all change? not all at once

Richard Brent|Head of content, Briefing

The Briefing team has already heard a lot about some of the perceived risks (and yes, plenty on the hoped-for rewards) when feeding generative artificial intelligence with lovely legal work — the need to manage access and consistent accuracy of output, and protect precious information in the process. Leaders must balance not pouring cold water on understandable excitement around new technology — including emanating from their clients — with the caution it’s often said lawyers are only too eager to love. Perhaps one day they’ll be pushing those same lawyers to use large language models more and more.

But here’s a new one (for me at least) — is there a risk that when and how to move on Gen AI is now sucking up just so much legal business energy that other pressing priorities can’t compete?

One attendee raised this at a recent challenge-sharing brunch we co-hosted with a couple of our good friends at NetDocuments — and it tied neatly to a wider point for many in the room about the common challenge of prioritising and resourcing the right change.

There’s a range of attitudes to AI to be engaged with in firms — and those at the coalface are fielding lots of client questions about it. So, when will we see what you’ve got? And — presumably — when will that attractive efficiency saving be passed on?

It’s always best to manage expectations. But what about focusing on changing the data quality AI will be crunching in any department? How about serving up that data to real live decision-makers in better ways? Or, as one said, are they spending the necessary amount of money and business leadership time on the strategy for facing increasingly complex cyberattacks? It’s a fair point. Among 14 potential organisational challenges listed out for strategic leaders to identify as “most concerning” in this year’s Briefing/HSBC Law firm strategy and investment research, cybersecurity came second only to keeping hold of talent.

Tech teams are seeing a plethora of generative AI ’add-ins’ to consider the case for — all adding to this potential risk that future tech wishes might distract from what simply must be done today.

Then, are the best new business ideas surfacing so their potential as a priority is properly assessed? One innovation leader pointed out that crowdsourcing from the ranks — as several have done — risked some submissions to innovation initiatives not getting enough exposure to stand a fighting chance. Now, each is assigned an ‘idea coach’, both to consider how it might realistically be tested and to clarify that all are taken seriously.

Perhaps the way budgets for such work are structured might need revising to give them a better chance or build more positive buy-in. What role should lawyers really play in the effort — just identifying ‘what’ they’d change, or also weighing in on ‘how’ to get there? And we heard the observation that some law firms have moved to decentralise their innovation teams — but then how to handle potential system proliferation?

Not to mention that innovation should have current process improvement in its sights as much as the quest for fresh product. And of course, even where a proof-of-concept makes it off the ground, ultimate success comes with measurable use over time, producing clear commercial or productivity gains. One leader at a large international law firm said a top priority was mining more data about how its tools were used — discerning the tangible difference they’ve made. Perhaps development or communication effort should be diverted elsewhere if this metric disappoints.

Every project going doesn’t need to be pursued at all costs. Clearly, that’s not to say Gen AI shouldn’t be an item on your strategic decision-making agenda — but innovation must always find a way to prioritise.


The September issue of Briefing hears from Dan Hauck, chief product officer at NetDocuments, about harnessing ‘responsible AI’ to help firms build a set of labour-saving apps within its platform.


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