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How a rounded approach to people, processes and technology is helping GCs transform legal departments

REUTERS/Alexander Demianchuk

As General Counsel (GC) begin to look beyond the circumstances of ‘the new normal’, three interdependent elements are key to shaping legal departments for the future: processes, people, and technology.

Despite the major disruption to the business and legal landscape caused by COVID-19, strategic priorities for in-house legal departments have not fundamentally changed. While GCs need to ensure that they keep abreast of dynamic pandemic-related regulations and maintain compliance, the ultimate goals of improving productivity and operational efficiency remain top priority. This is apparent in a new report, Digital General Counsel are Transforming the Corporate Legal Department, in which Thomson Reuters brings together recent findings from a series of in-depth interviews conducted with legal department leaders.

This report highlights recent findings from the Association of Corporate Counsel’s (ACC) 2020 survey, which shows that, in the last year, 57.6 percent of GCs redesigned their workflow processes and 41.1 percent bolstered project management and knowledge management in an effort to achieve efficiency gains. Added to this, the average number of legal operations specialists working in legal departments has trebled in the last three years. These represent two elements of GC’s strategic plans: processes and people. The third is technology, and 42 percent of respondents said they were planning on increasing their use of technology to improve efficiency.

However, despite these findings, what is apparent from the data is that many legal departments are investing piecemeal in a variety of disparate point solutions. In a 2019 survey, ACC found that only 41 percent of respondents had adopted contract management tools, even fewer were using solutions for document management (38 percent), mater management (31 percent) and workflow optimisation (19 percent).

What ‘Digital General Counsel are Transforming the Corporate Legal Department’ shows is that a tech-enabled, data-driven legal operation requires a big-picture strategic plan and thoughtful implementation that brings together people, processes and technology. Successful digital transformation requires a clear understanding of the legal work that and operational tasks that are essential to their organisation’s success. Technology solutions should then be tailored to address the challenges and priorities in an organisation. “There is no on-size-fits-all approach to the use of technology in-house”, says Ron Masciantonio of Five Below Inc.

Understanding your legal department is paramount in successfully implementing new technology. If it doesn’t meet your department’s needs, plug a gap, or address a pain point—it is unlikely to be of much use. Sarah Barrett-Vane of SBV Consulting advises legal teams to “go back to basics” when evaluating their day-to-day operations and envisaging a more streamlined approach. She suggests that teams consider the following:

  • What do you do now and how?
  • Who does it?
  • Where are your pinch points?
  • What could you do differently, and how?

“Focus on your priorities. Work out what you could do better and then prioritise that. You cannot really implement more than one big thing in 12-18 months unless you have a lot of resource.” In thinking of all of these, it’s important to keep your department’s people at the forefront of your mind, too. To make technology work, the people who will use it daily need to be on board with the reasons for its adoption. Steve Ball of Boost Legal echoes this sentiment: “Never forget, the people and processes are critical too, and potentially the harder parts to get right if you want to secure adoption and lasting change.”

This is a crucial message for GCs; technology adoption is just one aspect in securing and shaping the future of your organisation’s legal department. COVID-19 and the impact on the global economy has presented short and medium-term challenges for businesses of all kinds, but the impact on cultural, operational and technological changes could be much longer-lasting, if not permanent. The role of the GC, and indeed the legal department, has evolved from being on that simply provides legal advice, to one that is expected to play a role in core business activity and strategic direction. When thinking about technology adoption, it is crucial that this evolution is considered.

Digital transformation of the legal department should minimise the time spent on laborious, time-consuming tasks, it should provide a collaborative platform that internal and external lawyers can access for horizon-scanning, legal updates and knowledge management as and when they need it. A strategic approach to your legal department’s technology needs means that your team can make data-driven decisions and focus on the tasks that add real value to the organisation. The key to unlocking these benefits is ensuring that adoption of technology is done with your processes and people in mind.

To download your copy of  ’Digital General Counsel are Transforming the Corporate Legal Department’, click here.

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