July 13, 2024


The Legal System

Modern legal operations are at the intersection of law, business and technology


Ari Kaplan recently spoke with Marla Crawford, the general counsel at Cimplifi, an integrated legal services provider that aligns e-discovery and contract analytics for corporate legal departments and law firms.

Ari Kaplan: Tell us about your background and your role at Cimplifi.

Marla Crawford: I started my practice at Jones Day in the late ’80s and worked there for 22 years. After that, I went to Goldman Sachs, where I managed e-discovery globally and worked in litigation for almost 11 years. I’ve been general counsel of Cimplifi for a little over a year now and wear many hats as the only working lawyer at the company. I handle anything that really relates to the practice of law, manage the firm’s risk, participate in client matters, help with workflows, and support the evaluation of technology. I began our diversity, equity and inclusion committee with Cimplifi’s president, Amy Hinzmann, and am the executive sponsor of our contract analytics and lifecycle management division, which has been one of the most rewarding parts of my position.

Ari Kaplan: How has the delivery of legal services shifted over the course of your career?

Marla Crawford headshotMarla Crawford, the general counsel at Cimplifi, an integrated legal services provider.

Marla Crawford: When I started practicing law, there were no computers, so I have seen the evolution of technology and its application to the practice of law. When I was a young associate. I worked on very large cases related to tobacco, acetaminophen, computer chips and corporate bankruptcies, which had huge discovery implications. I enjoyed that aspect of practicing law and most people did not want to do it, so that is where I concentrated. As a result, I became one of the first e-discovery lawyers and was fortunate to lead discovery for Jones Day’s client Lehman Brothers, which was a party to one of the first e-discovery cases. I have seen the sector move from paper requiring multiple systems to review a few hundred thousand documents to today, where organizations are using analytics and artificial intelligence to do the same work that 35 years ago we performed manually.

Ari Kaplan: How has the composition of the corporate legal department changed over the past decade?

Marla Crawford: What I’ve seen over the past 10 years is a really new professional that’s taken hold in the role of legal operations, whose responsibilities include technology and the law. It reflects the evolution of technology and its influence on the practice over the past decade.

Ari Kaplan: Cimplifi recently published a new market research report—Modern Legal Operations: At the Convergence of Law and Business—to better understand the strategic role and opportunities ahead for legal operations leaders. Why is this an important topic for Cimplifi?

Marla Crawford: We are expanding and building our business at the intersection or convergence of e-discovery and contract analytics and lifecycle management. We have seen many synergies between e-discovery and contract analytics and leverage them to build an integrated offering to our clients both in e-discovery side and in contract analytics.

Ari Kaplan: What were some of the key findings in the report?

Marla Crawford: The report proved our thesis that the legal ops role is evolving to encompass contract analytics, as well as e-discovery, information governance and privacy, among other areas, and there is a tremendous opportunity for legal operations leaders and e-discovery professionals in the contract analytics space. In particular, we found that 90% of the participants indicated that the role of the legal operations professional has changed and expanded. Ninety-four percent noted that it would be helpful to have a playbook that covers both contract analytics and e-discovery, and 68% expect that their spending on contract lifecycle management will increase in the next 12 months. We also found that 65% have considered that best practices for e-discovery can be applied to contract analytics.

Ari Kaplan: What surprised you most?

Marla Crawford: It was surprising to me was that many organizations are not sure where contract analytics sits in the organization. By comparison, e-discovery started as an offshoot of the discovery phase of litigation, and while it has always involved e-discovery technology, the discipline itself sat within the legal department. Legal operations professionals supplemented e-discovery with information governance, project management, cross-divisional communication and business acumen. From our vantage point, contract analytics share many of the same characteristics as e-discovery at the outset in that it requires cross-divisional expertise in legal technology and business. Some corporations, however, do not yet share that vision. Still, the research found that 48% of respondents are bringing contract analytics in-house, indicating that legal operations professionals are thinking about contract analytics and how to take control of the process.

Ari Kaplan: How should readers incorporate some of the findings to drive change in their organizations?

Marla Crawford: We believe that the data gives legal operations teams a unique opportunity at the intersection of law and technology to influence and empower their organizations.

Ari Kaplan: How do you see the role of professionals in legal operations continuing to evolve?

Marla Crawford: The legal operations professional leads at the perfect juncture between law, business and technology. After all, there will only be an increase in the use of various technologies to build efficiencies within an enterprise, so the more the legal ops professional can do to influence their organization to work at that intersection of disciplines, the greater their importance, which is only limited by the future of technology.

Editor’s note: This interview references research that Ari Kaplan Advisors, an independent advisory firm, conducted on behalf of Cimplifi.

Listen to the complete interview at Reinventing Professionals.

Ari Kaplan regularly interviews leaders in the legal industry and in the broader professional services community to share perspective, highlight transformative change and introduce new technology at his blog and on iTunes.

This column reflects the opinions of the author and not necessarily the views of the ABA Journal—or the American Bar Association.


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