I love my job. Not only do I get the opportunity to play with cutting edge technology, I also get to help stressed out lawyers see the wood for the trees, enabling them to focus on the important stuff.
Having been in their shoes myself as a practicing GC for Unilever, I can empathise with their predicament. The workload is getting bigger, there’s less hours in the day, not helped by a global pandemic, working from home and the never-ending conveyor belt of Zoom calls.
The world around them is rapidly changing, yet they are often still doing things the same way today as they did when they first qualified. Having a firm grip on all the matters they manage, understanding the relative commercial risks in every agreement at the touch of a button, is still some way off. Which means more and more inhouse legal teams are turning to legal tech to help, hoping it will be the magic bullet they’re after.
Any GC or legal ops director worth their salt knows they face two stark realities: doing nothing is no longer an option; but whatever they do first has to work and must do so quickly and within budget – or they could face the chop.
Building the case for change
Building the case for change is an important element of the process. Not only helping articulate the return on investment for those in finance to buy into it, but also creating a project management plan with key milestones and checkpoints. My job is as much about change management and helping manage expectations (being realistic about what can be achieved and by when) as it is a legal technology engineer.
The tech must be up to the job, but if internal stakeholders aren’t on board, the best tech in the world will not be adopted and embraced.
Funnily enough I read a piece recently from the FT written in 1999 that a colleague at SYKE shared. 21 years on and many of the themes reference had stood the test of time – emphasising that while tech has moved on, human behaviour has not.
In the article (‘Mastering Information Management – Managing use not technology – a view from the trenches’), the author noted businesses must dedicate resources over time to help employees develop effective use habits; use of technology rather than technology itself should be evaluated, and innovative uses of IT should be rewarded.
They added, ‘the problem is that we are not very good at managing technology use…We are purposive, knowledgeable, adaptive and inventive agents who engage with technology to accomplish various and changing ends. Where technology does not help us achieve those ends, we abandon it, or work around it, or change it, or think about changing our ends.’
In other words our role as legal technology engineers or change agents is to apply tech that makes the lawyer’s life easier, saves them time, means they can focus on more strategic and interesting work, and can weed out the repetitive low value tasks.
My role therefore is often a listening one. Sitting down with the relevant teams and stakeholders in a large, complex operation, getting a handle on the problem they are trying to solve. But importantly helping them pick the right starting point, ensure the process they are wanting to automate or enhance with technology is fit for purpose, and then, and only then bringing in the relevant tool for the job.
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Whatever tech they select must always be better than what went before. If an analogue task is easier than applying the new digital alternative, people will resist the move. However, by contrast if they can do it on their iPhone without needing to read an instruction manual, then nine times out of ten it’s job done.
“You should also never underestimate the power of envy in an organisation. When the legal team has a slick piece of tech that enables colleagues to generate an NDA without even speaking to a lawyer, suddenly everyone wants a piece of the action.”– Joanne Chuang, Head of APAC, SYKE
Mapping out the legal tech journey
I’m currently helping an IT Services Company go on their digital transformation journey. They are embarking on the initial steps of their roadmap, with the ambition to transform the way their contracts and legal teams work together.
We previously ran an in-depth revenue leakage exercise for them, where we combed through all of their Australian client contracts manually to extract more than 45 data points. Based on the extraction we then ran a deviation analysis to compare what they thought was their standard position versus what we found. The results were alarming and created a strong business case for transformation and implementation of a contract management tool that will help streamline their contracts and support, but also govern their approval workflows.
Although we started with a one-off point solution, it showed them the art of the possible, delivered a significant commercial benefit, and paved the way for a more strategic end to end digital transformation.