As an in-house lawyer you face many challenges, from advising on complex legal or strategic matters across a range of commercial and legal practice areas, to repetitive tasks such as contract generation and corporate knowledge management.
One of the critical tasks for any company’s general counsel is to free their in-house legal team to do the high-value tasks required by the business whilst still ensuring that lower-value and routine tasks are being appropriately serviced.
In this article, we discuss how harnessing legal technology to work smarter can make your team more efficient, improve knowledge retention, accelerate professional development and reduce potential burnout.
Legal technology innovations — a quick overview
In a technology-fuelled world, it’s increasingly acknowledged that technology is an enabler of better legal work for lower-order legal tasks such as:
- Matter management.
- Electronic billing and spend management.
- Knowledge management and legal guidance.
- In-house precedent management.
- Document assembly of commonly required documents (such as product disclosure statements or breach reporting).
- Self-service contract generation (enabling anyone within an organisation to generate organisationally-compliant contracts).
- Generating checklists and flowcharts.
- Vetting the credentials, or potential for success, of external legal providers.
- Archiving and management of e-signatures and executed contracts.
These can all be assisted or executed by automation, artificial intelligence, data analytics and other key technologies – such as blockchain, smart contracts, digital collaboration platforms, and cloud- or software-based matter management or workflow dashboards – tailored for the legal professional.
Self-service contract generation explained
Technology that enables ‘self-service’ contract generation, for example, can streamline the in-house production of commonly used contracts and take the burden off an already overstretched in-house legal team. Document automation technology does this by allowing anyone within the organisation – legal or commercial – to create a complete contract that’s consistent with the organisation’s requirements, methodologies and aims.
Users work through a web-based questionnaire (pre-designed by the in-house legal team and/or their external legal advisers, together with a dedicated legal software provider) that collects relevant data on the transaction at hand and guides the user through the document-creation process.
The result of good document automation technology? A contract that’s largely complete and company compliant – freeing your team to deal only with more complex or ‘bespoke’ areas of the contract before the document is ready for sign-off and execution.
The benefits of adopting more legal technology
InfoTrack CEO John Ahern recently noted, “In-house counsel are well-placed to be the innovators in the industry, to get access to the latest tools. Because their roles are so broad … they’re part of every decision. So they’re well-placed to have access to the right tools, utilise them, and reap the benefits for the business.”
Using existing (and rapidly improving) legal technologies to reduce the amount of repetitive or lower-value tasks that your team faces frees them for more complex, high-value work. This might include tasks such as supporting the C-suite in its strategic planning or improving intra-organisational and stakeholder relationships.
Other benefits of adopting legal technology include:
- The ability to empower your legal team – from the most junior practitioner to the most senior – efficiently and relatively cheaply, by giving them around-the-clock access to practical guides, legal updates and an evolving, industry-expert-prepared database of precedents and forms.
- Giving your practitioners access to ongoing matters, research resources, workflow management platforms and cost breakdown software from a range of mobile devices, thereby enabling them to work flexibly, promoting greater work-life balance and helping to reduce the risk of team burnout and the consequent loss of valuable corporate knowledge.
- Increasing business efficiency while minimising the risk of legal errors, for example by enabling more junior – or non-legal – staff to undertake drafting or advisory work once reserved for more senior lawyers.
How to work out the legal technology appropriate to your organisation
The business benefits of adopting more legal technology are obvious in an era of rapid change and disruption. This makes it important for you and your team to narrow down the appropriate solutions that will enhance delivery of legal services to their organisation.
James Jarvis, Director, Global Legal Solutions at Thomson Reuters, recommends asking the following key questions:
- What common tasks or problems does the legal team face? Some examples include: a disproportionate amount of time spent in proofreading or manually preparing commonly used documents; an inability to generate analysis or reports to inform strategic decision making; an inability to respond quickly due to a chaotic precedents management system or lack of access to knowledge or know-how resources. If your team faces these kinds of problems, technological solutions now exist to deal with these time- and resource-consuming issues.
- Are your existing technologies fit for purpose? Does your current mix of hardware, software and services meet your needs? Is it outdated, unworkable for certain tasks or even abandoned because it takes too much time or training – or requires too much data entry – to be retained? Stocktaking your legacy systems and software with the assistance of a legal solutions provider may assist you to streamline current processes and implement better solutions. If your legal technology provider can’t build bespoke solutions, or if they can’t build a solution that can scale to suit your organisation and make a meaningful difference to the way you work, it may be time to replace it.
- Does your technology deliver additional benefits? These might include unexpected benefits or spin-off advantages to staff such as the ability to work remotely, to use a range of mobile devices and to work flexibly.
As part of this survey, the legal team should also identify wider organisational areas that require process or technological improvement as there may be a legal, or legal-driven, solution to these. Typically, there will be three solutions to any process or technological challenge within an organisation:
- Non-technological solutions: such as streamlining or upgrading training/upskilling programs within the organisation.
- Tech-enabled solutions: an organisation doing a stocktake of its existing technologies and adding to them with new technological solutions, or software, to address the specific issues facing the organisation.
- A blend of non-technological and technological solutions: which involves improving non-technological processes in step with new technological solutions or software.
However, in implementing these kinds of solutions, team leaders need to put more resources and thinking into change processes and the people implementing those changes , and less into deadlines or outcomes. If affected staff understand and accept the rationale for a change, and have input into the implementation process, it’s far more likely that any new solution– tech or non-tech – will succeed.
It may seem counterintuitive that the greater uptake of legal technology will improve your team’s work environment and prospects, but the benefits are undeniable in an era of cost-cutting and increased competition, innovation and disruption.
By marrying the technical, human skill set of your in-house lawyers with new technologies that will enable them to more efficiently tackle – or delegate to more junior or non-legal staff – a broad range of legal, regulatory and administrative matters, the potential for greater efficiencies and better work-life balance are immense.