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How GCs Can Build A Data-Driven
Division To Bolster Their Company

November 16, 2023

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This post originally appeared on Above the Law.

No transformation happens without a careful appraisal of what you have and where you want to go.

Corporate legal departments have traditionally kept their focus on supplying legal expertise to the businesses they support; in-house specialists in litigation, employment, privacy, IP, and HR are common. But in today’s digital and virtual world, it has become equally necessary for legal to address the vast amounts of data in their custody and control. After all, data and technology aren’t just redefining operating budgets—they’re reshaping risk models, security, compliance, and other legal issues that affect a company’s bottom line.

To bring legal divisions up to speed on the data front, general counsels and other legal department leaders might need to perform some magic—implementing a digital transformation to assess, manage, advise, report on, and defend the company’s data position while bringing the department and the business’ strategic technology plans in line with today’s rapidly evolving global business environment. It might not be simple, but it will be effective.

Building up your legal department to make it more data-driven requires four steps:

  • Assess your data preparedness and fine-tune your department’s goals.
  • Streamline its operations and enhance efficiency.
  • Inventory and analyze all data and create data maps to guide the organization through legal matters.
  • Build specialized, multidisciplinary in-house data-resource teams to address emerging technology concerns effectively.

Appraise And Analyze

No transformation happens without a careful appraisal of what you have and where you want to go. Mindful of the need to keep evolving, a savvy GC will first assess their department’s level of data preparedness. What have been the standard data-handling practices? What were the most pressing problems, strengths, and risks? Does the department understand the company’s strategic technology plan going forward? Where does the business want to go? How can the department exceed basic legal standards and embrace more rigorous ethical standards to retain public trust in its care of consumer data?

It’s important to weigh each of these questions along with the proliferation of data, escalation of cybersecurity risks, and increasing use of artificial intelligence (AI) in businesses: All pose challenges for the legal department, which is also tasked with designing legal safeguards to protect sensitive client information and maintain regulatory compliance. Integrating these imperatives with everyday organizational complexities—operating technology, business strategy, personnel management, marketing, accounting, audits—can seem overwhelming. This reason is why the assessment is so critical. Once the assessment is complete, GCs can use all the information collected to form the foundation of the legal department’s digital transformation.

Enhance Efficiency

Armed with a deeper understanding of how the department deals with data and where processes and personnel can be strengthened, GCs should determine concrete steps to elevate efficiency.

Using legal software solutions is one way to help free up staff time. Good technology automates repetitive tasks so your team can more quickly find needed data; it makes labor-intensive processes such as managing contracts much more efficient. Deploying these solutions also allows your organization to aggregate and analyze far more data with greater accuracy and speed than you could before, and make more informed decisions based on that data.

Encouraging legal staff to enroll in professional development and even “apprenticeship” programs in technology and data literacy will also help GCs build a more knowledgeable department and foster a greater understanding of the importance of technology integration and departmental collaboration. If you offer team members training in cybersecurity best practices, data analysis, and legal technology tools, you incorporate new skillsets into the department while also creating more understanding between legal professionals, data scientists, and IT experts — which allows for a more-informed team that can solve problems in new and innovative ways.

Map Your Route To Success

To manage data-related legal and business risks effectively, an up-to-date data map is critical. Legal needs to fully understand the organization’s data landscape so it can identify potential risks and manage data governance using the correct resources for requests, investigations, or litigation. That data map will also help the department ensure compliance; put security measures in place; and design policies to use, store, and protect data. Not only will a data map boost the company’s data transparency, the map will also help legal more efficiently monitor the organization’s data assets.

As GC, you’ll need to inventory all your company’s data: who manages it and how; who has access; what the security protocols are; how unstructured data (data in transit or that’s constantly updated) is quantified; and how personally identifiable information (PII) is stored, shared, and retained. Mapping it out and giving a clear, visual guide to all the organization’s data allows the entire legal department to make the most informed decisions, work more effectively with experts from other departments—and better help the GC protect the company.

Without a map, it’s simply difficult for a legal department to adequately address or respond to legal issues. In effect, it leaves the team with large blind spots that can be devastating to the organization.

Keep It Ethical

The use and misuse of big data analytics, AI, and now generative AI (GenAI) in legal settings has already shown us the importance of ethics in data management. Organizations must be rigorous in developing policies and processes for using these evolving technologies to protect their business operations and reputation. Companies must establish guidelines for employees’ best-practice uses of these technologies and identify appropriate subject matter experts within the company to vet their outcomes. GCs should also ensure that each designated SME understands the potential legal ramifications of any information produced by GenAI, for example, and run the final product through compliance.

To further mitigate risks, the legal team needs to be agile and respond quickly to the dynamic public sentiment that often changes faster than the law. GCs should advocate not just for legal compliance, but sound data practices that resonate with the public at large. By building a legal team with specialized data training—including staff from diverse fields and getting support from other departments—a GC should be able to address the evolving data challenges while also fostering a culture of data ethics within the organization.

As the guardians of regulatory compliance, risk management, and ethical business practices, legal departments have a significant role in shaping their organizations’ data management. By adapting to the evolving digital environment, GCs and their legal departments can champion the strategic use of data, mitigate risks, and promote ethical conduct, reaffirming their value in the eyes of their organizations and society and providing invaluable guidance and leadership in an increasingly digital world.