Mary O'Carroll on legal operations at CLOC
Mary O'Carroll on legal operations at CLOC

Putting Common Sense Into Motion: Mary O’Carroll at CLOC

Kelli Negro |

As we mentioned in a previous blog post, workflow automation brings big benefits to any enterprise. That said, it can be uniquely advantageous for a law firm or legal department.

Why? First off, the costs and consequences of delays or errors caused by using manual, paper-based processes can have extraordinary impact in that kind of setting. Automating those workflows won’t only eliminate errors and costs, but create savings that can be passed on to clients, as well as liberating resources to do more important things than manage workflows.

Most of the legal operations professionals we’ve had the privilege to work with see those advantages, and more. But there are still a good many others who, in spite of being enthusiastic about the upside of workflow automation, haven’t been able to make the move: they’re held back by resource constraints, or budgets, or implementation concerns, or even concerns about whether these solutions will take away jobs.

10 Highlights from CLOC Institute 2017 - Mary O’Carroll on legal operations

So Mary Shen O’Carroll’s closing remarks at the CLOC Institute 2017 conference give us both needed clarity and a call to action in regard to the effects of technology and automation on the legal operations landscape.

The essential energy of human connections

It’s an dynamic, motivating moment to be a member of CLOC, and a proponent of technology in the legal workplace. Especially when many of people Mary was addressing have been lonely pioneers or outliers for a long time:

At the end of last year’s Institute, someone said to me that the energy of the event felt like that of a religious movement. It’s so true. Just yesterday I found myself in the front row of the Big Thinker’s session thinking, “Amen” and “Hallelujah!” I feel so connected to the people here.

I think the connections in this group are so strong, and so special, because of the long road we took to get here. For so long, we were all off own being solo warriors on these isolated journeys. Each of us paving our own way, figuring it out alone, and trying to define the future one company at a time, one problem at a time.

Despite the fact CLOC Institute was a conference about tech, the people involved and the support they offer each other are still the most important cornerstones of this change, especially as they begin to explore this fresh frontier:

None of us have all of this figured out. We can admit to each other that our departments are way behind where we should be in some areas. And just this week, we had speakers on stage admitting that they don’t have all the answers. And it’s that vulnerability, that open honesty with each other that breaks our own walls down fast and connects us.

This job is hard, and we are met with resistance every step of the way. But we aren’t on our own anymore. Now we have each other, we have the energy and ideas of the community. And that makes all the difference.

But being human beings, we’re prone to inertia that can be the biggest hurdle in driving beneficial change, whether “disruptive” or not:

At the end of the day, it comes down to people. Getting someone to change their mind … that can be the biggest wall of them all.

“Disruptors” like ridesharing companies Lyft and Uber didn’t succeed by delivering breakout technologies: They flourished by converting human attitudes to embrace those technologies.

… It was figuring out the human element. They had to find the answer to: “How do we persuade people to get into the cars of complete strangers? Without thinking that they are going to be robbed, kidnapped or murdered?!”

It turned out that mindset, which felt so entrenched, could be changed. There’s a wall there and once you push on it, you can break through. And once broken, there’s no turning back. You realize those walls are paper thin and no one is trying to put them back up. Once you get people to think it’s safe and convenient to get into the car of a total stranger, then you are golden … and it becomes the new normal faster than you know it.

“Changing the lens” and changing minds

One passage that really caught fire with her audience, who tweeted and posted her words nearly en masse?

We have a saying on my team: Just because it’s obvious doesn’t mean it’s easy. A lot of legal operations is complex, for sure. But a lot of what we do is putting common sense into motion. It is finding a way to do the things that might seem obvious but require massive change. Innovation doesn’t have to mean advanced technology or AI or robot lawyers. Sometimes it just means changing the lens on how something is done and bringing other people to see the world the way you do. And you have to work patiently to convince them.

In her view, the “revolution” at hand is necessary, if only because it’s a matter of “getting more people to do things the right way, instead of just the old way.” The value of CLOC and its leadership has been in resolutely pressing forward, advocating the advances that are crucial to the evolution of legal operations:

I see people willing and ready to rock the boat, to break glass, to get into the right kind of trouble. Get out there and keep trying and trying, testing and testing, until you find something that works.

Everyone is a change agent

Mary summed it all up by offering a call-to-action that touched on an important truth about evolution and advancement in any enterprise, let alone legal operations: the fact that real change succeeds only with the help of many stakeholders:

  • Legal departments need to take bold steps forward in adopting technologies, and resist the urge to avoid change.
  • Law firms should be “first movers” and bring clients into the conversation about introducing these technologies.
  • ASPs, LPOs and LSOs ought to continually remind the community of the possibility of getting great value and great quality, and that there are diverse career paths available.
  • Tech companies must make sure it’s easy for users to show ROI and implement and use their platforms, and should push standardization as a best practice.
  • Law schools should train the next generation of leaders to look forward, not backward.

Her final words about CLOC and the people involved in pushing for change weren’t hyperbole, but resonated as fact:

This is the power of a community of people connected to a common vision. Together, we are creating the future of the legal industry.

Workflow automation, or A.I., or any technology with the potential to create sea-changes in the legal business might be seen as a threat to tried-and-true traditions.

When there’s education and collaboration in making sure these technologies serve the needs of the professionals and clients involved (and not the other way around), though, then any “disruption” they foster will be good for everybody.

But, as Mary O’Carroll pointed out, that requires open minds and a willingness to listen, and the commitment of tech providers and tech advocates in groups like CLOC to patiently but steadfastly teach and guide others so that “revolution” becomes reality.