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A CONVERSATION WITH FRANCESC MUÑOZ, CIO AT GLOBAL LAW FIRM CUATRECASAS

Tech hypes unraveled: Parallels between the rise of the internet and generative AI

Francesc Muñoz has been in the business since the early days, way back when computers were still running on Windows 95 and crashed every other week. 26 years as CIO and counting. So who could be more suited to take us on a trip down memory lane and tell us what the most important legal innovations and adoptions within law firms have in common? Yes, that is a rhetorical question. Francesc is our guy!

Francesc munoz cuatrecasas

Jorn Vanysacker
Hi Francesc, we’re thrilled to speak to you. 26 years down the books as CIO, that in itself is amazing. Back in 1997, what did this role look like?


Francesc Muñoz
At the time we already had an IT director, but we were still rather gadget-oriented.
There were few solutions that truly supported the development of the business and legal services. We had a financial system, but that was it. So in 99, I went to what I like to call the Mecca of law’, the legal tech convention in New York. There I came across vendors that delivered technology to manage our firm in a better way. Shortly after, I introduced the first time and billing system at our firm.


Jorn Vanysacker
Was this first type of success pivotal to you? Did it launch your career?


Francesc Muñoz
I don’t like the word success’. Listen, I don’t promise what I cannot deliver and I do deliver what I promise. If you live by these words and you surround yourself with the best team possible, results will follow. Before I took on the role, we already had technicians, but I started hiring engineers who also understand the business. We grew on two vectors by hiring professionals in terms of both tech and business. If you have an engineer who understands the business and is able to speak the same language as a lawyer, that is gold!

We grew on two vectors by hiring professionals in terms of both tech and business. If you have an engineer who understands the business and is able to speak the same language as a lawyer, that is gold!”


Jorn Vanysacker
So an important role of a good CIO is finding the best talent that has a business understanding. Are there other skills that you believe any CIO should master?


Francesc Muñoz
You have to immerse yourself in the business you work for to align goals and expectations. As CIO you often have to prove to your partners that you’re not only pursuing personal projects. Convincing others that it is in the best interest of the firm to innovate is part of the job. Growing a business is keeping track, monitoring developments closely, trying, testing, learning, adjusting, and carrying on every day.


Jorn Vanysacker
Over the course of 26 years, the industry has changed a lot. While at times it may have been too slow for your taste, you must have witnessed a lot of technological milestones. Which ones have had the most impact on the legal industry?


Francesc Muñoz
At first, there were the time and billing systems, then came along the document management systems (DMS), both of which are still present in today’s firms. But there are also innovations that hardly anyone remembers. Take the Blackberry, for example. It made it possible to answer emails in real-time from almost any location. It took the legal sector by storm. When the smartphone was introduced, I remember lawyers not wanting to give up their Blackberry. The little keyboard on the device was almost sacred to them. They refused to believe that you could type as fast, if not faster, on a touchscreen. Innovation will always meet resistance to some degree. This happened with the beginning of the internet, and the same is true now for generative AI. Some act like it’s the devil and want to cut off access to Gen AI tools.

Innovation will to some extent always meet resistance. The same is true now for generative AI. Some act like it’s the devil and want to cut off access to Gen AI tools.”


Jorn Vanysacker
Do you see parallels between the rise of the internet in the 90s and the rise of AI now?


Francesc Muñoz
I do in terms of adoption. Before working at CUATRECASAS, in 1995, I taught people how to browse and how to write emails. Can you imagine that, Jorn? But now, in 2023, we are training them to understand how Generative AI works, when to use it, and how to prompt. We’ve come a long way since, but there are certainly similarities. The introduction of the internet caused a huge stir in the business world. I believe Artificial Intelligence will have the same disruptive effect on companies that create content.

The introduction of the internet caused a huge stir in the business world. I believe Artificial Intelligence will have the same disruptive effect on companies that create content.”


Jorn Vanysacker
I can only agree with that. I think AI technology will eventually trickle down to all legal tech solutions. As a CIO, how do you make sure it gets adopted?


Francesc Muñoz
The legal business is first and foremost a people business. Buying technology is easy, but getting people to work with it is not. The CIO is responsible for leading the change. And I cannot stress enough the importance of a well-thought-out adoption strategy.

Buying technology is easy, but getting people to work with it is not. I cannot stress enough the importance of a well-thought-out adoption strategy.”

Jorn Vanysacker

As a global law firm with hundreds of lawyers, how do you integrate these new tools? Do you work with a small set of lawyers who explore these tools and matching skills to educate other colleagues? You know, hoping that it expands throughout the firm like an oil stain?


Francesc Muñoz
You touched upon a good point there, Jorn. This is actually a challenge we’re addressing today. At the moment we are working on something like you suggested and some alternatives.


Jorn Vanysacker
Interesting! What are the next steps for Generative AI in the legal profession? In two or three years, how do you see things evolving?


Francesc Muñoz
We’re seeing a lot of new start-ups with solutions based on Generative AI. However, established names such as Microsoft are also heavily investing in the development of AI solutions. We don’t know yet which tools are here to stay and which will be outplayed by their competitors. So, to predict how things will shape up in the future is quite hard, especially when things are moving this fast. One thing is for sure, Generative AI is going to shake things up in the legal industry. I believe that we are at an inflection point. We’re going to see fully automated and digital legal services in the near future. Time will tell whether the quality is that of a junior or rather more senior-level lawyer. That being said, I do believe that human intervention will always remain necessary to a certain extent.

Jorn Vanysacker
What kind of skills will lawyers need in the future for these human interventions? Are these different from the skills lawyers master today?


Francesc Muñoz
Yes, I think they will be different. We all want Superwomen and Supermen – we expect more and more. That applies not only to lawyers but also to consultants, for example. At CUATRECASAS we look for top lawyers, with a deep understanding of law, but they can no longer be professionals with only one focus. They must have knowledge of geopolitics, technology, and business. They must see correlations and be able to detect causality. Technology, business, and legal matters are constantly interconnecting. Our lawyers must be fully aware of this. We want them to understand how Generative AI works so they can use it to their advantage. They need to understand when the output is reliable and when it is hallucinatory.


Jorn Vanysacker
Is the potential of Generative AI leading you to consider alternative business models?


Francesc Muñoz
Yes, this is something that has been on the table for some time. Some firms cling to the idea that their legal services should only be based on a lawyer’s talent, expertise, and knowledge. But we are moving toward an industry where software can also provide legal services supplemented by the skill set of a lawyer.


Jorn Vanysacker
Interesting that you say that. We did a report on the billable hour and we found that critics have been saying for 20 years that the end of the billable hour is near. Do you think we have reached the tipping point?


Francesc Muñoz
The billable hour is a key indicator for all firms. It’s a metric that provides an overview of capacity, resources, and workload. We are going to keep this metric. However, we already invoice in many ways nowadays, not just by the hour. And Generative AI will definitely have its impact on invoicing, no doubt about that. If it only takes us 30 minutes to draft a great contract with the help of Artificial Intelligence, we won’t charge the 4 hours that we used to need. I’m confident that we can offer our clients a better, more sophisticated solution because Generative AI will free up more time for our lawyers to go above and beyond.


Jorn Vanysacker
It’s fascinating stuff, Francesc. Thank you so much for your insights, I am convinced it can inspire a lot of people. Hasta la próxima!