Legal Lab 2020: The Technology Session

Kevin Clem | February 11, 2021

Last year was a maelstrom of change—which of course also swept up Legal Lab, HBR Consulting’s annual gathering of leaders from some of the nation’s top law departments and law firms. Rather than the two-day, in-person event that HBR usually hosts, last year Legal Lab turned into as a series of five virtual sessions across multiple weeks.

We embraced flexibility—one of the central themes of Legal Lab 2020—to assemble a range of fun new events with novel formats, including breakout discussions, workshops, and even a virtual beer tasting. In the end, we were inspired by the sense of unity that our participants created as we explored the other two themes of Legal Lab 2020: focusing on clients’ holistic needs and enabling wide-ranging collaboration.

Technology: The Central Pillar

Legal Lab is based around three pillars that every law practice needs: technology, service delivery, and talent. Yet while technology is a pillar unto itself, it is unique in how it also supports the other two, enabling efficient and effective service delivery while supporting talent development.

As a result, the technology session at Legal Lab 2020 sparked a wide-ranging discussion of how much law firms and law departments have disrupted their status quo and advanced their digital transformation over the last year. COVID-19 was the impetus for much of this change, but the never-ending crisis mode has left many legal professionals dragging from innovation fatigue. Yet attorneys have changed substantially in the last year, and, as leaders, we need to encourage them to continue. Our participants considered ways to foster a culture of innovation that would drive continued growth in the face of adversity.

One major topic focused on using technology to support attorneys—not, importantly, to replace them—by automating and productizing repetitive processes. The session involved an in-depth conversation about how to select the right areas for automation and then how to create client-facing products that would effectively free up attorney time for more sophisticated analyses.

Another key discussion involved how to use artificial intelligence (AI) to maximize the value of a law firm or law department’s data. Our speakers emphasized that AI should not be a tool of first resort but should only be considered when there is a clear business case for it. As AI applications require enormous data volumes to learn from, they also present an opportunity for broad-based collaborative efforts, wherein different partners combine their data to build and train an AI system.

Interested in learning more about the conversations at Legal Lab 2020? You can get your copy of the Executive Summary here.