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Legal process

Legal Process | How tech enables corporate legal teams to have smarter and better processes

Jeffrey Wolff
May 28, 2021 11:25:32 AM

In an earlier blog, I wrote about the skills legal counsel need to develop to future-proof themselves. Although the list was in no particular order, the first thing that came to mind was technological competence. For legal departments, finding and implementing the right legal technology to get more done is equally important. With legal practices fairly well optimized by now, the challenge that many CLOs face is a familiar one: do more without access to more resources. The solution, to no one’s surprise, is found in technology and automation.

For legal departments looking to improve, we’ve rounded up a number of potential areas for improvement. I’ll attempt to highlight why a legal department might look to legal technology to improve performance. I’ll add in some links to well-regarded solutions for those who wish to read more about a specific area. 

Contents

The role of automation in the legal process
What are the benefits of automating your legal process?
6 ways legal teams use tech for smarter and better processes
1. Productivity
2. Reporting
3. Contract Management
4. Electronic Signature
5. Corporate Legal Memory
6. Legal Hold

The role of automation in the legal process 

Like many non-revenue generating parts of a business, legal departments and CLOs struggle to demonstrate the value of their work. According to Plexus, 28% percent of general counsels feel their business appreciates their department’s value accurately. Interestingly, only 8% of total respondents were able to measure legal KPI’s in the first place. In an increasingly data-dominated world, having data to back up results, improvement and value can be instrumental. It allows you to quantify the importance of the legal department’s work. 

It isn’t all about money, though. The reality of legal work is that a lot of it is repetitive. For many activities, counsel ends up repeating the same steps over and over again. Such repeated tasks are not only boring, they’re also time-consuming and take a significant amount of time to perform. A 2014 Plexus survey saw only 26% of in-house clients agree with the statement “the services provided by my legal department were of sufficient value to justify the time and resources we spent”. 

By automating certain processes, legal departments and CLOs can better show their value to their organization. They can also eliminate repetitive and time-consuming tasks, allowing them to add real value to the processes that require their ingenuity, creativity, and attention. 

 

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What are the benefits of automating your legal process? 

Taking away certain tasks from humans and handing them to a computer brings with it a number of advantages. They include: 

Measurability 

Technology generates data, which allows for the process to be analyzed. The data generated can be used to build reports and measure KPIs. This helps the legal team show their value. It also offers general improvement ideas on legal operations to the rest of the business in terms the business understands. 

Prioritization 

By moving away from repetitive tasks and legal drudgery, the legal department can begin focusing on the parts of the job that humans are actually good at. Rather than redrafting the same legal document for the umpteenth time, counsel will have the time to pick up the projects that would normally fall by the wayside. By automating a process once it has been optimized, the process can move on to the next project. 

Standardization 

For those who aren’t involved in the day-to-day of legal operations, a more predictable legal department is a great boon. For the legal department itself, standardized communications and methods of operations that you know are always the same, helps create oversight. 

Scalability 

Computers perform repetitive tasks faster than people. Automation cares little if it is asked to do a task 1, 5, or 200 times, it does them in basically the same amount of time. If we briefly look beyond automation, the same holds true for many legal operations technology can assist with. Be it data processing, assisting in document review, or gathering data for reports. 

Legal Cost 

A well-automated legal department will be able to do more work with less money. With the amount of work no longer tied directly to manpower requirements, doing more no longer requires a larger headcount. What’s more, doing the same amount of work will require less time, creating a more effective and faster legal department that can scale with the business without having its associated costs explode. 

6 ways legal teams use tech for smarter and better processes 

1. Productivity 

As a term, legal productivity is difficult to nail down. Without wanting to fall into empty platitudes, anything that helps a legal professional do more in less time counts as productivity. Any of the following five points can be argued to contribute, as do a wide range of minor tools that tackle the small inefficiencies in legal operations. 

For more sweeping changes (and results), legal departments may look to Enterprise Legal Management (ELM) suites. ELM suites bundle a range of solutions together, including spend management and analytics. Solutions such as Mitratech, claim to lower legal spend by 5-10% out of the box. Most of these gains are made by enabling increased productivity. 

2. Reporting 

I mentioned reporting earlier, but it’s hard to overstate its importance. Any solution that offers automation will generate data, and as a consequence will usually offer some type of analytics. ELM includes such modules, but if a full suite is taking it a bit too far, individual parts of such suites can usually be brought in separately. For legal departments that seek to have more insight into their performance, matter management tools like BrightFlag or SimpleLegal, might be the answer. Both solutions offer a wealth of reporting and analytics options and can be upgraded into more complete ELM suites if needed. 

With data-driven business practices quickly becoming the norm, legal departments need to be able to quantify their operations. By using the built-in tooling, that reporting can be standardized. 

3. Contract Management 

One of the most automatable parts of the tasks performed by the legal department has to do with contracts. Nearly every part of drawing up a contract, from draft to review, can be automated. Legal departments that haven’t automated contract management typically spend significant time putting together documents and managing obligations that stem from contracts. 

Contract management tools, such as Juro, offer a specialized solution for all operations surrounding contracts. With the amount of time legal departments spend on contracts, it’s an obvious candidate for automation. Contracts are nearly always standardized anyway, and tools make it incredibly easy to edit only the bits that need changing. 

4. Electronic Signatures 

Electronic signatures are a dressed-down version of the contract management solution from point 3. With most documents now digital, legal departments can spend a lot more time than they’d like chasing after signatures. With no electronic signature tool available, signing a contract may mean having to print a contract, then sign it. Once signed, it will then have to be scanned back into the system. This process is both cumbersome and prone to error. In a pinch, contracts need to be found quickly, which means that an uploading error (for instance, uploading as an image or non-searchable PDF) can be a costly mistake. 

Tools like PandaDoc claim they can save a legal department as much as 12 hours of work a week. Worth a look, I’d say. 

5. Corporate Legal Memory 

As companies grow, the amount of data they generate grows with them. Having key documents available at a moment's notice can be crucial in case of a legal dispute. Data growth can be a problem for many companies. I wrote earlier about the importance of information governance, focusing on retention and preservation policies. For legal departments, having a central repository of important information can be a godsend when trouble arises. Corporate Legal Memory can take many shapes, one of them being document management

Having a searchable and accessible database in place to keep important legal documents allows legal departments to be more effective. Such repositories allow legal to spend less time rooting around hard drives for evidence and more time focusing on the case itself. 

6. Legal Hold 

Much like contract management, Legal Hold is a prime candidate for automation. Collecting evidence within the company is a process that repeats itself every time litigation begins, with clear timelines and checkpoints to measure. As such, Legal Hold tools allow users to automate the management process. They can also utilize templates for notifications, conduct surveys of custodians, send reminders, and easily keep track of progress. I discussed Legal Hold extensively in an earlier blog

Legal Hold management solutions such as ours allow for a faster, smoother, and more defensible process of evidence collection. 

Key Takeaways 

Technology has and is continuing to reshape many industries and the legal industry is no exception. Automation technology, as I pointed out earlier, provides legal teams with smarter and better processes by helping streamline, automate, manage and measure legal tasks. 

On top of this, by adopting technology into your legal process, automated aspects of the work are less dependent on individual knowledge. This is because knowledge is no longer trapped inside an individual’s mind. Instead, it has been automated. As a result, it is easier to hand over or replicate. 

Over to you, is your legal team taking advantage of the various available tools to achieve smarter and better processes?