A conversation with Susan L. Lees, EVP, general counsel, and secretary of Allstate

In 31 years with Allstate, and as general counsel since 2012, Susie Lees has been an active player working with major technological innovations that have found fertile ground in the insurance business. She offered insights on how the new tech is changing the way her legal department gets things done.

What were the salient legal issues that had to be addressed in integrating the use of aerial imagery into the claims process?

Consent, privacy considerations, and compliance with FAA regulations were the primary legal issues addressed when aerial imagery was integrated into the Allstate claims process. When evaluating the issue of privacy, Allstate considered the legal requirements surrounding personal information and the use of aerial imagery, and developed several processes to ensure necessary consent is received for the capture and use of images.

Additionally, Allstate evaluated FAA regulations and other governmental requirements relating to the operation of the fixed-wing aircraft and drones that capture aerial images. Ultimately, Allstate outsourced fixed-wing aircraft and drone operations to third-party vendors, which maintain necessary licenses and ensure fixed-wing aircraft and drone operations are conducted in compliance with all applicable regulations.

Allstate leverages these partnerships and closely monitors innovations in aerial imagery to continually create a modernized and efficient means of handling claims and better serve customers.

What recent or ongoing tech innovations have made it easier to manage a large in-house legal department?

Allstate leverages technology in a variety of ways within what my team calls the “innovation continuum.” On one end of the continuum — we use matter/case management, e-signature, and board management applications. Despite being ubiquitous in the marketplace, these applications contribute substantially to our efficiency and effectiveness. On the other end of the continuum, we use robotic process automation, artificial intelligence, and robotic computer assistants. We’ve implemented a chat bot we call “Lia” (Legal Intelligent Assistant) to provide on-demand “no-touch” information to business partners where answers are clear and don’t require human intervention (e.g., disclaimers to use with marketing materials). We’re also using AI and machine learning to build a tool that will collect information from claim files and automatically generate summaries. Robotic process automation helps us achieve greater accuracy and efficiency of manual repetitive tasks.

We leverage a sourcing application typically used to purchase goods such as computers and office supplies. My team uses this technology to solicit proposals, including fixed-fee pricing, when we retain law firms to advise Allstate. We also use the tool to conduct reverse auctions with law firms competing to earn our business. My team recently established a data and analytics team within our Legal Operations group. We use data to route work to the most appropriate professional for the task at hand, predict outcomes, inform decision-making, and measure program effectiveness. The possibilities with tech innovations are numerous and quite exciting — and we’re just beginning to scratch the surface.

What compliance issues in the insurance industry are the most difficult to deal with?

As part of a highly regulated industry, Allstate is accustomed to challenging compliance requirements. Our business models have expanded beyond our traditional insurance product lines to meet consumer needs. As we embed cutting-edge technology into Allstate’s products, we gain an enormous amount of new data, making compliance with privacy and security requirements more complex.

Compliance becomes difficult when restrictions are not calibrated to the risk from which they intend to protect. Consider privacy as an example. Due to recent California law, sensitive data, such as medical information, is now treated in the same manner as a physical address — information that can be easily found through an internet search. Companies using these types of data are subject to the same requirements, including notification regarding the collection, use, and sharing of that information. This causes a lot of noise and can make it challenging for consumers to determine what notices to act upon.

There are public assumptions that the collection and use of personal information is harmful to the individual. However, there can be personal and societal benefits to the use of an individual’s data. For example, safe drivers who share driving data can receive a reduced insurance premium. This same data can also be examined in aggregate to make public roads safer. Companies need to be privacy minded, but overly broad or complicated restrictions to the access and use of data can significantly diminish these individual and public benefits as well as thwart innovation.