Practice Management

Legal tech CEO and GC discuss the expanding influence of legal ops and what's on the horizon

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Ari Kaplan

Ari Kaplan. Photo by Tori Soper.

Ari Kaplan recently spoke with Marc Zamsky and Marla Crawford, the CEO and general counsel, respectively, for Cimplifi, an integrated legal services provider that aligns e-discovery and contract analytics for corporate legal departments and law firms.

Ari Kaplan: Marc, tell us about your background in your role at Cimplifi.

Marc Zamsky: I am the CEO of Cimplifi. I’ve been in the legal services space for the last 27 years and also practiced law as a commercial litigator for four years in Philadelphia. It has been amazing to see the evolution of the legal industry and the growth of legal technology over the last 27 years.

Ari Kaplan: Marla, you’ve practiced in both a large law firm and a large financial services company. What trends do you see driving change in corporate legal departments?

Marla Crawford: When I started practicing law, there was really no place for technology in the law. Now, e-discovery is really embedded into the rules of civil procedure, and from an ethics perspective, lawyers really need to understand technology, whether it’s contract analytics, knowledge management, document management, matter management, e-billing or AI. People who were afraid to use technology-assisted review and e-discovery are now considering ways to use ChatGPT to write their briefs, so the evolution has been astounding. In fact, it has become part of the fabric of the legal department.

Ari Kaplan: Marc, Cimplifi recently published a new market research report on which I was honored to collaborate called The Expanding Influence of Legal Operations: An Inside Look at AI, CLM and Law Department Transformation, a follow-up to a report you released in 2022. What were some of the key findings in this year’s report?

Zamsky Crawford headshotsMarc Zamsky and Marla Crawford are the CEO and general counsel, respectively, for Cimplifi, an integrated legal services provider.

Marc Zamsky: Year over year, we are seeing a continued expansion of legal operations. We looked very specifically at CLM (contract lifecycle management), which encompasses contract analytics that apply to post-signature agreements and pre-signature workflow, and confirmed there is greater adoption and implementation of CLM. That increased usage is helping in-house teams understand what is in their contracts and gain efficiencies across the organization by identifying the risks and opportunities they contain. Despite the fascination with ChatGPT, people are a little hesitant to implement AI in CLM because they either don’t fully understand how it interacts with their contracts or they simply lack the manpower to effectively implement an AI solution. That said, they understand the need to generate more analytics to future-proof their CLM and develop greater insight into their post-signature agreements. We saw broader acceptance of AI and expect continued expansion across the legal industry.

Ari Kaplan: Marla, the new report is designed to provide practical guidance on how legal teams are deploying CLM and AI. What should in-house leaders know about the use of those tools?

Marla Crawford: When implementing a CLM platform, start with a proof-of-concept initiative based on a strong use case; then internally socialize the results to impress the business teams that can help drive adoption. The report shows there is very little debate that CLM adds value to an enterprise because it saves people time and money, gives increased visibility into their contracts, empowers reporting and risk management, and gets the customer within the enterprise to resolution more quickly. Ultimately, it will become another tool embedded within an enterprise-wide toolkit.

Ari Kaplan: Marc, 86% of the 50 legal operations leaders featured in the report revealed the role of the legal operations professional has changed and expanded, and there was also discussion of the crossover into the chief of staff role. Are innovations in CLM and AI, among other technological initiatives, changing the responsibilities of law department leaders?

Marc Zamsky: As legal operations and law departments have expanded, in-house leaders have assumed greater responsibility for technology. In an effort to gain a competitive advantage from each new application, business units are looking to the legal department to help them, resulting in more stakeholders driving traffic to legal. While the chief of staff was once a more limited role supporting the general counsel, it is now a key position that helps direct a range of business processes. We are seeing more organizations centralizing certain new initiatives in legal as the single “true north” for the organization.

Ari Kaplan: Marla, the report discusses the crossover from e-discovery to contract analytics to legal operations. How do those different disciplines relate?

Marla Crawford: As e-discovery emerged, lawyers needed to understand enough of the technology to participate in court conferences, advise their clients on certain ethical obligations, and represent them with competence. That opened up an entire career path for professionals who grasp both law and technology. Some people come from the legal side the way I did, while others came to this with a focus on technology. And now there are those involved from the business side who know how to guide teams and are adept at project management. Legal technology is the nexus for people from various disciplines, but the goal of using technology to be more efficient is the same. There are so many use cases for technology that have expanded well beyond e-discovery.

Ari Kaplan: Marc, what is driving this convergence?

Marc Zamsky: It comes down to embracing and expanding different skill sets. We started off with contract attorneys reviewing documents, who then leveraged review platforms, and later deployed technology-assisted review, which reduced the size of the review teams, made the effort more efficient and cost-effective, and accelerated the overall process. We are seeing the application of the same skills required to search for a word or a phrase in e-discovery to due diligence in contracts. There is no magic bullet in either since they each require human interaction to verify and validate the technology-generated results.

Ari Kaplan: Marla, how does this research apply to law firms?

Marla Crawford: Law firms have been slower to adopt technology, including analytics, and managed review than corporations because they are naturally more cautious. They have obligations to ensure proper oversight and to preserve attorney-client privilege, with pressure to prioritize precision. They ultimately adopted technology in e-discovery because of the focus on efficiency and cost savings by their clients. In contracts, we have arrived at that same pivot point, which is increasing the adoption of contract analytics and creating more awareness that AI can save money and result in more accurate outcomes. Some of our law firm clients have internal teams that use analytics for contract projects.

Ari Kaplan: Marc, what’s next in legal operations, whether for law firms or corporate legal departments?

Marc Zamsky: There was an interesting line in the report from one of the participants that referred to CLM as a “hot potato.” But as legal operations and business leaders collaborate more seamlessly on developing solutions that involve technology, they will develop a true partnership. Also, as the reluctance to adopt AI and CLM subsides, legal operations teams may begin to rely more heavily on outside experts to help them with the administration of this new technology, similar to the support many organizations receive for e-discovery and document review. We are also likely to see continued adoption of AI in various forms.

Editor’s Note: This interview references research that Ari Kaplan Advisors, an independent advisory firm, conducted on behalf of Cimplifi.

Listen to the complete interview at Reinventing Professionals.

Ari Kaplan regularly interviews leaders in the legal industry and in the broader professional services community to share perspective, highlight transformative change and introduce new technology at his blog and on iTunes.

This column reflects the opinions of the author and not necessarily the views of the ABA Journal—or the American Bar Association.

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