Legally Disrupted: Technology, Digitization, and Disruption
By Zach Abramowitz
Recently, I had an opportunity to host Bradley Gayton, Senior Vice President and General Counsel at the Coca-Cola Company, as part of Legally Disrupted, Axiom’s series of interviews with the leaders who are moving the legal industry forward and disrupting entrenched ways of thinking and working. The response to the webinar, measured in unusually high engagement, coupled with the sheer number of individual messages we have received from attendees, suggests that technology, digitization, and disruption are attention-grabbing issues for GCs and CLOs who made up 42% of the audience. For those who have the time, I suggest listening to the entire conversation, but I thought I would highlight a few specific key takeaways.
Legal departments have struggled with technology, but signs indicate greater adoption is on the horizon
During the webinar, we discussed some of the conflicting reports about the degree of technology-adoption inside legal departments. On the one hand, Gartner predicts that technology budgets for legal departments will triple over the next three years, but Gartner also reports that 50% of GCs feel legal transformation projects have not met expectations. Gayton said that over the last three years he has seen increased receptivity from lawyers, but acknowledged that there will continue to be two types of companies, those that “lean in” to technology and those that “participate by proxy.”
Engaging with startups is about more than cost savings
Gayton, who is an active angel investor, explained that his passion for legal startups is about a lot more than cost savings:
“I recognize that we are in the midst of a digital transformation. And what excites me, in meeting entrepreneurs and exploring how technology is going to impact the practice of law, is understanding that technology is not necessarily about reducing cost. It's really about trying to find a way to reduce low-value work that lawyers are doing so we can enhance the intellectual capital that's being displaced and focus on more strategic work.”
This matches my own experience consulting with other in-house departments. Efficiency, process optimization – that is the language of ten years ago. More and more, decision makers are asking how legal startups can deliver better business outcomes and enable a better work environment for the in-house department, so that they can attract the best talent.
Is Gayton an outlier or the new normal?
I specifically pushed Gayton on this point, asking him directly whether or not he thought he was an outlier when it came to his interest and appetite for legal technology. His answer was layered:
“I'm finding more and more peers having these kinds of conversations, though we might be at different places on the maturity curve. But I do find more and more people exploring and trying to understand the space.”
Gayton’s anecdotal experience seemed to line up with the webinar’s poll results of attendees, in which nearly 50% of the mostly GC and CLO audience, said they would invest in legal startups. (Only 19% said they would NOT invest in legal startups.)
Later in our discussion, Gayton made a compelling argument that investing in legal startups sets off a chain reaction which ultimately enables him to become a more effective GC.
“My motivations for investing are not purely economic – they're not altruistic, but they're not purely economic. The process of talking with entrepreneurs, evaluating companies, and understanding the use cases gives me great insight into some of the challenges that they face. This, in turn, gives me a deeper understanding of my own digital literacy and allows me to incorporate those learnings and bring them back to the company as I imagine how I might craft a winning digital strategy for the company.”
In other words, engaging with startups and doing rigorous investor due diligence is a great way for an in-house attorney to get a better understanding of what is possible, which then helps them improve the processes of their department. If the trends that both Gayton and I are seeing track with the rest of the industry, we should begin hearing about more disruptive legal businesses gaining traction with legal departments as customers, and with individual lawyers as investors on their cap table.
For more insights from Bradley Gayton, listen to the entire conversation.
Read legal leader Debbie Epstein Henry's takeaways from her December 2020 conversation with Nancy J. Laben, Executive Vice President and Chief Legal Officer, Booz Allen Hamilton.
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