In the corporate legal space, legal professionals face an uphill battle to remain on top of ongoing matters. To do this, in-house legal teams must manage tight deadlines and ensure the organization avoids legal risk. As a result of these pressures, legal teams are in search of tools and technology to solve or reduce the issues they are dealing with.
Tools come in all shapes and sizes: some are point solutions that aim to tackle one specific issue. Others are broad, multi-faceted solution suites that offer a wide range of functions. Depending on need and budget, in-house legal teams can adjust their requirements. It should be no surprise that the more all-encompassing a tool is, the more expensive it gets. Complex tools also require a larger investment of time to become useful. Although more limited, a simple problem can sometimes need nothing more than a simple solution.
In a different blog, I wrote on how technology really isn’t optional anymore in the modern legal space. That blog dealt with document review in particular, but the same concept applies. Although it is possible to face the challenges by expanding the team and adding raw manpower. The reality is that method of facing the challenge at hand is too expensive, time-consuming, and error-prone. A modern legal team needs more.
Innovation and the legal space have had a tenuous relationship throughout the years. Following the advent of eDiscovery in the early 2000s, legal professionals had to seek new solutions for new problems. This search became more pressing with every passing year, as data stores continued to grow.
Though desired in principle, the legal industry has been slow to adopt technological solutions. In fact, the lack of technology adoption across the legal space is a growing concern for some experts. In 2019, the World Services Group noted: “The growth of legal tech hasn’t achieved the same blistering pace that FinTech has managed. The rate at which the financial sector has caught on has meant wide-ranging technological innovation at every level. (...) Part of the reason for the legal profession’s shortfall is a lack of enthusiasm on the part of the legal community, and a natural aversion to change.”
For legal counsel, risk avoidance is one of the core tasks. As such, the aversion to change is hardly surprising. Some have observed that generally, General Counsels do not respond to innovation for its own sake very well. If tried and tested methods of improvement are available, they will remain preferred. Instead, General Counsel innovates in response to disruption. Disruption takes many forms. Recently, COVID-19 gave rise to significant changes in the legal space. As one may expect, innovation followed in its wake. The response to the pandemic has seen in-house teams and General Counsel join on the digital transformation.
Of course, COVID-19 won’t be a factor forever (knock on wood). Luckily, disruption does not need a pandemic. Legal disputes continue to grow in number and complexity. The amount of data involved also continues to grow. Law firm Norton Rose Fulbright noted in 2019: “Concerns about the complexity of [discovery] requests – especially in terms of the volume of data required and the challenge of multi-jurisdictional requirements – are common refrains about the added strain such legal proceedings place on in-house legal departments.”
With all that in mind, let’s look at a few examples of Legal Technology that is currently used by legal counsel. If applicable, I'll add some notes from a relevant case study. With the examples provided by the case studies, the added value will be clear. You'll find the key takeaways from each technology.
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Matter management software helps legal teams manage the process of a legal matter. That is to say, the way in which a matter and the totality of the information surrounding it is organized. This includes the individuals involved, as well as documents, meetings, budgets, and expenses. Last but not least, matter management keeps track of the general progress of the case.
A matter can be anything from a simple request to a complex legal project. Whatever the case, the matter management tool supports the in-house team. A matter management tool helps teams collaborate and meet deadlines. Tools will usually have some type of reporting functionality, to keep relevant people informed. Matter management tools are most useful to teams that face many cases at the same time.
One of the cases highlighted by Matter Management solution provider App4Legal is the Emirates NBD Bank. Emirates NBD Bank struggled with disparate tools and email-based collaboration. As a result, internal transparency was a real problem. This frustrated the business.
The lack of a central system meant extra admin to manage the disjointed set of solutions they were using. This created system that was slow and difficult to track. As a result, legal counsel faced increased scrutiny from within the company. This forced them to improve their efficiency and transparency.
The matter management system allowed the bank to centralize legal workflows. They could also better communicate and collaborate with other departments. Finally, they were able to update relevant people on progress due to standardization and automation. Matter management enabled the legal team to become better contributors to the business's success.
Managing contracts is one of the key responsibilities of most legal departments. Keeping track of contracts from vendors, clients, and a wide variety of partnerships over the course of their lifecycle. If done right, contract management is a non-factor to the business interests. As with compliance, contract management is only seen when it is a problem. That said, shoddy contract management is something an organization can get used to. Getting used to poor contract management can lead to issues legal departments seek to avoid, extra costs, risk exposure, time waste, etc.
Thanks to how common contract management is, there are a number of tools available to help manage the process. A wide variety of tools are available for teams seeking help with contract management. This includes standardizing or automating contract language, which can make a big difference.
Even the simplest of tools can have a significant impact. For instance, keeping track of notifications, which most contract management solutions offer. Such functionalities provide significant improvements to legal department performance. Adopting a contract management solution almost always offers significant benefits to the business.
Semiconductor builder ASM adopted Agiloft, a specialized contract management solution in 2019. At the time, they had trouble keeping track of their NDA’s. “We’re a very small legal department of a multinational based out of the Netherlands. Still, we need an NDA signed by just about everyone who interacts with our business” said Todd Westersund, ASM’s Senior Global Legal Counsel. Keeping track of who had and hadn’t signed an NDA was a difficult process. The contract management tool allowed the in-house legal team to save resources. For the business as a whole, it eliminated the need for the full-time contract manager they hired.
Billing platforms were initially created for use by Law Firms, but their use extends to in-house teams as well. Keeping track of legal spend, consolidating invoices, and collaborating with the finance department. These are all highly relevant activities to in-house legal teams. A central hub for spend management allows legal teams to improve collaboration. Better collaboration means less coordination with departments like Finance, Human Resource, and Sales.
e-Billing solution provider SimpleLegal worked with NextRoll, an online advertising and marketing platform. With no process for spend management in place, NextRoll found themselves in email hell. They were forced to piece together invoices and vendor activity from a variety of inboxes. As a result, it was difficult to keep track of expenses and struggled to keep costs under control, lacking oversight to do so.
Thanks to their spend management solution, NextRoll was able to create a central location for invoices. This central location can be accessed by other departments when needed. Thanks to spend management, they were able to identify costs associated with each timekeeper, firm, and project. With this information now available, NextRoll was able to streamline their invoice review. They were also able to check law firm performance to ensure they maximized value.
It’s no surprise that companies generate a lot of documents, which when the time arises, may have to be collected and searched. In terms of spoliation, avoiding loss of evidence is key. Of course, there is some wiggle room when it deciding what counts as spoliation and what doesn’t. The smartest course of action is to sidestep the issue altogether.
The latest generation of document storage solutions provides automation and synchronization options. This means emails can be automatically synced to a central system if they seem important. At the same time, document storage solutions offer state-of-the-art security. Advanced security means t system-based data leaks are far less likely.
In 2020, the Council of Europe approached NetDocuments to create a central, cloud-based repository. The state-of-the-art security, improved collaboration and document version control were key selling points. The Council selected NetDocuments based on these characteristics.
The Council’s most important asset is their knowledge and expertise. But the decentralized nature of their operation (8 administrative cores) meant that a cloud-based solution was a must. NetDocuments provides the Council of Europe with “a future-proof platform. It enables effective collaboration between internal and external shareholders, while providing the required governance for security, compliance and data loss prevention.”
When it comes to compliance, legal counsel has a tough job to do: protecting the interests of the company without impeding the growth. Document automation allows for much faster drafting of documents and eliminates clerical errors. Standardization also reduces the time needed for compliance reviews of documents. Virtually every document automation solution also allows recipients to negotiate and sign the documents as well.
Big Four accountancy firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC) implemented the document automation solution provided by Legito in their CEE (Central and Eastern Europe) branch. The goal was to improve standardization and document creation time. In 24 months, they implemented the solution across 31 countries, creating custom templates in a multitude of languages. The implementation happened without disruption to the business.
The project has been a success so far. PWC CEE has managed to save 90 minutes per document. For an organization that generates 900 documents per month in the CEE region alone, this is extremely significant. User experience has improved, and so has the document quality which allows for further time to be saved when it comes to document review.
Most legal professionals will end up searching for either legal precedent, a law text, or both. Thanks to eDiscovery, legal technology is no stranger to advanced searching. AI-assisted legal research tools allow users to upload their legal briefs and start searching. Once the brief is uploaded, the legal research tools finds additional case law. If available, information about those cases is provided. AI-powered research tools help legal professionals find what they normally spend hours searching for, in the blink of an eye.
Legal research tools mostly cater to firm-based lawyers, but their use extends to in-house legal professionals as well. One such AI-powered legal research solution is Casetext.
The adoption of technology is becoming common and necessary in the Legal space. Today, even the most risk-averse legal professionals are coming around to technology. This is partly due to the continued evolution of the available tools. Consistency is key in legal matters. Technology is, of course, very good at performing repetitive tasks.
Even if legal operations can still be done without the use of tools, technology is the way forward. As it now also makes fewer errors than humans do, its use has quickly become essential. Through years of use, many legal solutions are well-established and battle-tested options. Even better, the ROI of a superior tool is tremendous both in terms of time (and money) saved as in efficacy gained.
The tools discussed above are not the totality of technologies legal counsel can use. For instance, ZyLAB offers an AI-powered eDiscovery solution that allows legal teams to handle cases of civil litigation, regulatory requests, or internal investigations faster and more effectively. This allows in-house legal teams to perform more document review tasks themselves. By taking on more of these tasks, legal counsel can reduce legal spend by relying less on external counsel for eDiscovery tasks.