Stephanie Hamon, Legal Ops Consulting Head, NRF: ‘The Biggest Challenge? Gen AI FOMO’

Four years ago Stephanie Hamon created the Legal Operations Consulting group at global law firm Norton Rose Fulbright ‘to empower in-house teams to be the best they can be’. Since then much in the legal world has changed.

Artificial Lawyer caught up with Stephanie to find out more about her role and how she sees the legal ops landscape evolving now. Stephanie is also one of the many great speakers at the Legal Innovators UK conference in London on November 8 + 9.

The full interview is below. Enjoy. And if you find this interesting, there will be plenty of in-depth discussions and presentations with a range of experts on legal ops and the inhouse world at Legal Innovators in November. See you there!

What is your role and how did you get into this field?

I am Head of Legal Operations Consulting at Norton Rose Fulbright. I created this new practice and offered it to our clients four years ago. After 15 years working on the private practice side in different parts of the world, and four years in-house for a large financial institution, I wanted to try the ‘entrepreneur’ route.

But more importantly, it was obvious to me that irrespective of jurisdiction, industry, or the size of the legal department, pretty much every legal team was facing similar challenges: more for less, adoption of tech, and defining the ‘lawyer of the future’. And not all of them could benefit from having a dedicated legal ops headcount, or team.

So, I decided to develop a consulting offering tailored to the legal industry, rooted in a deep and first-hand experience of what it is like to work in-house. The aim is to empower in-house teams to be the best they can be and position them as strategic business partners by applying business management principles and financial discipline to the running of their function.

How much has your role changed in the last five years, and how much do you think it will change in the next five years?

It has changed insofar that it didn’t exist! When I launched this practice, there was no other legal ops consulting practice in a law firm, not in the way we are doing it.

So, while NRF’s name is a big brand, the role was really that of an ‘intrapreneur’, and together with my great team we had to create everything from scratch, including developing an audience and a market for these services.

We are delighted with where we are today. Going forward, we see more and more GCs and in-house teams rebalancing their priorities between being risk managers and strategic business partners. So I can only see the demand increasing.

To conclude, two key trends have emerged in the last five years and I can only see them becoming even more relevant: the use of data; and the critical role of change management.

Do you think that we have reached a ’new era’ for legal innovation, with forces such as generative AI, standardisation and rethinking legal work catalysing real change?

It is fair to say that the pace of change until recently has been glacial. It has accelerated in the last 10 years, but it seems to have gone manic since the announcements around ChatGPT!

That said, it still feels to me that we are witnessing evolution, rather than a real revolution. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing: evolutionary innovation can be the right model as the incremental changes to existing processes, ways of working, and structures, support the very present need for change management in this industry. I.e. slowly, but surely.

From a law firm perspective, do you think that what external providers offer to clients will continue to expand, e.g. consulting services, internal ALSPs, home-made legal tech tools?

The clients are the ones that should dictate where the market is going and what supply of services they are looking for, in terms of content, structure and price. Law firms exist to help their clients achieve their objectives.

As these are evolving, so naturally should the offering from law firms. GCs and in-house lawyers will tell you that the problems they are trying to solve are becoming ever more complex and require multi-disciplinary skills to be addressed.

They are also looking for support to assist them on the other elements of their roles, relating to being a strategic partner: demonstrating the value their department is bringing; developing a strategy; reporting on KPIs; adopting digitalisation; and retaining their talent by offering more strategic work.

What is the biggest challenge legal innovation now faces in the current climate?

I would say FOMO….. There is so much noise at the moment around Gen AI that it is overwhelming the debate.

A lot of people feel they have to jump on the bandwagon. As a result, many think they are already falling behind, and if you don’t know where to start things can be pretty overwhelming.

So we are seeing a number of teams skipping key steps in order to be able to say they, too, are using Gen AI. The biggest challenge is therefore people focusing on what is the ‘fancy stuff’ and not looking at the ‘boring stuff’, which actually forms the foundation of your department and will allow you, in due course, to engage and benefit properly from these technological advances.

And what is the greatest opportunity for change?

Naturally, the legal industry is one rooted in knowledge, and also one where the past can help you predict the future. And therefore it is ripe for transformation through technology. But, it is also based on people and relationships.

So while tech can help us harness our knowledge, the key to differentiation will be around managing our implicit knowledge, i.e. our ways of working, how we apply in day-to-day life that knowledge contained in documents and policies.

And if you apply this consistently, whether you are a law firm dealing with clients or an in-house team dealing with your business stakeholders, you will be more efficient and provide them with a better experience. And they’ll come back for more!

And finally, if you had one message you’d like to share about how to achieve successful change management in relation to legal innovation, what would it be?

It would have to be ‘empathy’. Change management is too often overlooked or confined to a simple communication plan. To truly and successfully drive change it isn’t about what you want to try to achieve, but about what the users really want to happen.

Unless you show deep empathy, you are at risk of making assumptions and not solving the actual problem. Constant and early engagement, especially with the naysayers, will be critical. Validating your findings, co-designing the solution, repeating (at least seven times) the message so it is really owned, are all equally important. And there is so much more to say!

Thanks Stephanie, great observations. Looking forward to hearing you speak on these subjects and more at Legal Innovators in London in November!

Legal Innovators UK Conference – November 8 + 9 – London

The Legal Innovators UK conference, where Stephanie Hamon of Norton Rose Fulbright and many other great speakers are attending, will take place on November 8 + 9. Day One: law firms and ALSPs, Day Two: inhouse and legal ops. 

For tickets, please see here.

For more information, please see here.

The two-day event comes at a time of significant change for the legal market and we will be bringing you engaging panels and presentations where leading experts really dig into the issues of the day, from generative AI, to the evolution of ALSPs, to law firm innovation teams in this new era for legal tech, to how empowered legal ops groups and pioneering GCs are making a real impact.

See you there!

Richard Tromans, Founder of Artificial Lawyer and Conference Chair.