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How tech is shaking up how private practice and corporate counsel work together

The continued evolution of technology, including and especially generative artificial intelligence, is having a profound impact on the way in which external providers work with in-house legal teams.

user iconEmma Musgrave 30 January 2024 Corporate Counsel
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Speaking on a recent episode of LawTech Talks, Piper Alderman national managing partner Tony Britten-Jones said that while there’s a strong temptation for firms to utilise technology such as ChatGPT to fill resourcing and/or capability gaps, it is important to consider the knock-on effects.

“I think the main thing is to have an open and supportive mind and say to various divisions within the firm, ‘We are happy for you to experiment with this’ [however], obviously you need to be a little careful from a risk management perspective, and you don’t want people going too far out,” he explained.

“We’ve seen that hallucinogenic aspect of some of the ChatGPT inputs that you put in, and then you get back some apparently credible but actually not that accurate answers from it. So, we need to be a little careful.”


Also joining Mr Britten-Jones on the episode was Piper Alderman’s chief operating officer, Chris McLean, who said he has witnessed generative AI technology becoming more widely used in the corporate counsel space. This has had a significant impact on how the firm effectively works with in-house lawyers.

“They’re becoming more sophisticated in terms of how they deal with us … I think they’re being pushed internally to become more resource effective and to manage their spend better, and so they’re pushing that back onto law firms. And there’s also a bunch of software that’s now being given to them, and they’re starting to use that [which] allows them to more effectively manage their interrelationships with us,” Mr McLean said.

“So many in-house counsel are requiring us to use their forms of portals or their forms of software, and so we’re having to structure our invoices and narratives and things to fit that. But also, they’re instructing us in certain ways and using software to instruct us. So, I think they’re becoming a lot more sophisticated in terms of how they manage their corporate counsel function.

“I think internally they’re also doing that more and more because they’re being asked to charge back their time across the business, and they’re being asked to track what they’re doing, how they’re doing it, where they’re spending their time. And so rather than the more traditional function where they could just give general advice, they’re now having to justify their existence more and becoming more of a law firm within the business.”

This shake-up is a natural part of a continued evolution in how private practice has worked with general counsel in the past, according to Mr Britten-Jones.

“My observation over the years has been that the in-house counsel teams look to the law firms to obviously support them, but come up with better ways of doing it and doing that more efficiently. And I think this is just another part of that evolution.

“They’ll be looking to us to show them how we can provide a service that they value as efficiently and effectively as we can, and we should be able to do it more efficiently and more effectively than we have in the past as a result of these developments in technology.”

Going forward, it’s vital lawyers keep the communication lines open and transparent with in-house counsel to determine how they can be best supported.

“I suppose the big question lawyers should be asking the in-house counsel is, what are their pain points? Where is the pressure coming from for them? Are they being asked to do more with less resources? Are they being asked to do a broader scope of work?” Mr McLean said.

“Some of them, like from my experience being in-house, you’ll have a situation like contract reviews. If they’re being overwhelmed with contract reviews and, as a law firm, they can’t necessarily outsource all of them to you. But how can you work with them to set up processes internally where they can do that more effectively and allow them to get back to the work they want to do?

“So, it is really just having that discussion with in-house people, working out where their pain points are at the moment and how we can either assist them to set up internal processes or work with them more effectively.

“When they’re giving us work, how do they want it done? How do they want it back? Do they have particular time frames or formats to do it in? Do they have systems they want to use to interact with us, [and] as I said, some of them do. So, I think it is [vital to have] that conversation and being very open as to what their drivers are.”

In the same episode, Mr Britten-Jones and Mr McLean discussed how law firms can best remain relevant as in-house legal teams undergo such operational transformations.

NB: This transcript has been edited slightly for publishing purposes. You can listen to the full episode here: