Within the legal sector, the role of in-house counsel is not the most prominent. Law firms are in the limelight, concentrating the best experts in certain areas of law, and are in demand for important litigation. However, there are a large number of lawyers scattered across multinational and mid-sized companies.

Recent advances in artificial intelligence will also impact professionals in corporate legal departments. We are only at the beginning of this story, but some movements are already foreseeable. Daniel Martínez Villegas, Head of Operations and Legal Strategy at Lawyers for Projects, advises such companies on strategy. One of his tasks is to align the legal departments with the company's objectives and to clarify what mandate this area receives from the company. Essentially, it's about designing and implementing a plan to make the work of that department more efficient.

"We define a strategy, that strategy is translated into processes, into a way of doing things, and finally, many of these processes are carried out with the help of technology," says Martínez Villegas about how Lawyers for Projects works. He emphasizes the value that technological tools usually have in achieving the goals set.

In a survey conducted by the Thomson Reuters Institute for the "2024 State of the Corporate Law Department" report, those responsible for such departments predict significant changes. Forty-two percent believe that artificial intelligence (including generative AI) will transform their profession. A further 32% describe the impact of this technology as "high".

Martínez Villegas emphasizes the importance of the moment and generative AI: "It's something different. Ultimately, technology has traditionally helped us to organize ourselves better and to do the same things we used to do, but faster and more immediately. Also, with better organization. But generative artificial intelligence changes this. It does not help you to do things per se; it does not help you to do the same things as before, only faster, but it helps you to create. That is a change. It's no longer about me needing the technology to do the same thing faster; it's about it helping me create new things."

The verb' create' remains to be defined in each profession and context. But the truth is that generative AI marks a before and after. Speaking to Legal Dive, Stuart Fuller, head of legal services at KPMG International, was unequivocal about the role of the new technology: "I think we are going to create a new role in legal departments, that of the modern law librarian. It will be the person who integrates data," he said, referring to the work of selecting, annotating and presenting information.

For companies, the needs remain the same. As before, they must have clear objectives. The type of legal department the company needs can be determined based on this. And this is where the new technology comes in. "AI use cases that previously could not be covered by technology are emerging. For example, think of a company that gets a lot of questions about its business related to the interpretation of regulations, and that has a lot of small contracts that are relatively simple, but everyone has a question about. Before, you almost had to have a lawyer on the phone to answer all those questions," explains Martínez Villegas. "That's a use case that used to be solved with HR, and now you can use a kind of ChatGPT," he adds, referring to the clarifying role that a legal chatbot can play in resolving questions about specific documents.

However, the Head of Operations and Legal Strategy at Lawyers for Projects warns that this is not an option for all companies. "If you have very complex questions and no historical answers to those questions, it will be difficult for an AI system always to give the right answer," he says


The resources freed up by AI

With generative AI in companies' legal departments, work becomes more flexible. And the question automatically arises. What will happen to these freed-up human resources? "The lawyer must redefine themselves and focus on delivering a good service. By that, I mean accompanying the company, being there when needed, and not being reactive but proactive. Ultimately, it's about building trust so that the company can count on them," says Martínez Villegas

In this way, in-house counsel could evolve their role to approach the field of business development. Until now, companies planned their expansion and only consulted their departments later when legal issues arose, or major operations were pending. According to the Head of Operations and Legal Strategy at Lawyers for Projects, freeing up resources through AI will allow this part of the business to move into a more advanced stage of decision-making.

The legal department will go from being an internal service department, as it is now, because when I need it, I call it, and it answers my questions, to be a traveling companion. She would get involved in the business. She guides me and can help me take controlled risks," notes Martínez Villegas.

This would undoubtedly impact the role of law firms, which would become even more connected to their clients. So far, large law firms have adopted generative AI. The legal department of PwC, or Cuatrecasas in Spain, has started to use Harvey. Other law firms have developed their models by integrating different technologies. "They can take on these types of projects because of their volume and economies of scale," explains Martínez Villegas about large law firms, adding: "We must not forget that these systems need to be trained to work well. You cannot train any model very well if you are a company [a legal entity, not a firm] generating 100 contracts a year. I believe the big players will use these tools, and some functionality will move to more generalist and traditional tools. In my opinion, these tools will be used by most of the companies we know".

One of the factors that is sometimes overlooked in the face of impending change is the proper management of expectations. Generative AI will be useful for many tasks, but you need to know exactly what it will be used for and its limitations. Also, change requires a process. Therefore, Martínez Villegas believes the sector's transformation will not happen overnight.