Innovate | Legal: Tech Trust Teams

The first in a series on Legal Innovation we are calling Innovate | Legal: Tech Trust Teams (3T) is a team structure we have developed internally for deploying emerging technology.  Where teams are moving at the pace of innovation, lawyers and risk specialists best engage in realtime decision making by being involved in development sprint readouts and by engaging with the team throughout the project life of development, future proofing the work against the emerging regulatory and legal landscape.

Law is a profession and practice built on statutes and codes, case law, and norms. Lawyers hold historical approaches and precedential decisions in the highest regard, but increasingly, our profession is looking to technology and design thinking to change how lawyers operate and contribute to solving problems and promoting justice. In this series of In the Balance posts, called Innovate | Legal, we will explore the ideas and pilots happening within McKinsey Legal to advance the legal profession, and the position our counselors, as innovative thinkers and trailblazers, have in serving our internal clients.

It is one of the greatest anomalies of modern times that the law, which exists as a public guide to conduct, has become such a recondite mystery that is incomprehensible to the public and scarcely intelligible to its own votaries.

Lee Loevinger (Jurimetrics – The Next Step Forward, 1972)

Concept one: tech trust teams

Emerging technology is running at the speed of innovation, and the law struggles to keep up. As one example, artificial intelligence (AI), although widely used, has inherent challenges because AI algorithms can raise significant issues of bias and too often lack transparency.

As is often the case with emerging technology, AI’s accelerated development creates challenges for the regulators to keep pace, and therefore a comprehensive regulatory scheme is just beginning to form. Governments are working hard to catch up with new technology; the EU’s draft regulations regarding AI are the first comprehensive legal scheme to appear involving such processes, which has resulted in a regulatory landscape around emerging technology that grows more complex by the day. As technology advances and legal interpretations fail to adapt to new circumstances, events, or knowledge, then “running a project by legal” may not be as simple as it once was. Lawyers will face never-before-seen challenges when dealing with advanced AI or other unknown technology projects. This could even result in delays while legal teams attempt to learn and understand the new tech they’re working with, and in the worst-case scenario, it could even mean abandoning a project rather than allowing for risks farther down the line.

Pattern recognition of what works for tech creation and deployment is often changing too quickly for lawyers or development teams to be able to count on the methods that worked six months ago. This reality creates real risks that legal concerns may unnecessarily slow down or halt cutting-edge projects, thereby missing opportunities to assist innovative teams seeking early-adopter advantages. On the other hand, projects that proceed may be subject to excessive and unnecessary risk because legal wasn’t engaged with enough time to conduct a thorough review. Teams need real-time guidance based on an understanding of the emerging technology and the complex set of regulatory, ethical, and technical considerations at hand. Meeting this need is made more challenging not only because of the speed of change, but because organizations with siloed departments reviewing products and services independent from one another might be unable to approach risk, ethics, and risk considerations holistically.

Against this backdrop, we recently published a framework and approach for getting to know—and manage—your biggest AI risks, which included the concept of "tech trust teams," or “3T” for short. 3T involves legal, risk, and technology professionals operating as a team from the launch of a new project, ensuring risk-related considerations are “baked in” to the development lifecycle. The 3T approach is a learning journey that trains nontechnical members of an organization, whose expertise is crucial for the successful creation of products and services, to continuously engage on tech-development teams, proactively building risk considerations into the design and future-proofing innovation.

3T teaches lawyers how to engage in technical delivery models (e.g., agile sprints, waterfall, etc.) from product inception to launch in order to effectively keep risk mitigation in mind throughout the process. With 3T, lawyers and risk professionals gain a deep understanding of the innovative technology at issue. By partnering with the developers throughout a product’s lifecycle, the legal approach can keep pace with technological improvements and changes. 3T offers an effective way to incorporate holistic risk assessments and mitigation strategies into the design process. This, in turn, enables teams to achieve impact and competitive advantage with cutting-edge products.

As the development of 3T demonstrates, at McKinsey, we are constantly revisiting our thought leadership, support approach, and the appropriate delivery model for great legal counseling. We created this new process for testing and validation via an agile approach for two key reasons:

First, given the shifting regulatory, governance, and reputational-risk landscape in the emerging technology space, we have seen many organizations grapple with how to approach new tech development and deployment. They may even outsource the legal review and advisory process, which could mean missing out on the pattern recognition and speed that comes with addressing such issues inhouse.

Second, legal and risk professionals can often be treated as siloed experts to be brought in at key moments, but the nature of emerging technology today requires a cross-collaborative and integrative model where expert employees can work in mixed teams. This allows for thoughtful consideration of different combinations of levers to pull across cyber, ethical, legal, risk, technical, and other specialists to respond to the latest regulatory guidance and trends.

Creating embedded, cross-disciplinary teams can both minimize delays in emerging technology development and ensure that such technology is optimized to stand the test of time against a changing legal and regulatory environment. Development teams that learn to engage consistently with experts in legal, risk, quality assurance, and others will likely be those that create tech to change the world for years to come.