General counsel have been advised to use simple technology well rather go down the ‘glamorous’ route of artificial intelligence in a report looking at what in-house teams will look like in 2025.

A report by national law firm Irwin Mitchell, published today, says in-house teams expect technology to solve many of the problems created by an ever-more complex working environment. However, Nicki Clegg, the firm’s technology officer, says: ‘Focus on ways of working first – don’t find a technology and then look for the problem it might fix.’

Jennifer Walton, the firm’s operations manager, says tech-led ‘solutions’ without a proper analysis of the end-to-end process can make problems worse or result in expensive products being bought but never used.

In-house lawyers will get the ‘best return’ if they do simple technology well. The report says: ‘Whilst artificial intelligence is more glamorous, generally in-house legal teams will get a better return on simple technology used well to address a simple but widespread problem. Most AI requires a significant upfront investment of time in training and setup, meaning you need significant scale to get a good return on your investment. Most small in-house legal teams are unlikely to have this. This will of course change as such tools become less complex, better understood and come down in price.’

The firm spoke in-depth to 80 GCs, heads of legal and senior in-house lawyers for the report, including Panasonic, Ferrero, Brighton & Hove Albion and Royal Bank of Scotland.

Respondents considered the most important skills in-house lawyers should have by 2025 are understanding their business, stakeholder management and influencing. They want to be perceived as a partner to their business, rather than a cost.

One respondent said: ‘I think we’re held in high esteem, but sometimes get the impression that we’re seen as a necessary evil. I’d like us to be perceived as a delight to work with. The sales team don’t resent the engineering team, but occasionally they do resent the legal team.

Legal teams are told to identify the key stakeholders within the business and other potentially valuable people. ‘They may be a useful source of information, or you might need resource or co-operation from them in the future to achieve your purpose. For example, someone in IT might be useful in getting technology implemented, or someone in internal audit could monitor compliance against your contract governance policy,’ the report says.

The report suggests in-house teams have made good progress on getting their voices heard. For instance, securing legal representation on change and risk committees. ‘One participant commented they had to move away from asking for an invitation and just turning up anyway,’ the report says.