I recently moderated a panel session on legal technology at the Practical Law GC Leadership: Leading small and medium legal teams event. The session focused on how legal departments can identify, acquire and implement the most suitable technologies for their needs. Here are my top takeaways from it.
Key technologies used by legal departments today
In general, legal departments find it difficult to identify the legal technologies that are available and the capabilities that these technologies possess to support their objectives to deliver legal services to their businesses more efficiently, expediently and expertly. They often do not realise that a technology solution exists for a problem that they are attempting to solve and rarely have the time to investigate what solutions are available.
Together with my panellists, Andrew Dey, Independent Legal Technology Advisor and Jonathan Knight, Associate Director and Head of of Software Services at Board Intelligence, we were able to highlight some of the more commonly adopted legal technologies available, which include:
- Document management systems for tracking managing and storing documents.
- Matter management systems, which allow lawyers to manage, track and report on internal and external matters.
- eBilling systems, which enable in-house lawyers to have tighter control over their external spend and provide reporting functionality to support legal department key performance indicators.
- Document automation and assembly, which allows lawyers to efficiently create customised templates that their business colleagues can access on a self-service basis.
- Electronic signatures.
- Board portals, which are designed to remove the administrative burden from producing board packs and improve the quality of information provided to boards.
What factors prevent a legal department acquiring the technology it needs?
Once the legal department has found an appropriate technology, it can still be a complex and at times difficult process to convince the business to invest in it.
The panellists were able to provide some practical advice on this part of the process:
- Firstly, you need to get your business to recognise the need for a change. Companies often invest in technology to make themselves more successful. You should use the same rationale to justify your technology investment: to make the legal department more successful.
- Proving the solution works, at a reasonable price, is a key requisite for getting business buy-in. However, it is important that other business functions, such as procurement, do not take over the process and decide which solution to purchase. The ultimate user of the technology (the in-house lawyer) needs to be the key decision-maker in this process.
- Do not try to solve too much at once. Focus on identifying a small problem that requires a solution and solve it.
Acquiring and implementing your chosen technology solution
1. Identify the key stakeholders involved and get them onboard early
Legal teams are often pitted against different departments when trying to get budget for IT investment. Where possible, explain how your chosen technology can be used by the whole business, not just Legal. Talk to other parts of the business to see if they are interested in adopting the same technology that you are proposing to use.
Suppliers will have often heard the same objections that you encounter from the business when you are attempting to make your case. They should be able to provide some helpful hints to enable you to overcome these obstacles.
2. Make a clear and compelling business case
When selling the solution to the business, do not focus on time saving alone. Technology solutions can often add value to the business and play a key role in risk mitigation. For example:
- Document management can improve knowledge sharing.
- Matter management can introduce a more sophisticated level of reporting within the business.
- Document assembly can reduce the organisation’s reliance on legal resources.
3. Be strategic and communicate effectively
Start small. Identify a handful of advocates within the business and train them up to become champions for the new technology. They can then spread the word about its benefits to their colleagues and the wider business.
Make sure you spend time and effort upfront to train the business on the new technology. People will simply not use it if they do not understand it or cannot see the benefits it brings. The key question for your colleagues will be: does this make my life any easier?
Put in place a simple, effective and accessible helpdesk function to allow colleagues to report teething problems or ask questions about using the new technology. Arrange regular meetings (weekly or monthly) to remind people about the new technology and enable them to provide feedback to you on it.
Once you have reached key milestones successfully, communicate this clearly back to the business. Successful implementation showing measurable value-add to the business will pave the way for future asks.