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In-house Division

Legal Geek 2018: key takeaways for in-house lawyers

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Robert Clay reports back from the in-house stage at Legal Geek’s 2018 conference, with over 2,000 delegates discussing the latest developments in legal tech.

The Legal Geek 2018 conference held last month attracted more than 2,000 people from over 40 countries. This year, the event included a second stage aimed at the in-house market. It hosted some thought-provoking speakers and lively panel discussions, and one of the overarching themes was how customer behaviour is driving change and making digital transformation necessary for every organisation, whatever their industry sector. Here are my other key takeaways.

Find a real problem and solve it

Every organisation is likely to have its own examples of failed technology roll-outs (the term ‘shelfware’ was touted to describe the many tools that have been tried and now sit on the shelf unused). Lawyers should find a real business problem, and solve it, rather than focusing on a specific technology solution. Look for pain points within the business, go out and speak to colleagues, and listen to them carefully to really understand the problem.

legal geek 2018 conference automated law

Identifying and assessing legal tech can take a lot of time and effort, and is particularly challenging if you only have a small legal team. Look to build diverse, cross-functional teams that include a mixture of lawyers and other professionals (such as data architects and project managers) to help with this process. Also remember to make the most of your own professional networks and don’t be afraid to contact other lawyers via LinkedIn if they are an advocate of a technology that you are interested in trialling.

Use what you already have

The value of leveraging existing tech was a common talking point. Sharepoint and Microsoft Business Tools were frequently referenced, with one panellist citing the use of Microsoft Teams as having significantly reduced email traffic within the legal department.

One speaker highlighted Slido, a real-time polling tool, as having helped with employee engagement, as it provides an online platform for individuals to ask a lot of questions that they may have been reluctant to raise in a public forum.

Get the legal team onside

Securing the buy-in of the legal team was regarded as a prerequisite before purchasing any new legal technology. One speaker went as far to say that a ‘no’ from his team meant a complete ‘no’ to any proposed acquisition. Nevertheless, some lawyers can still be resistant to using technology and, in some organisations, a cultural mindset change will be required.

There were some practical suggestions to help improve the legal team’s engagement with new technology:

  • Show and explain the benefits of the technology for the lawyers. Most lawyers would prefer to spend their time providing bespoke legal advice rather than repeatedly answering the same questions from the business.
  • Involve the legal team in the development and procurement process of the technology.
  • Tap into any tech-savvy lawyers on your team and enrol them as ‘change ambassadors’.
  • Ensure the team receives sufficient support and training on the new technology.

Light plenty of small fires

Innovation is difficult and messy, and you must be prepared to experiment. Don’t start with the most challenging projects, instead tackle simple legal problems first. Some projects will inevitably fail, so, as one speaker put it: ‘light plenty of small fires’.

Make the most of the trial periods that are offered and use them as an opportunity to iterate and learn. Also remember to pilot any new technology, rather than attempting to roll it out across the entire business in one go. Give yourself the time and space to think, and where necessary to change direction, and be prepared for your ideas to be challenged by the business.

Build the business case

In-house lawyers must often jump through lots of hoops to justify why any budget should be allocated to Legal. Building a water-tight business case for the new technology, which focuses on cost, efficiency and productivity, is therefore vital.

Ensure that the proposed technology adds value to the business, not just to the legal team. Reach out to parts of the business that may not have a particularly high opinion of Legal (such as Finance or Procurement), and find out how the technology can be used to help them.

legal geek conference speaker

Look for enterprise-wide, scalable solutions (one panellist has 1,000 lawyers worldwide) and focus on specific use cases. For example:

  • a document management system
  • document automation
  • legal bots to solve routine legal queries
  • a triage tool to help with work allocation.

Make sure the technology is ‘iPhone-level easy’, otherwise it will not be adopted by the business. Remember: people already have too many passwords. The tech must be preferable to sending an email, making a call or turning up at a lawyer’s desk.

Measure the benefits

It is vital to demonstrate how any new technology has improved the legal team’s performance. For example:

  • efficiency benefits
  • accuracy improvements
  • improved client experience
  • better analytics
  • leveraging knowledge.

Better legal design can help

According to one speaker, the brain processes images 60,000 times faster than it does text. Legal design can be used to create memorable, concise messages that focus on imagery rather than words. It can be employed to create legal documents that are easy to understand, business-efficient and engaging, despite their complexity, and remain legally compliant.

Another speaker showed an example of a text-heavy agreement that had been restructured according to the needs of the user, a social media influencer. The new agreement highlighted the influencer’s financial incentives at the top of the agreement and could be completed online (as the user was unlikely to open, let alone read, a Word document).

Robert Clay is a Practical Law editor (In-house) at Thomson Reuters.

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Your In-house Division is dedicated to meeting the needs of in-house lawyers working in the corporate and public sectors, not-for-profit organisations and charities.

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