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Smarter Working Week: how to make efficiency gains

I recently moderated a discussion as part of The Lawyer’s Smarter Working Week that focused on how lawyers can improve their existing processes to help them work more efficiently.

The group were driven by a desire to prove their legal teams as proactive value creators and use technology to provide metrics that demonstrate their value to key business stakeholders. For some, the difficulty is not the technology implementation itself, but the change process, getting the team on-side and making the shift to new processes.

Defining how a legal function should increase its efficiency proved contentious. But for many participants, the priorities were clear: firstly, getting visibility over their contracts, the rich stores of their business’s rights and obligations. Secondly, many spoke of the benefits of introducing streamlined intake processes to manage and allocate requests into the legal department.

Value creator not cost centre

One common refrain was the ability of legal tech solutions to drive insights that enable the legal team to demonstrate a shift from being a cost centre to a value creator. It was noted that the CFO of a business will often say to the general counsel (GC), as to any other leader, that they must contribute to digital transformation efforts across the business. For some, the use of legal technology has improved their reporting capability, enabling the GC to be more proactive when running their department. One in-house lawyer commented:

“The business doesn’t see us as bringing money in and we cost them money. You need to get them to understand how we have the necessary systems and data.”

Sifting through lower-value or lower-risk contracts is a burden for many legal teams. For many, contract strategies include how teams are supposed to review specific contracts.  Having that visibility enables users to prioritise contracts for risk and allows them to target their resources more effectively. It can also help them to deprioritise contracts that, for example, tend not to give rise to disputes.

What’s in it for me?

Winning hearts and minds to new ways of working within the legal team can be tricky. One lawyer suggested that a good way of implementing tech is to explain the benefits first:

“It was a process of eliminating those little tasks and winning the team over slowly. For example, legal intake processes can reduce email ping-pong and capture instructions more comprehensively.”

Another lawyer mentioned worrying about their internal clients’ reaction to introducing self-service for a certain work type. They feared that they would feel unsupported but, instead, the client was delighted as it gave them more autonomy.

For those embarking on a process improvement project, it is helpful to prioritise key pain points and start small. It’s useful to look at what existing technology can achieve too. Even if those generic systems don’t offer the functionality needed, at least the process improvement work will have been done, which is a prerequisite to getting value from any new system. Centralising data with appropriate permissioning was also highlighted as a potential quick win.

Focus on the data

According to Thomson Reuters’ 2022 State of Corporate Law Departments Report, contract management accounts for 55% of technology adoption among corporate law departments. Introducing contract lifecycle management may allow some legal teams to start to map and define processes. A contract management system can let the team log key metrics and key risks in specific contracts, and allow for the creation of a legal front door, which means contracts can be handled more efficiently. One lawyer noted:

“When we first rolled out the legal management system, there was a bit of a shock. We had to start from somewhere and now the portal is getting more traction. I feel like its running fairly smoothly.”

The Thomson Reuters’ report found that 90% of departments now use some metrics to track their work. However, many think that the metrics they use could be more sophisticated. For example, by looking beyond what is spent on external counsel in the round and instead focusing on more granular spend metrics, as well as measuring outcomes and the quality of the service provided.

Legal operations: a growth area

Around 80% of in-house legal teams now have dedicated legal operations specialists, according to the report. These professionals are at the heart of identifying process improvements and when and how technology can be employed to support teams to work more efficiently and deliver greater value. Unfortunately, not all the participants were lucky enough to have this resource. One lawyer commented:

“For some, it’s terrifying getting help from the outside. Sometimes the business just expects you to deal with legal tech. It’s quite daunting for lawyers; especially if you don’t have another team.”

A legal operations executive spoke about how their business embraced the new way of working:

“We took it as a top-down approach at first. By adding legal operations, this helped us prioritise what we can do, what can we stop doing, and what we can do more of.”

Once that work is done, the legal department can leverage the insights provided by the data to help navigate risks and support their organisation’s growth.

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