The Legal Industry in a Moment of Time: Insights from AdvanceLaw’s 2023 GC Summit West
Navigating the challenges and opportunities of transforming legal talent and technology in a transformed world.
The legal industry is at a pivotal moment in time, when years of transformation have arrived with the significance we usually associate with decades. This was the consensus at AdvanceLaw’s 2023 General Counsel Summit West, where GCs from leading companies across industries and regions joined together to learn from data, trade market insights, and address shared leadership and management challenges — all in confidentiality and contribution to a shared belief that with a better understanding, rooted in data and experience, the legal market can improve.
Below, explore a recap of some of the top themes and takeaways from the west coast General Counsel Summit. You can find a full breakdown of this year’s 2023 GC survey results in our 2023 AdvanceLaw Summit Survey Report.
From Crisis Mode to Culture Shock: The Real Impact of Remote Work on Relationships and Wellbeing
We’re experiencing a different workplace than what we saw in 2020, the last time many of these GCs and firms gathered together. While there is empirical evidence dating back to Jane Jacobs of a direct, measurable, and strong connection between being together in person and material productivity, we’ve also seen companies learn the hard way that employees who feel strongly about remote work will go to great lengths to keep it. Take Amazon’s return-to-work mandate, for example, which 14,000 employees are now protesting.
There are arguments to be made for both sides, but one thing is certain: a remote and hybrid environment is our new normal (at least for now). Some of the top-of-mind challenges GCs are navigating as a result of that reality include:
- Preserving workplace culture — Responsiveness and buy-in are critical, and teams have to feel a real sense of trust, which can be difficult to build without knowing each other or seeing each other face to face.
- Productivity — Meetings are no longer free of distractions, and people are constantly pinging one another on chat platforms. This means that legal professionals are always on the clock, and it’s difficult to draw boundaries between work and personal life.
- Well-being – Lawyers work under intense pressure, and they are more prone to burnout, exhaustion, and disengagement than professionals in other industries. A remote environment minimizes time to decompress between meetings or after work (like the commute home, for example), leaving legal professionals prone to working long hours and risking burnout.
Our 2023 survey results explore the data behind these challenges and the steps legal professionals are taking to address them head-on, a few of which include:
- Optimizing 1:1 meeting time
- Setting clearer team goals and development tracks
- Setting parameters for legal professionals to decompress and disconnect from work
- Increasing the focus on legal professional’s most important work
While all are important, that last one is key, because it ties into some important trends we’re seeing in digital transformation.
Emerging Technologies are Gaining Momentum — But so are the Challenges They’re Solving For
Much like there was no urgency to flip to video conferencing or remote work until Covid forced it, there was little-or-no urgency to adopt evolving technology solutions within the legal industry until (what felt like) the sudden appearance of readily-available AI tools.
Interestingly, this was the most prominent divide in our data across this year’s survey: A large group of GCs intend to deploy some AI applications, while just as many have no plans to do so, with just a small number having something in place or in progress. While tools like contract lifecycle management, bill review software, legal hold, policy management, and workflow automation offer the promise of streamlined workflows and more time for higher-value priorities, there’s still hesitancy about whether these tools can actually work — or if they’re safe.
Which brings us to cybersecurity, a topic that remains a top concern for general counsel and the legal industry as a whole, even more so now as cyber attacks are becoming increasingly sophisticated and complex. GoDaddy, the world’s largest domain register, recently disclosed in its 10-K and in a public statement that it had discovered a breach dating back two and a half years that involved not only stolen source code, but also malware that “intermittently redirected random customer websites to malicious sites.” For clarity, that means even if a customer put in your company’s url precisely, that breach could take them to an entirely different site, breaking down the entire system of trust on which the Internet is built.
From financial loss to reputational damage and operational disruptions, the consequences of one Google search or click have made it clear that there is a need for more resilient, proactive risk management. This is especially true in the legal industry, where the sheer amount of proprietary and otherwise sensitive data has made it a top sector target for cybercrime.
Ramping Up Key Initiatives While Navigating Regulatory Changes
Findings from Gartner’s latest Board of Directors Survey reveal that 87% of business leaders expect to increase their investments in sustainability over the next two years.
This data backs what we’re hearing from GCs — but amid an increased focus on Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance (ESG), new challenges arise in how companies quantify results and stay compliant. Regulatory shifts like the SEC’s new Climate Change rule unveiled in March, which would require publicly-traded companies to disclose to investors how their operations affect the climate and contribute to carbon emissions, add an additional layer of complexity.
As a result, GCs today are taking a more strategic approach to key initiatives like:
- Pay transparency
- Data privacy & more
Bringing it all Together: The Right Combination of Tools and Timing
The above are just a few of the trends discussed at this year’s General Counsel Summit. Others include: outside costs, litigation concerns, social unrest, geopolitical instability — the list goes on.
Whatever your particular mix of challenges is in 2023, it’s a crowded plate, and you’re going to need to rely on and turn to some key skills and tools to navigate them effectively. Get the data (and the context) behind where the challenges and opportunities lay ahead, along with the insights on how some of today’s GCs are planning to leverage those shifts, in our 2023 AdvanceLaw Survey Report.
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