5 In-house Experts on Creating the Legal Team of the Future

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Corporate legal teams have experienced a lot of upheaval in the last few years. First, the COVID-19 pandemic sent everyone to work from home and forced the adoption of new technologies. After scrambling to adapt to this world, establishing data privacy and protection guidelines, and finally finding a rhythm, companies now began to tentatively return to the office. Now, legal teams must decide what lessons and adaptations will become a permanent part of their workplace culture, and how to control cost, mitigate risk, and retain talent in the years to come. 

To discuss these changes, DISCO convened a team of experts for a panel discussion during Legalweek 2022: Mark LoSacco, EVP and General Counsel, Litigation & Regulatory Enforcement at HSBC North America; Elizabeth Graham, Corporate Counsel at uShip, Inc.; Sara Johnson Meyers, Legal Counsel eDiscovery at Takeda; Sarah Riedel, Litigation Project Analyst at 3M; and Andrew Shimek, Chief Revenue Officer at DISCO. 

Challenges of the new legal landscape

In the midst of the great resignation, the shifting workforce and battle for talent was top of mind for the panelists in terms of challenges. The panel agreed that even with a hybrid workforce, companies will have to find ways to extend beyond Zoom (Riedel quipped, “I haven’t seen my introverts in 2 years.”) and foster teamwork. If you tell an employee that a meeting is optional for them, will they truly feel included if they do attend? LoSacco noted, “If we don’t find a way to have real teamwork and a sense of community, there’s not going to be any desire to stay within a group for a long period of time. That’s what helps people to stay.”

Johnson Meyers also pointed out that the sudden increased reliance on new applications — in her case, Microsoft Teams — created new and challenging problems for collection that the IT teams did not anticipate. She stressed the importance of legal departments being involved in such tech adoptions in the first place to ensure there are no problems with collections later on. LoSacco echoed this, saying that employees are using devices that are not company-sanctioned, and legal needs a seat at the table to advise on what’s being saved, what functionalities exist, what can be extracted when needed.

Another classic issue? Confining work to work hours. As many times as someone is told they don’t have to respond to an email right away, they may feel pressure to (scheduling email sends and Slack messages is a great strategy here!). All panelists agreed that the shift to virtual work had caused them to re-evaluate their priorities. Riedel advised, “It’s important to turn off your phone, go outside.” while Johnson Meyers added that even after going back to the office, “I will never feel compelled to stay late on a Friday afternoon again.”   

Embracing change

Graham found that with the shift in workforce, she finally got people to take her concerns with data privacy and security more seriously. Riedel added that data literacy is now a part of everyone’s KPIs.

Automation was also a hot topic for the panel. Riedel said she struggles with finding people who have both a welcoming personality and the willingness to do repetitive tasks over and over again, and said, “My dream of the future is more automation.” Johnson Meyers agreed, giving the example of successfully automating how people request data from her company and adding, “Anything you can automate should be automated — there are so many sources of information coming at us all the time.” Shimek noted it’s been surprising to see the interest in AI for everyone from other departments who wouldn’t usually have wanted to be included in the conversation. 

LoSacco took a slightly different tack, saying that the key to building the legal dream team of the future was retaining the people you value and need. “If you’re in a position of trying to retain people and you’re asking, ‘What should I do to retain this person?’, shame on you,” he said. “You should know [what will motivate a specific employee]: an off-cycle raise, a promotion, attending a conference. The people who leave your organization are people with the best opportunities. That’s your top talent.”

(LoSacco also noted that in light of COVID and employees re-evaluating their priorities and purpose, resulting in the Great Resignation, the focus on retention was a new area for legal departments. He surmised, “I don’t think this panel discussion would have happened in 2019.”)

Broadly, the panel agreed that focusing on the positive was essential for employee retention and engagement, whether that meant an easy-to-navigate employee rewards program, starting every meeting with something positive, or adopting technology to make their lives easier.

While useful, intuitive tech can make a difference for team happiness, the adoption process (which was discussed at nearly every Legalweek panel) can be challenging. Each panelist had slightly different advice for successful tech adoption. LoSacco discouraged top-down impositions, instead advocating for taking a more human approach to finding where the resistance is. Johnson Meyers recommended extensive employee polling on what tech they were using and what training they needed to find the best path forward. Riedel tried to make herself always available for any questions to show solidarity in going through adoption together.. Shimek warned that it only takes a few bad experiences for someone to feel burned by a tool, and to focus the team on the overarching outcome to accomplish by adopting the tech. 

What’s ahead for in-house teams

The panel ended with predictions for the future:

Riedel: “So many things are going to spring up out of this necessity of working remotely.”

Graham: “I already thought the cloud was important, but I think it’s going to be even more so. I’m not going to pretend like I have any idea what’s going to happen in five years because I’m blown away by what happened last year. The focus on data will continue to be important — where is the data and who has control of it. Is outside counsel controlling the data or are you?”

LoSacco: “Whatever the technology is, how do we make sure legal has a seat at the table? We need to determine our obligations for ediscovery/retention/production.”

Johnson Meyers: “I think more self-service is in our future, whether we like it or not. Hopefully data classification will get a lot better so we can preserve what we need to preserve.”

Shimek: “In-house teams’ focus on outcomes will only continue to grow. I anticipate an increased effort being spent on monitoring and reporting on activity results like data security and accessibility, decreasing outside counsel spend, and boosting team productivity.”

For additional takeaways from this year’s Legalweek, read our “4 Legal Trends Everyone Was Talking About at Legalweek 2022” blog.

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Erin Russell

Erin Russell is the senior communications manager at DISCO. She has extensive experience covering tech and AI as a journalist and editor, and her bylines include Texas Monthly, Eater, and Austin Business Journal.