When I qualified, the role of the in-house lawyer was not a particularly significant one. They handled matters of formal corporate compliance and gave preliminary advice on matters with a legal element, but they mainly acted as the interface between a company and its external lawyers.
You would not then have expected to see a report whose title links general counsel with “risk, culture and technology challenges”, with the implication that corporate lawyers are involved in pretty well every aspect of corporate management.
That is what we now have, however, from the technology segment of FTI Consulting and Relativity. The report’s full title is The General Counsel Report 2022: Leading with Endurance Through Risk, Culture and Technology Challenges, and it was compiled on the basis of surveys and interviews conducted by the doyen of legal and technology consulting, Ari Kaplan of Ari Kaplan Advisors.
Wendy King, a senior managing director at FTI Technology, is someone I have interviewed several times, mainly for her acute observations on the role of general counsel. She is quoted in the press release as using the word “endurance” as the dominant theme for the past few months. She adds that “in-house counsel have risen to calls to become strategic business partners within their organizations and fulfill responsibilities across an ever-expanding job description.”
What stands out is the extent to which technology matters in this context. The key findings cover data protection (and the regulatory scrutiny which goes with it), the readiness (or not) to face expanding data privacy obligations, and the ever-wider use of collaboration platforms, cloud file sharing, and new data sources. It is hard to think of any area of business activity which is not touched by technology which brings substantial benefits as well as risks – a point which the report emphasises.
David Horrigan, discovery counsel and legal education director at Relativity, notes the transition of in-house lawyers from being ‘The Department of No’ to becoming ‘The Department of Everything.’ That, David Horrigan says, goes well beyond both law and technology and into environmental issues, inclusion and diversity and “things most lawyers probably never contemplated in law school”.
It is not just the in-house lawyers whose roles have broadened. The companies which provide technology software and services, such as FTI Consulting and Relativity, have in turn expanded the scope of their coverage. Ten years ago, such companies were concerned only with the benefits of technology use. Now they (or at least FTI and Relativity) have expanded their own reach to embrace wider topics which matter to their clients beyond merely using software.
It is not a coincidence that both of these companies are also heavily involved in education – not just legal education but in preparing people to work in an environment where law, business and technology are intertwined. David Horrigan’s point about the things which lawyers “never contemplated in law school” identifies the point where change must begin.