Pablo Enrique Urrego Hernández, Head of Legal, Diageo Colombia

Urrego Hernández describes how Diageo Colombia is developing its legal IT muscle and shares his thoughts about why lawyers in Latin America need to open their minds – and their culture – to embrace technological change.

Diageo, the global leader in alcohol beverages, with an outstanding collection of over 200 brands enjoyed in more than 180 countries around the world, is a technology- and digitalisation-open company. For human resources, we use a platform on which every employee is able to manage their own information, holidays and professional development. IT and HR have developed a learning platform called ‘Learning Hub’. As I see it, you develop as a professional through being proactive about learning new things, and there is an incredible number of courses, trainings and learnings that you can take on this platform during your Diageo career.

There are many learnings and trainings that our corporate team have developed and uploaded to the platform that are related to legal issues, for example, compliance, or ethics or on specific legal issues. We are also developing local learnings and training, as a complement to global platforms.

In legal, we have been working on a platform for contract management. At the moment it is quite simple: you can upload your contract, control duration of the contract, who is the contractor – it’s a summary of the full contract system that allows you to understand when a contract is going to end, and to do whatever you need in terms of requests and keep control of all documents. You have all the elements that you need in order to take decisions.

However, in Colombia, the idea for the future, if possible, is to apply artificial intelligence to this. We are starting this process by developing models of contracts that the system can match with the requests of our clients. For example, if a brand manager needs a contract for sponsoring an event, the idea is not to go to the lawyer and spend one or two hours trying to explain what they need and so on, but to match the models we are creating with the client’s requirements and let them fill the gaps in those contracts. This means taking some risks, of course. But once they have done that, the system will be able to issue the contract with just one previous reading by a lawyer in order to correct small things. That’s a way of trying to make it much more proactive, much more predictive and much simpler.

If this goes well, the idea is to start applying artificial intelligence not just to get the information, but also to ask questions regarding what kind of contract is needed in order to really fulfil expectations. We are developing that tool by first getting the basics.

We also have a very simple software that we use globally to control our legal processes. It’s not rocket science – you submit information into the software and it organises processes according to risk and the information you have given. But the idea is not simply to stop there: I dream of having a general platform that could connect with law firms. You would give information to the system and obtain information directly from the firms, getting the information in an organised and structured way.

Technology is one of those elements that will change the world, especially in legal. Everybody believes that you need a lawyer for doing contracts and that’s not true. You need a lawyer to do the models and to be critical – what are the minimum factors in a negotiation? But if you have artificial intelligence systems developed to do the contracts according to all of the criteria that the lawyer has given, that will change the way we see contract management.

And what is probable is that in the future, many law firms will have to change their way of working. Today, we rely on their name and reputation; you hire a lawyer because he’s important, he can deal with your problems and can give you the right answers. But in Latin America, jurisprudence and judicial decisions have been very clear in the last ten or 20 years and we have some trends that are already recognised. Of course, every problem is different, but if you recognise those trends, you don’t have to ask lawyers for new concepts, you just have to ask them for probable general concepts that you could apply to your specific problem. This means changing the whole system, their way of working and the way they make profits, and I don’t know if law firms are ready to do that or if they are happy thinking about it. In Latin America, and in Colombia specifically, they haven’t done anything about it, at least nothing we can identify. There are just the typical law firms that have a hierarchical structure of partner, associate, staff and so on. They have the old-fashioned way of working and trying to change that is like trying to break a bargain. They do not care much about innovation and, I have to say, it’s frustrating, because in-house legal teams are far ahead of the legal firms in terms of using technology and using these kinds of tools.

Technology is one of those elements that will change the world, especially in legal.

When it comes to technological disruption in-house, it’s all about the way you construct the culture. It’s not just in the legal team, it’s through the whole company, the whole organisation. I believe the first step is constructing a culture of digitalisation, automation and using technology so that people understand that these are tools that can make life easier and better. They are not competition, they will not replace a lawyer – in my team, every person is important. What I want to be able to do is to free capabilities – give my lawyers freedom to work on other issues. If you have a lawyer spending time doing contracts, that’s not right! You need to liberate, create time for them to do all those things and be able to develop other skills. What technology can do is become a partner in that development – it’s their best ally for that. If people start to understand that technology is a partner and not an enemy or a possible substitute for their job, that will change the progress of what we have been doing.

Being honest, this is not easy at all. You have to be open-minded, you have to be ready to assume some challenges, and you have to be able to unlearn. You have to try to forget some things that you have learnt in order to learn new things that could help you to improve. We need to develop leaders on these issues, and my challenge is to become a leader. I probably won’t be the one that will develop the systems but I could be the one who can push everyone to understand that adopting these kind of systems is a good thing.

You might not be able to find what you want because it’s not yet developed, but you can find someone able to develop it. But in order to find that ally, you have to be really open minded. They need information that might be confidential, or to understand problems that normally you would not talk about outside the company. But once you understand they are an ally and give them trust, everything goes more easily.

I think the legal profession is very far behind other professional service sectors when it comes to technology. I believe no one has taken the time to think about changing the way of working that is normal for lawyers. The lawyer has always been seen as the guy who has all the knowledge to fix problems and people believe that technology won’t be something that lawyers could understand or that would be interesting for them. In some ways they are right, because lawyers are difficult people, especially when you talk about law firms – I am a lawyer, so I can say that! I believe there is a kind of natural restriction in the minds of people, but I believe that could change. It’s about the way we construct culture – and we need to start talking about this much more.

I believe many new and young lawyers are thinking how to change the way law firms and in-house teams are working and, in the medium term – in two or five years – we will see some changes.