Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Embracing the Future

It seems like every aspect of our world has been touched by technology. I no longer have to lift my arm to hail a cab, I can click Uber or Lyft; I get my coupons and shopping discounts automatically with HEB and Dosh.  The kids' school updates me on their grades and daily progress with Bloom and online portals.  We can even keep in touch with family with video calls on our Alexa.  So why then is it so hard to get legal departments to efficiently embrace technology in their legal operations?

I've been delving into this issue for awhile, largely because I'm a tech geek at heart and I strongly believe that the in house legal community need to get a better handle on legal operations if they want to stay relevant in a world with Watsons.  And I'm not alone.  I've recently chatted with a few other GC's about how they are setting up their teams to compete in the new world.  One conclusion we keep returning to is that there is a lot of technology out there, but very little that is specifically focused on internal legal departments. 

But just because there isn't a perfect tool yet, shouldn't stop the in house lawyer from embracing technology.   I can almost guarantee that your engineering/IT team use some sort of ticketing system, most likely Jira based.  They probably also use some sort of collaboration tool like Slack.  Many are embracing Google docs or other online collaboration tools. Your sales team is probably utilizing Salesforce and probably a calendaring tool.  Your accounting team is using some tool, be it Quickbooks or SAP.  To set up these technologies, each team had to start in the same place - an assessment of how the work flows and what could be done better, or made easier by process and technology.

I know, it's overwhelming to think about mapping out the entire functionality of the legal department.  While outside counsel may think all we do is sit in meetings and hand out work to them, and our friends may think all we do is negotiate contracts or argue in court, we know how varied the typical day is for in house legal.  Mapping out all of the current processes for negotiating contracts, managing litigation, managing outside counsel, product advice, employment matters, general business advice, etc. is a huge task.  Analyzing the result and identifying areas of improvement is even more daunting.  This is why more and more companies are hiring a dedicated legal operations professional. 

Although that's not an option for everyone given budget constraints.  Other options include hiring a short term consultant to do the mapping and analysis for you, or taking it one process at a time.  The former being a larger up front cost, but by looking at the whole picture sooner you can achieve efficiency (and cost savings) sooner.  The latter requires incremental improvements which may have to be re-worked as additional flows get added to the map.  While it's no fun to do something twice, this option will still generate efficiency in the department.  I suggest starting with the workflow that most dominates the team's time. For some that would be contracts, others litigation management or regulatory compliance.  The point is to get started wherever you'll get the most bang for your buck.  Most likely the subsequent flows will have to revolve around this one by nature of the workload, so you'll minimize the revisions needed.  By focusing on one flow at a time, I was able to reduce time to revenue by 60% (focusing on contracts), reduce outside counsel spend by about 10% (adding a corporate compliance module), and reduce litigation by monitoring the trends and being proactive (tracking root causes of complaints).  I was also able to report on these efficiencies to my leadership team with some pretty eye candy charts.

Embracing technology and legal operations will allow you to accomplish more with less. After all, isn't that the mantra we've been hearing from our leadership for the last ten years?