The pressure has been mounting on corporate legal departments to bring more work in-house, control costs, and do more with less. Meanwhile, the complexity of modern legal work, from contract management to litigation and investigations, continues to grow exponentially. A renewed focus on budgets and headcounts in an uncertain economy is turning up the heat.
But there’s a bright side. Advanced tech tools are now available and gaining traction within legal departments, offering new approaches to legal workflows and service delivery that weren’t possible in the past.
Everlaw Chief Legal Officer Shana Simmons recently discussed best practices and strategies with Meghan Landrum, Director, Head of Discovery and Legal Data Management at Google, and Chris Young, General Counsel at contract life cycle management company Ironclad.
They shared their approaches to digital transformation in their own careers, and tips for how to make the case for legal tech investment to company leaders. One thing they agreed on: in-house legal teams are actually well suited to meet today’s challenges with the right tools, people, and processes in place.
“The next decade is not just about legal tech but about learning how to be efficient at scale,” Shana said. “Digital transformation is part of that.”
Scaling Your Legal Talent to Accomplish More, at a Higher Level
One reason legal teams are leaning into modern technologies today is the need to scale their capabilities to meet growing demands. The volume of data generated by business today is growing at an astonishing rate and increasing in complexity. Yet the size of legal teams is not keeping pace. And many in-house teams are still using outdated tools and processes, such as tracking legal holds manually in spreadsheets, which increases inefficiencies. This gap between the jobs legal professionals have to do and the resources they have to do it continues to widen for those who sit on the sidelines of digital transformation.
Meghan said that the right technology, rolled out in a thoughtful manner, can free up valuable talent to do the work that tech can’t handle well. Using technology to automate remote or admin tasks, including matter management, some forms of data analysis, and reporting, can scale an individual’s impact and influence in the organization. She makes it her mission at Google to experiment with new legal technologies – from the simplest tools like keyword searches to AI – on a regular basis.
“We don’t ever have enough resources to deal with the volume of requests that are coming in the door, so figuring out how to make the most of what we do have in a way that doesn’t burn people out is a constant discussion and effort for us,” Meghan said. “We need to leverage as many tools to free up space for our team members and take away the rote work to leverage their subject-matter expertise, which can’t be replicated by digital tools.”
The Takeaway: Explore modern technologies that can uplevel your business (and your career). The amount and complexity of data today is overwhelming. New digital tools for ediscovery, contract management and more, free up skilled legal professionals from rote processing and admin tasks to do more strategic, high-value work that no digital tech can do.
Choosing Between a Single Platform or Multiple Solutions, Focus on Usability
Various approaches exist to choosing a system that’s right for a team’s needs.
Ironclad's journey to a single platform to solve multiple business issues started with the realization that the company had more applications than people. That raised questions: What was the overhead to run them all? Were they all being used? Could the company consolidate?
Ironclad went on to streamline its tech stack and moved to a single solution, which is today what it advises its clients to do, too, despite potentially imperfect immediate results.
“When you can have one platform that does most of what you need it to do, and you’ve partnered with a vendor that’s on the forefront of innovation, that’s continuing to develop new features, that means you can grow with that partner,” Chris said. “And rest assured that the 20% of your problems that that platform doesn’t solve well enough today – that will develop over time.”
At Google, Meghan’s team has pursued various strategies depending on the need and internal resources of the moment. An advantage of deploying multiple “best-in-breed” tools for each issue or gap in a process is that you can find the exact fit for that problem. But this approach can “really explode your overhead,” she added, because getting data in and out of various apps and the inconsistency in the way different tools work together can get expensive, both to deploy and maintain.
Like Ironclad, she’s also tested the single platform solution. She said that over time, even if it doesn’t solve 100% of the issues, it can be the more cost effective and efficient way to go.
“If you set the right expectations with your stakeholders, you may be able to solve 60% to 80% of their problems with less financial and human capital,” she said. Her philosophy stands on not making the great the enemy of the good. “The whole purpose of digital transformation is to make people’s jobs and lives a little easier.”
Chris agreed that usability is key. And it’s often overlooked in discussions about digital transformation. Whatever path your team takes, he said, be sure to follow up on the impact it's making.
“If the tool you’ve adopted doesn’t work, or your clients aren’t able to use it, then it’s unlikely that it’s making their lives better,” Chris said.
The Takeaway: Set the right expectations with stakeholders. Whether you look for a single, unified platform or a collection of best-in-breed tools that you’ll have to integrate, make sure that your tech actually helps your team do their job. And, don’t hold out for perfection when steady progress can make all the difference.
The Importance of ROI, Making the Case with Leadership
Benchmarking what other departments are doing can be a good place to start. Teams like finance, HR, and sales are further along in their digitization journey than legal and can share helpful insights. After you’ve done your discovery and due diligence, team up to pitch an investment proposal to company leaders.
“Always find your allies,” Chris said. “Go to finance and ask: What does Netsuite do for finance that’s helped justify the cost? Ask marketing and sales what tech tools do for their teams. Then start making the case for what your tool can do for legal.”
In fact, finance and go-to-market teams can be good partners to make the case to leadership together, he added.
The key to a strong ROI pitch is knowing your audience and building on solid data. He’s seen his teams advise prospects on how to pitch to decision makers with formulas to compare costs if the work is handled in-house or by an external partner. Such calculations can allow legal teams to highlight potential savings.
“Then you can make the argument (with the help of your vendor) to show that this solution will help cut down X amount of time on this and save us this amount of money,” Chris said. “You do discovery to learn what value you can add to the organization – it does take some math creativity depending on what problem you’re facing.”
Meghan said she originally joined Google because the legal department was bringing more work in-house to control costs. “Our outside vendors and counsel can get very expensive depending on your docket and your risk management generally,” she said, “so we put a lot of time and energy into evaluating the return on in-house work. Over the years it has evolved as the company’s product and business direction changed and as risk management evolved over the globe.”
Her team tracked a lot of data themselves – including on the discovery side the vendor costs around data hosting, processing, analysis, and outside counsel spend – and finance was their best friend, helping to analyze the way the team was doing the work. “We reported our ROI for the first six years of the team until someone finally pulled me aside and said, ‘It’s cool, you’re all hired now.’”
The Takeaway: When making the ROI pitch for a new tech tool to leadership, don’t go it alone. Find and cultivate allies. Talk to your friends in finance, marketing and sales, and ask what their tools do for them that’s helped justify their cost. Then go out and make a compelling case together for how your tool adds value across departments.
Free Your Team from Rote Work and Help Them Shine
Digital transformation is more than just a buzzword in the legal industry. It’s an opportunity for CLOs, GCs, and other in-house legal professionals to proactively push for meaningful change for the benefit of the entire organization, and show the legal team’s value as strategic business partners.
Modernizing through new technologies can be incredibly helpful in controlling and containing costs, elevating the legal team’s contributions to the business, and making their jobs more satisfying.
“If you’re in a legal department and looking for software to free up time to tackle more substantive work, this is the time to have that conversation with the CIO and the IT organization to make sure your team has at its disposal the technology that allows them to work more efficiently,” Chris said. “Digital transformation is here and it’s an opportunity to accelerate our value within our organizations.”
Access the one-hour webinar sponsored by Today’s General Counsel and learn more about digital transformation strategies, different approaches to innovation, and how to make the case for investment in new technologies to company leaders in uncertain economic times.