Smooth Operations for your Legal Team: Technology

So far in our Smooth Operations series, Arbor Law’s Legal Ops specialist Neil Smith has introduced us to Legal Operations – what it means, how to get started, the interplay of tech and measuring success – and also covered all things Service Delivery. This month it’s the big one – and one blog is not enough. It’s all about how technology is a core part of Legal Operations.

What are some benefits you’ve witnessed when introducing technology solutions to improve service delivery within legal teams? Can you share any success stories?

I’ve seen first-hand all of the headline benefits which come to mind when people start thinking about implementing a tech solution, from end-to-end process acceleration, revenue savings, user and customer satisfaction, seamless integrations with other systems and improved data analysis.

What makes the implementation of a tech solution a success story? A user who is able to access technology to solve a problem, knows how to use it, completes their end-to-end journey within the tool and can seamlessly integrate it with other systems. If the user is happy, legal is happy, the business is happy and the tech itself becomes self-serve with little intervention.

There are limitless benefits, but pitfalls inevitably crop up given the complexity of what you are trying to achieve, so you do need to navigate these to succeed.

What are the challenges for legal teams when it comes to solving service delivery problems via technology solutions?

I am not saying anything new here when I tell you it’s the assumption that a piece of technology will be the silver bullet solution to a problem. Because legal tech is an increasingly ‘hot topic’ of conversation, there is a real urge to buy a ‘piece of tech’ to ‘make things better.’ Plus, there are a multitude of legal tech suppliers out there who are all competing to work with legal teams. Before even touching any kind of technology investment, I would recommend taking a step back, slowing down and asking:

  • What are the biggest problems facing the legal team?
  • What are the biggest problems facing the business?
  • Is there any alignment re those problems so that tackling one will help solve the other?

You can then set about prioritising those problems ranking them on an urgent/important matrix basis to identify what should be tackled first.

Having done that, consider whether a better cost:benefit solution might be to optimise  processes that already exist. End-to-end process mapping will help to clarify here.

Assuming a legal team has mapped processes and are confident a piece of technology is the answer, what next?

The discovery phase is important to make sure you select the right tool for the right job from the right supplier. Start with your requirements. Don’t just concentrate on how to make the legal team’s life easier. Use surveys, interviews and focus groups to surface all relevant information. Another factor to consider is whether there is already a widely adopted and heavily embedded business-wide system – the ability to integrate with that will therefore be a big factor and starting point.

Also make sure you follow any internal procurement processes and continue to do so throughout the procurement journey (which can be lengthy!).

What sorts of challenges have you seen and encountered at the roll out/implementation stage? How can you manage these?

Common challenges are the reverse of the benefits we started with! Users not being able to access the tech, or knowing how to use the tech, the tech not being the remedy for the problem, the tech breaking down, so users cannot complete their journey, new technology  not integrating with existing systems. Then users become vocal detractors and adoption fails. There are no shortcuts here; each blocker should be pre-emptively considered and tackled before and after launch. This following is a good rubric to adopt:

  • Accessing the tech – detailed and continuing dialogue with the supplier and relevant internal IT teams
  • How to use the tech – a robust pre-launch comms and training program with self-help materials housed on a readily user-accessible intranet/SharePoint site
  • Ensuring technology solves the problem and integrates with other systems – exhaustive pre-purchase and pre-launch requirements gathering on an agile basis
  • Tech issues and breakdowns – an agreed issue resolution/IT ticket/SLA process with clear allocations of responsibility as between internal IT teams and the solution provider
  • Ensure the technology will speed things up/solve known problems – detailed pre-acquisition solution validation along with like for like comparison with existing internal processes
  • Solving feedback and launch issues – post launch check-ins, clinics, hotlines, surveys, Steering Committees

Many lawyers may be hesitant about large-scale technology projects due to resistance to change. How can you reassure them?

The adoption piece cannot be underestimated as a driver of success. I would be more concerned if a legal professional wasn’t hesitant before implementing a ‘large-scale technology project’ given the expense, time, people investment, risk and business disruption that any implementation involves. However, this should not put organisations and legal teams off beginning their technology journey. The important thing is to not expect it to be easy and to use that unease to ensure you take steps to mitigate those risks and concerns, as above.

A commonly tackled legal tech work stream is contract management, contract automation and contract approval. What specific benefits can legal teams achieve through overhauling and refining these processes?

Contract management and approval process improvement is perhaps the most evolved and sophisticated workstream catered for by legal tech solutions. This is an obvious ‘good thing’ but also a challenge given the multitude of solutions out there meaning that a robust selection process must be conducted as the first stage.

Once implemented the benefits are numerous: end-to-end workflow, auto population via CRM integration, clear and self-explanatory user questionnaire for missing details, in-tool sharing and negotiation functionality, reduced email traffic, safeguarding approval routing, integrated e-signature integration, user repository integration, ability to surface contracts by reference to very many data points, contract expiry alerts, upsell opportunities.

Are there any other technology solutions that are particularly well-suited for legal teams looking to start small and gradually expand their use of technology in service delivery?

Alongside contract automation systems there are numerous other legal tech solutions which tackle other legal pain points – examples include: legal front door, document intake and analysis systems – but the principles above remain as true for these sorts of implementations as for the roll out of contract management and automation solutions.

In addition, don’t automatically dismiss starting with (and optimising) the tech you already have!

What are some effective ways to leverage both old and new technologies to enhance service delivery within legal operations?

Start with your needs and requirements, identify systems you already have access to either within legal or elsewhere in the business and where appropriate leverage from that.

A really good example of this is harnessing the power of existing Microsoft suite solutions (eg Outlook, Teams, SharePoint) and building out new tech solutions which leverage or at the very least seamlessly integrate with those tools. If you can build a solution around known and loved environments in which your users already live, the battle is half won before you even begin!

I have found another good tactic is to analyse what systems sales teams are using – assuming those systems are well-embedded and well-liked that can often be a key determinant in deciding what additional legal tech solution to implement. It can be a game-changer to integrate your contract automation platform with your CRM system (Oracle, Salesforce or other). As well as the more obvious advantage that many fields within the contract can then be auto-populated, you can also capitalise on the adoption and familiarity that users already have with the CRM system to create an easier buy-in to the new tool – the classic win-win.

What emerging technologies or trends do you foresee having a significant impact on Legal Operations and service delivery? How can legal teams stay ahead of the curve?

The most obvious hot topic of conversation here is the application and potential scope of AI and AI assisted legal tech solutions. It is difficult to put a limit on potential AI-use cases in the legal space: legal research, intelligent trawl of proprietary information held by the user’s company along with wider interrogation of external sources, ability to easily refine and summarise outputs, quick reframing of outputs into an email ready to send to the client.

These are exciting times, but my personal view is that lawyers will wish to retain an element of human co-piloting of these systems, no matter how sophisticated, for some considerable time yet.

In terms of staying ahead of the curve, there are no easy answers other than to monitor the legal tech space proactively, regularly and systematically. I recommend publications such as Legal IT Insider, Artificial Lawyer, The Legal Technologist and attending events by CLOC, Legal Geek and Lexpo. There are also some great legal tech influencers on channels like LinkedIn and Twitter – just follow hashtags like #legaltechnology #legaltech and #legalinnovation.

If you are a legal team looking to get started or advance with any aspect of your Legal Operations, contact Neil.Smith@Arbor.Law for a discovery chat.