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Corporate Legal Departments Are Seizing the GenAI Opportunity

March 22, 2024 (3 min read)

By Geoffrey D. Ivnik, Esq. | Director of Large Markets, LexisNexis 

Every corner of the legal profession has explored the potential uses of generative artificial intelligence (Gen AI) technology in the past year, but the fastest adopters have been corporate legal professionals.

The LexisNexis 2024 Investing in Legal Innovation Survey: The Rise of Gen AI at Top Firms & Corporations surveyed executives in corporate legal departments at Fortune 1000 companies — as well as managing partners and other senior leaders at large law firms — to better understand the business impact of Gen AI technology on the legal industry.

Our survey found that corporate executives report the highest degree of current Gen AI usage (50%) and that 68% of corporate respondents approve of the use of Gen AI for legal matters.

“In our legal department, we’ve made it a priority to harness the power of AI and really incorporate it across every practice group in our department,” said Lydia Petrakis, senior corporate counsel and digital strategist at Microsoft, in comments during a recent Wall Street Journal event for corporate executives and law firm managing partners. “We’re looking to accelerate quickly in adopting AI and we have fantastic support for our initiative.”

Petrakis explained that her team started their Gen AI adoption journey by talking with everyone in the corporate legal department to understand their potential use cases for the technology, their needs and their pain points. Their focus now is on leveraging the power of Gen AI to automate tasks and workflows, providing their in-house legal professionals with more time for the complex and creative work that lawyers do best.

Kevin Fumai, assistant general counsel for Oracle, advised his in-house colleagues to approach Gen AI adoption from both a “top-down” and a “bottom-up” approach. The top-down is important to create buy-in from executive teams while at the same time establishing an internal culture in which AI is seen as important, and the bottom-up is critical in order to harness the ideas and suggestions from staff on the front lines to make sure the applications are targeted for the company’s unique needs.

“Those reasons of ‘why’ are critical because you can personalize the efficiency of AI and attorneys can understand how they can maximize its capabilities for their particular practice areas,” said Fumai.

The panelists noted that most observers view Gen AI applications as falling into two buckets: to enhance existing services or to cut costs. But from a corporate legal department perspective, a broader way to think about the adoption of Gen AI may be the key to unlocking its full potential: How can this technology free up our lawyers so they have more time to think about complex business and legal issues?

“I think the opportunity to remove some of the more repetitive, lower-complexity work and replace it with better work is a pretty tremendous opportunity,” said Justin Grad, director and associate general counsel for Amazon Web Services. “The legal industry is so well-positioned to leverage these new technologies.”

Corporate legal executives who are leading the way in the adoption of Gen AI tools agree that the technology is an ideal fit for the day-to-day rigor of their operations.

“This is a transformative era and a technology that is ripe for our legal professional use cases,” said Petrakis. “What it can do is help automate so much of our tasks and our workflows to give us the time to focus on that advocacy where our subject matter expertise is really needed. This really is a transformative era, it is happening. The wait and see approach won’t work, you’re going to get left behind.”

This article was based on one of the panel discussions at the Wall Street Journal event, “What Every Managing Partner & C-Suite Leader Needs to Know About Legal AI,” which took place on January 31st in New York City. Watch the entire session, Generative AI & The General Counsel Perspective, for more insights from industry leaders.