The legal industry is finally going through real systemic change and is being redefined by technology, innovation and data at unprecedented speed. 

These were the bold views shared at the opening session of Lawfest 2021 at the end of March by Google Legal’s Director of Operations, Technology and Strategy, Mary O’Carroll. 

Although the profession continues to be constrained by tradition and the fear of change, the impetus for transformation is building as these constraints are causing real costs in time, money and loss of organisational agility. 

Ms O’Carroll is also the President of CLOC (the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium) which is the industry body for the fast-growing field of legal operations which streamlines the ways lawyers work and seeks to ‘do it better’. In her view, the in-house legal profession is the biggest driver of change across the profession and is creating a new dynamic which encourages collaboration and partnership between clients and their lawyers, both internal and external. 

The role of data as the foundation of legal process improvements was another key theme in her opening address - ‘data is everything’. It allows decision makers to build a clear picture of which change will have the most impact and to surface the hidden costs and inefficiencies in the ways people currently work. 

Ms O’Carroll predicts that contracts will be the next area to get digitised and revolutionised as the insights that can be drawn from information contained in contracts is invaluable to the whole company. 

Are we setting lawyers up to succeed from the beginning? Not yet it would seem. At a time when business schools are focusing on teamwork and group success, she reflected that law schools still have highly individual and competitive approaches which are outdated. Widespread culture change is needed to get law students and lawyers comfortable with new ways of working and to embed modern values of collaboration and open sourcing of best practice. 

The legal profession needs passionate and visionary leaders and Mary O’Carroll demonstrated at Lawfest she is one of those driving much-needed change around the world. She closed this powerful session with the challenge that all lawyers should closely examine their own practice and ask: "what will I change?" and '"what will I keep?"