Why Corporate Legal Departments Should Lean Into AI

Artificial intelligence will increasingly influence the work of corporate attorneys.

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Like many executives, I’m both excited and cautious about the opportunities artificial intelligence (AI) presents.

We have all heard it said that those organizations that “get it right” will have a tremendous advantage over those who don’t. But there isn’t a whole lot of clarity around what “getting it right” actually means.

While there’s always a lot to consider when investing in new technology, investing in AI can reap transformational results that will change how we do business and our individual day-to-day experience. Yes, a thorough evaluation of any potential AI tool is essential.

Still, I caution organizations — that seek to avoid being upended by disruption — against spending more time assessing risks than being proactive and innovative when it comes to developing the use cases for harnessing potential benefits.

Generative AI: Where the Legal Community Stands

Generative AI (Gen-AI), the technology that’s fueled much of the recent conversation, is a type of “machine learning” that creates content in response to user prompts within the span of a few seconds. As the CEO of a professional society comprised of chief legal officers and in-house counsel, I have been curious about how the legal profession may be engaged with Gen-AI.

A study by the Thomson Reuters Institute, “ChatGPT and Generative AI within Corporate Law Departments,” looked at how legal departments view the technology and found that 82% of corporate departments believe ChatGPT and generative AI can be applied to legal work. In comparison, only 54% believe it should be used this way. A related survey of law firm lawyers found similar results, with 80% agreeing that the tech can be used for legal work, with approximately half saying it should be.

Legal teams are adapting — at least related to investing in technology generally. According to the Association of Corporate Counsel’s (ACC) 2023 Legal Technology Report for In-house Legal Professionals, 78% of respondents consider legal technology a “must have,” while 41% of respondents to the 2023 ACC Chief Legal Officers Survey stated intentions to invest in it. However, when it comes to generative AI specifically, the audience of champions seems to grow a lot quieter.

Privacy, Security, and Validation at the Forefront

Privacy, data security, validation, and ethical concerns remain prevalent, especially with tools like ChatGPT. As a result, we have begun to see new regulations attempt to provide guardrails on the use of AI, including President Biden’s Executive Order on AI and the European Union’s AI legislation earlier this year.

Further, some are worried that technological advances may create a fast track to unemployment, fears that are not ungrounded.

Another study, Generative AI and the Future of Work in America, predicts that almost a third of all hours worked in the United States could be automated by the year 2030. Similarly, a PwC UK report, which analyzed data from over 200,000 existing jobs across 29 countries, found that 30% of jobs could be automated in the same timeframe.

What Does This Mean for CEOs?

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to figuring out the path forward. However, organizations must understand the tech they’re considering implementing and be transparent about its likely effect on the workforce.

As I reflect on how to lead my own organization, I rely upon a set of six habits that I believe are foundational for success in addressing any new challenge. They are outlined in Take Six: Essential Habits To Own Your Destiny, Overcome Challenges, And Unlock Opportunities, which I published with ForbesBooks in the midst of the pandemic.

1. Take Stock

First, we must take stock to determine where we are now, where we want to go, and how AI can help us get there. We should use AI to enable us to get where we want to go faster or what we seek to achieve sooner, not to chart the roadmap and steer for us.

2. Take Risks

Lawyers take pride in their ability to mitigate and minimize risk, but to get to where we want to go with something as potentially transformative as generative AI, they must step outside their comfort zones and resist being reactive. Innovation requires risk and proactivity.

3. Take Credit

Many of us are using generative AI, but not enough of us are sharing how it has helped our companies innovate and improve. It’s not all “secret sauce.” How has AI contributed to the development or amplification of a winning strategy? Let’s talk about collaborating with technology the “right way” so that moving from software implementation to a more integrated and forward-looking AI approach becomes less scary.

4. Take a Hand (and Give One Too)

By giving voice to your successes, mistakes, and lessons learned, you start to develop best practices that can be shared with your networks. Continue to develop this community of mentees and, most importantly, advisors with whom you can discuss “best use” scenarios. How can you incorporate something that worked for a peer into your approach or process?

5. Offer Upskilling

Further, create development opportunities for those concerned about AI’s impact on their job security. Invest in their up- and re-skilling, offering opportunities to work alongside AI-based tools as collaborators and force multipliers.

This series from the Wall Street Journal on how AI will change organizational structures offers additional tips, including developing an AI Code of Conduct that limits what technology can be used for and ensuring that staff working with AI have been trained to validate data, confirm if outputs are ethical and correct, and know how to craft the right prompts (i.e., “prompt engineering” per organizational values).

6. Take a Stand (and) Take Command

We’re all curious about how AI will continue to shape our lives: what a wonderful opportunity to acquire knowledge to help your company meet and exceed its goals more efficiently. Effective leadership is authentic and has little to do with your current title or position. Step up, show initiative, and be forward-thinking.

Preparing for the Future

AI is not yet replacing us, but its impact is significant. We must ensure that our organizations are not left behind and are adequately positioned to harness AI in ways that elevate our practice and business relevance.

As the CEO of a global professional society for corporate lawyers, I urge this community and similar professional sectors that can be overly reliant upon precedent and the status quo to embrace and lean in.

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