Bringing Workflows and AI to Life for Legal Ops: A Conversation with HBR  

Jean Yang, co-founder and vice president of Onit’s AI Center of Excellence, recently chatted with Amy Good, vice president of client engagement at HBR Consulting, about the revolutionary potential of artificial intelligence to provide an ecosystem of workflow solutions — and what they can do for you. (You can view the entire video here).

Generative AI has become a modern-age gold rush, taking this brave new world — and its collective imagination — by storm. Legal operations is no exception. Integrating workflows with artificial intelligence (AI) can unlock a new level of efficiency for legal departments, especially at a time when any definition of success extends to driving innovation while containing costs.

According to Amy Good, the adoption of AI-powered workflows tends to follow three stages:

  1. A corporate legal department notices an abundance of manual tasks can be automated.
  2. As legal service requests (LSRs) pour in, legal leaders realize more connectivity to other parts of the organization is warranted and they implement a matter management system.
  3. Others build upon that foundation, continuing to improve legal tech throughout the organization’s journey.

Still, customers often wonder: What can AI do for us? Where — how — do we begin? Good’s advice? “Look for a place of demand.”

A Game-Changer for Efficiency

Chartered principally as protector of the business, it is Legal’s purpose to examine every detail of a deal for compliance and risk mitigation. However, the need to respond faster is paramount in this macroeconomic climate. The 2023 Enterprise Legal Reputation (ELR) Report uncovered that only a third (35%) of enterprise employees perceive their legal team as very responsive. Jean Yang noted that this is an area of opportunity to do more work in an efficient manner.

“Some clients have multiple places of requests from outside law departments routing to the center of excellence (COE) or administrative pools,” elaborated Good. These might include outside counsel vendor onboarding, approval requests, or information collection, such as structured reporting on diversity or vendor performance. “Often they are looking for self-service — any processes to fully automate, like non-disclosure agreements (NDAs).” These might include outside counsel vendor onboarding, approval requests, or information collection, such as structured reporting on diversity or vendor performance.

“We hear that, too. Attorneys don’t want to spend time on low-level contracts, but they need to get done,” Yang concurred.

This is where workflow automation and AI step in. With contract management an essential aspect of legal operations, constant demands, requests, and “fire drills” land on attorneys’ desks.

When there is too much important work to do and not enough time, AI adds intelligence to workflow by automatically populating LSR fields. According to Yang, “AI can remove friction and engage with processes and tools by really knowing how to route things to the appropriate person at the appropriate time with the appropriate level of priority.”

Being able to extract metadata on a mass basis to understand the information in contracts reduces time-consuming, manual, and not particularly invigorating tasks, Good agreed. In turn, this significantly streamlines workflows and elevates efficiency, freeing up Legal’s valuable time for more strategic, visionary, and materially impactful work.

Connecting Workflows and AI

At the 2023 CLOC Global Institute, Yang — along with a distinguished panel — demonstrated three practical and impactful ways of how the legal space can optimize AI: reviewing invoices for compliance and value with spend management, using AI as a co-pilot to run playbooks and perform legacy agreement extraction for contract review, and auto-generating LSRs from plain text communications like emails.

Following the standing-room-only presentation, seven in 10 (70%) legal professionals admitted to feeling positive about AI. And in HBR’s latest Law Department Survey, 29% of respondents state they already implement workflow automation, while 26% use AI for at least one use case — up 10 and 11 percentage points, respectively, from the previous year.

This revolution may have been sparked by ChatGPT and other AI language models, such as Google’s Bard, truly bringing AI to the mainstream.

“Generative AI has strong legal comprehension and can generate billions of interactions,” Yang said, pointing out that GPT-4, the latest version, even passed the Uniform Bar Exam. Though some legal practitioners remain terrified this means AI will usurp jobs, there are limitations to the technology — including ‘hallucinations,’ the term for factually incorrect or meaningless information generated because of encoding and decoding errors.

Yang acknowledges that while generative AI will never be 100%, by understanding legal challenges and pain points AI can now feasibly and realistically assist with a range of processes — from leveraging immediate insights from spend and contract data to building apps more quickly.

“In the past year, AI seems to be coming together in a way it hasn’t before,” Good marveled. This includes data sets and tech infrastructure to make workflows faster, smarter, and more transformational.

The Future is Now

As a subject matter expert (SME) herself, Yang suggested exploring various use cases when asked about the best way to approach AI.

Good seconded experimentation, sharing that ChatGPT has often helped her transcend writer’s block and describing it like a conversation with a nonjudgmental friend to move you to the next step.

“Start small and gain momentum,” she advised.

Similarly, both emphasized the importance of working with vendors who are continuously future-proofing. One caveat? Always work with vendors with commercial licenses.

In the end, though, it doesn’t matter where your organization is today — some companies are already ‘there’ with AI, while others are still being cautious, watching and learning.

“The key,” Yang said, “is to learn and engage with what this tech means: Get demos, play along, see what’s coming. Because the hype is real. AI is here, and it will be impactful in many ways.”

Learn more about how Onit’s AI-enabled products digitally transform the contract lifecycle.

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