly more advanced document review technology.
The idea is to do an 80/20 review of incoming contracts so that
against some key parameters that we've identified so that it
really helps the lawyers to narrow down their focus on what's
really important in terms of those contract reviews.
We are fortunate in our business that we are relatively free
to look at using technology ourselves, although there is some
formality in the process. We have to ensure the software we
are interested in complies with our data security frameworks,
so everything needs to be reviewed by our cybersecurity team
to make sure that it is compliant with our standards. The other
- perhaps obvious - issue is fitting it into our budget. Aside
from these issues, though, there is a fair bit of freedom for us
to explore and test different offerings.
I would make the observation that lawyers increasingly need to
be at least attuned to technologies and what they do. There's
an open argument as to whether lawyers need to be capable
in skills like coding etc, my view is that this is probably not
necessary but that they at least they need to be familiar with
the technologies that are available, and need to be comfortable
living with these.
Lawyers who are beginning their careers now are going to be
looking at a very different way of practicing in ten or 20 years'
time, and they need to be adaptable to that. Some have said
that what is really important for lawyers is perhaps not so much
blackletter expertise but around building empathy and their
soft skills development. I think there's certainly some wisdom