Legal departments are amazing places to work these days. When an in-house lawyer logs on for the day she doesn’t need to try and work out what are the highest priorities. Her system tells her what are the most important matters based on strategic and material importance. In fact, the lower order matters will have already been triaged off to highly efficient, intuitive self-service tools or more cost-effective alternative legal service providers. And gone are the days spent searching email folders, shared drives and ringing colleagues for examples of similar work that might prevent the need to reinvent the wheel. She can hardly believe she used to spend a third of her time searching for information when the system now so efficiently not only catalogues information but smartly pushes relevant documents her way before she has to ask for it. And as a team manager it is simply amazing the data she now has at her fingertips. She knows not only what her team members are working on, but how strategic and valuable the work is, as well as how much effort is going into producing it. Performance conversations are not only simpler now that they are based on objective information, but they can be held in the moment given the data is reported in real-time. And exactly the same can be said of managing vendors and servicing internal clients.
Pretty incredible isn’t it … well not quite, it doesn’t actually exist … at least not just yet.
This is the legal technology-enabled future we are building. And we are getting closer, due to the recent advent of intelligently designed legal operating systems. These systems enable an end to end digital experience for in-house lawyers, internal clients, and law department vendors that mean the way of working described above is now within our reach. Of course there have been many great legal technology tools developed over recent years that have had positive impact on legal departments. But largely these have been point solutions that do one particular job really well.
Outside these tools we need to rely on enterprise systems that the tools don’t talk to, or even more likely, manual processes. It’s my view that legal operating systems will change the game for legal departments and the legal industry more generally. But let’s come back to what these legal operating systems do a little later and briefly discuss the evolution of point solutions that have their own important role to play.
Legal technology for in-house legal departments largely originated in the form of e-billing solutions. Technology to make sense of and reign in the huge amounts of money spent on external law firms was a no-brainer given the dollars involved. It doesn’t require much in the way of improvement over a portfolio of legal spend for the investment in e-billing to more than pay for itself. Another area where there has been considerable technology investment is document management. The return on investment in document management may not be as clear cut as e-billing but given the huge amount of time lawyers spend in documents, drafting, negotiating, storing, opining, it makes sense that we use tools to manage our document-related processes. It can get tricky when we need to work alongside enterprise document management systems which are not always fit for purpose for legal or easy to integrate with, but the rewards tend to be worth the effort. More recently, significant progress has been made with document automation and there are increasingly interesting developments in using machine learning algorithms to review contracts. Automation and artificial intelligence will drive some of the more noticeable and transformative changes in how legal services are provided.
My contention is that none of these great solutions will reach their full potential unless they sit within a comprehensive legal operating system. And there are two main reasons for this. Firstly, an operating system lays down the foundation for an end to end legal workflow: from intake to triage, matter, document, vendor and knowledge management. With this in place and seamless integrations into point solution tools, we now have an across-the-board digital legal environment. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, unless we are working within one system, we don’t have a single source of truth. It is the single source of truth that produces the data to measure not just the performance of the legal team but the value it contributes to the organization it was set up to support. Legal departments are still at the beginner stage of using data to explain performance. Legal operating systems are going to unlock amazing data sets and produce rich insights to inform a raft of decisions we make around areas including workflow, contract and risk management.
Earlier this year PwC announced its strategic tie-up with legal operations platform LawVu. We selected LawVu after reviewing the market and deciding it was best placed to deliver the way of working described in the first paragraph of this article. The day after our announcement another Big4 professional services firms announced a similar tie-up prompting legal articles to ask whether this was the beginning of the ‘legal platform wars’. I’m not sure I’d call it war but I do see it as an alignment of thinking that the legal operations platform will be a key foundation layer for great tools, and the ultimate source of data that will produce metrics to accelerate the engine of change in the legal industry. It’s time for all legal departments to get on board.
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