A record crowd of ~ 2,500 legal professionals from 25 countries gathered in Las Vegas this month for the 2023 Corporate Legal Operations Consortium Global Legal Institute (CGI). Most attendees observed that the general energy of this year’s conference was higher than at any similar industry event in recent memory. The conference once again focused on transformations in legal operations, training, technology, and innovation, combining favorites from previous programs with new engagement features and education formats.
HBR has been part of CGI since its onset, and we were back in force in 2023. Our team members enjoyed chatting with dozens of clients and colleagues in both formal and informal networking settings. It was a special blast to hang out with more than 160 friends to enjoy a footloose night of fun at the HBR Mingle Beach Bash! (If you were there, we hope you had as much fun as we did.)
We were also delighted to take part in a unique new event feature this year called Braindates: knowledge-sharing conversations in a small-group setting in the CGI Braindate Lounge. The four Braindates our team members hosted proved to be illuminating conversations and excellent opportunities to discuss solutions to timely industry challenges with like-minded professionals. Our sessions included “Setting up a metrics program – key benchmarks and reports to drive value”; “Navigating the choppy waters of change – 20 tips for successful change management”; “Enhancing and balancing outside counsel programs, relationship, and market cost alignment”; and “Resource optimization – how to build a legal team with the right resources doing the right work.” Our HBR experts would be happy to share additional information on the content of these sessions for anyone who wasn’t able to attend one of the Braindates.
There were dozens of additional topics making the rounds at CGI this year, but here are five themes we observed:
- The rise and responsible use of AI. Discussions about the emergence of artificial intelligence (AI) in the form of commercially available tools — such as ChatGPT — were everywhere and the topic influenced nearly every session, beginning with the opening session, where CLOC president Mike Haven, head of legal operations at Intel, highlighted the rise of generative AI and Large Language Models, imploring legal operations professionals to find careful, sensible, and ethical use cases for this technology.
We talked with a number of attendees who agree that AI technologies are very promising, but who still have serious questions around the training set that can properly be used for AI tools, how often it should be updated, whether any confidential data is used by these tools, and the accuracy rate once the tools are deployed for more advanced use cases. The consensus goal is for the careful development of AI technologies as the “helpers” that drive corporate legal professionals to the right answers for their questions in a fast and ethically responsible manner.
- Rethinking the transformation of legal ops. Another intriguing discussion thread involved the idea of reframing the way that legal operations professionals think about the “transformation” of their functions within an organization. Jenn McCarron, Netflix’s director of legal operations & technology, highlighted this idea when she challenged attendees to “transform the way they think about transformation.” She pointed out that true transformation is fluid, messy, and collaborative; it is not linear and not something that legal operations departments can typically achieve in a vacuum.
It’s clear that we need to shift our thinking about transformation from focusing solely on organizational structure or a technology roadmap — and instead place our focus on people. If we can use our energy and attention to invest in relationships and the development of human beings on our teams, we can begin to reframe transformation to be more about the people who ultimately make it happen.
- Contracts management and workflow. Once again, the exhibit hall teemed with contracts-related vendors, including a number of new Contract Lifecycle Management (CLM) and related document workflow vendors. By our count, there were nine new CLM software providers this year that weren’t there last year, and the total number of exhibitors with services related to CLM and workflow automation topped 60.
Based on our conversations, many corporate legal professionals are rolling up their sleeves right now to integrate emerging technology solutions into more efficient oversight of contracts. They are intrigued by the potential of AI-powered tools to help them with contract drafting and document review, contract amendments and renewals, and the application of GPT functionality to the data stored in their contract repositories.
- Continued focus on DEI. Another recurring discussion theme this year was how legal operations teams can influence and advance their corporate law departments’ Diversity Equity & Inclusion (DEI) efforts. There was a focus on internal talent management, outside counsel management, and vendor management, building on the progress in recent years to establish DEI as a serious ongoing commitment and not a temporary pandemic-era flash point.
Many sessions included lively and insightful discussions about how our profession can get to a place where there are accepted DEI industry goals, law departments have the proper data needed to measure progress, and corporate legal professionals feel empowered to defend and enforce their DEI expectations. For example, session participants exchanged ideas about: securing good DEI metrics from outside counsel and vendors; rewarding law firms that demonstrate commitment to DEI with more work; rewarding in-house attorneys who help meet DEI goals; and discontinuing relationships with law firms that fail to measure up to DEI expectations.
- Don’t forget the basics. Finally, in all the hoopla around new tools and ideas, CLOC didn’t completely forget foundational corporate legal operations activities, although this year there seemed to be less focus on topics like internal resource management and outside counsel management, Years ago, CLOC developed a legal ops maturity framework, evolved through the years, of which allocating work and managing the internal and external resources performing the work has always been an integral and foundational area. While new technology is exciting, it’s important not to forget the basics.
There are now more than 6,000 members of CLOC across 60 countries worldwide, creating a truly global community of experts who are focused on redefining the business of law in order to set industry standards and practices for the profession. This year’s CGI was such an extraordinary success that CLOC has announced the venue will move to the Aria in Las Vegas for 2024.
We’re proud of having been part of CLOC through the years and we loved the opportunity to engage with our valued clients and colleagues old and new, this year. We look forward to seeing you in Vegas again next year!