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February 01, 2023 Mind Your Business

Technology streamlines in-house work, but have a plan before making purchases

By Ian Nolan

The pandemic pressured corporate legal departments to control costs and collaborate online to an unprecedented degree as demand for legal services surged. As a result, more general counsel are looking toward technology solutions with additional urgency.

But missteps await legal departments that rush into implementing technology without first taking a thorough look at the bigger picture. Which challenges or opportunities will new technology specifically address? What’s the plan for ensuring a smooth transition within the team? How will you measure—and maximize—the value of your investment?

Marching too quickly into new legal operations software can be costly and counterproductive if your team is left wrestling with tools they don’t actually need while wishing for the ones they do. The path to a successful implementation of legal operations software involves a commitment to continuous improvement, the evaluation of potential solutions and the appointment of a champion or champions to help lead the initiative.

An in-house legal team needs to embrace a culture of innovation to get the most out of legal operations technology. The endorsement of the general counsel and other senior executives sends a message that efficiency is the new expectation.

Next, determine which technology solutions best suit your needs, and prioritize them in a road map. What are the organization’s objectives? What are the specific challenges the legal team is facing in trying to meet those objectives? Answers to those questions help determine the areas where technology can deliver the greatest benefits.

Here are some tips for those long on technology options but short on time to evaluate them.

Charge challenges

The clearest mandate within many organizations is cost control, which leads to close scrutiny of how legal work is allocated and resourced. At the same time, the biggest expense for a corporate legal department after internal staff is typically outside counsel, and those costs can be difficult to track.

Both a broader and more detailed look heightens the visibility into operations. Topics to consider include what type of work is being done, internally and externally; who is doing the work; and how much time is spent on it. Also consider how much time was spent on the work last month and last year.

Modern e-billing and matter management solutions technology help legal teams gain granular insight into their legal costs by reviewing dozens of specific factors, such as billing guideline compliance and timekeeper breakdowns. Also, the technology helps in-house counsel objectively compare law firms and identify the firms that provide the best value.

Additionally, the software tools help legal departments move away from hourly rate billing, put law firm panels with more objective standards in place and build trust and credibility with the legal and business departments.

Another common pain point for corporations is the high volume of contracts, such as sales deals, marketing vendor contracts and nondisclosure agreements. Contract life cycle management and e-signature software can improve the process of creating, negotiating and storing contracts.

Virtual help

Automation can eliminate tasks, and a system with artificial intelligence can analyze invoices to help in-house teams better understand and control their legal costs. Look for technology that can classify text from invoices into appropriate tasks and activities rather than relying on people to do that work. That gives attorneys more time to spend on strategic endeavors.

Analytics can yield deeper insights. With legal operations software, you can transform expenditures into granular data points on legal costs. This way, data—rather than anecdotal evidence or gut instincts—can guide decisions.

Also, rather than files being sent back and forth by email, corporate legal teams can benefit from a portal to outside counsel. This eliminates the hassle of tracking down the right document exchanged through email while allowing the legal team to take ownership of the process and results. Additionally, a portal fuels better collaboration between the organization and outside parties.

People power

After selecting technology, the frontline users need training and support. Vendors with a structured process for employee onboarding can help legal team members see the big picture while familiarizing themselves with how the technology fits into their everyday work needs. Personalized onboarding processes also help build confidence in use as well as trust in the overall solution itself and its full capabilities.

Also, continued conversations after onboarding help legal departments keep abreast of areas for improvement and ensure they get the most value from the product.

As features and needs evolve, solutions can be evaluated to make sure they are effective and efficient.

After senior executives are on board for a culture of innovation, the next step is to establish your champions of technology.

If your department lacks a legal operations team, the pursuit of technology solutions provides a catalyst to create one—even if it’s just one person initially, provided he or she has the general counsel’s full backing. The team can help drive strategic planning, streamline work processes and uncover data-driven insights.

Ian Nolan is the CEO and co-founder of Brightflag, an artificial intelligence- powered legal spend management and matter management platform.

Mind Your Business is a series of columns written by lawyers, legal professionals and others within the legal industry. The purpose of these columns is to offer practical guidance for attorneys on how to run their practices, provide information about the latest trends in legal technology and how it can help lawyers work more efficiently and strategies for building a thriving business.

Interested in contributing a column? Send a query to [email protected].

This column reflects the opinions of the author and not necessarily the views of the ABA Journal—or the American Bar Association.