When I think about my first year in a large Manhattan firm, it brings to mind an odd mix of humility, humor, and amazement. How was I, a history major with absolutely no experience in the business world, suddenly a Wall Street corporate lawyer? Perhaps all of those after-school hours in high school behind a department store register really did pay off!
As a young associate, I often wondered why so many hours were spent doing work that seemed so inefficient? Did I really need seven years of higher education and six figures of tuition debt to learn to copy and collate distributions and proofread documents? There had to be a bigger picture—and thankfully there was.
One of my first assignments was to a corporate team responsible for issuing mortgage-backed securities from a shelf registration. I spent endless days and nights hand-marking prospectuses to reflect the terms of a new issuance, and then proofreading these documents as they were returned from the printer. It was often tedious, mind-numbing work, but if you got it wrong, there were very real consequences for your clients (and for your future as an attorney in this market). Thinking about this process now, I am forever thankful to the senior associate who taught me to use this time to learn—learn what I was reading, why it was changing, how it could be better, and most importantly, why it all mattered.
Over the years, I have reflected on this experience as a reminder of how important it is for us to not only consider our day-to-day legal issues, but to also take a step back and look at the larger picture. With that in mind, I often think about today’s inefficiencies in legal, and how can we best to tackle them now.
As in-house counsel, we have a million priorities such as increasing efficiency, reducing legal spend, and understanding and mitigating risk around ever-changing legal issues in a global marketplace. Successful navigation of each of these issues requires insight into our unique corporate risk on a macro level. When I speak with my peers about this, one issue that is inevitably raised is how to ensure we have all the information needed to accomplish this. More specifically, how do we best harness and access the constantly growing mass of contractual and other unstructured data within our organizations?
With the advent and refinement of e-discovery in the litigation world, we saw the benefits of pairing technology with legal practice. As a result, projects that seemed impossible became the norm.
Thankfully, similar change is now evolving in the corporate legal space. Properly pairing technology with people and process makes us better advocates for our clients. Having the ability to access information quickly, efficiently and fluidly helps us do our jobs and do them well.
Automated extraction and review of data within contracts and other document types is a great example of this pairing. Just as I can no longer imagine countless nights sitting at a printer, we as a profession will soon look back to the practice of manual discovery and review of our unstructured data, and realize how inefficient, ineffective, expensive, and antiquated that was.
As in-house counsel, we owe it to our clients to understand, advocate, and utilize the resources that are available to us so that we may access and weave thorough, well-substantiated facts through our legal analysis and provide the best counsel possible to our organizations.
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