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How thinking globally can help GCs transform their international legal departments

REUTERS/Thomas White

As in-house legal teams adapt to new ways of working, many already appreciate that innovative legal technology can transform the operation of in-house legal functions in their organisation. It is a key driver for success, helping to produce improved outcomes, add value to the department and provide competitive advantage. Further, with efficiency and effectiveness at the top of many priority lists, the need for legal departments to digitise and further embrace technology is only going to increase in the coming years as more and more organisations adopt flexible approaches to remote working.

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; highlighted that a tech-enabled data-driven legal operation requires a big-picture strategic plan; and thoughtful implementation that brings together people, processes and technology.

What can be challenging, though, is embedding new technology in your team’s existing processes and functions. During our recent webinar, ‘The Future Digital GC: Accelerating legal department of the future‘, panellist Katie Selves, Group GC and Company Secretary, Gattaca, explained that the “key to successful legal technology implementation is getting the legal team on board; explaining why you need to transform a department; why you’re bringing in certain technology; and, what problems you’re helping to solve by bringing that technology tool in. The best system in the world will be useless if the people who are meant to be utilising it don’t understand what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and don’t actually use it.”

When it comes to large, global organisations the implementation challenge can perhaps seem much greater. With global footprints, multi-jurisdictional nuances and different languages, there are several additional issues to consider when outlining your technology transformation plans. Here we share five best-practice tips on implementing new technology in a global legal department:

  1. Align regional priorities

According to data from Acritas, legal departments in the UK, spend around 60 percent of their budget on external counsel, compared to only 35 percent in the Netherlands or 50 percent in Germany. With Europe being home to some of the world’s leading multinationals, there is huge demand for cross-border support, which explains why almost half of external legal budgets is spent outside the buyer’s home country. There are overarching trends in the market that could shift priorities locally. For example, legal departments in regions where it is customary to rely on outside counsel for advice are more likely to prioritise tools to help control outside counsel spend which may not be that important in locations where most of the work is taken in-house.

  1. Be aware of cultural nuances

Collaboration tools are becoming more and more common. However, cultural best and customary practices for teamwork and information sharing varies country by country. These cultural differences may hinder implementation of technology in one region whereas there is a successful rollout in another. When considering implementing a collaboration tool, ask yourself whether your users feel comfortable:

  • sharing work in progress?
  • monitoring and publishing their workloads on a dashboard?
  • using chat functionalities instead of more formal e-mails to communicate?
  1. Find the right champion

You would need someone not only with strong operational skills to roll out legal technology, but also someone with high cultural awareness that can manage change globally. A Harvard Business School article, demonstrated that cultural awareness has a strong effect on how effectively people collaborate across cultures. It increases the levels of trust between partners, who are also more willing to share new ideas. It also notes that that the skills needed to collaborate effectively across cultures can be learned over time and through different circumstances. Perceptions of change and how to get there can differ from location to location, so ensuring that your change champion has the necessary cultural awareness skills and ability to engage colleagues around the globe and drive change is critical.

  1. Understand language requirements

While English is often thought of as the global business language, a multi-jurisdictional organisation will have multiple operating languages. Of course, people in certain regions are more comfortable than others speaking in foreign languages, however when choosing a technology solution intended for global usage, it’s crucial that you understand the language capabilities on offer. Having a solution in a language that the broader organisation can understand and interact with becomes a more pertinent issue when it comes to rolling it out.

  1. Work on your data hosting strategy

Every technology supplier will take a different approach towards hosting data. Similarly, separate divisions of an organisation may have different priorities for their data hosting strategy either for technical or data privacy reasons, or a combination of factors. For example, a division of your organisation may be adamant that certain data is stored in private, not public clouds or that data is stored within a specific region. Consequently, it is paramount to align supplier and customer data management strategy from the outset. Otherwise what was a successful rollout in one region, may not be replicated elsewhere.  With companies operating more and more as a single global entity, it is important to consider any new technology rollout with your international partners, and their IT capabilities and privacy considerations in mind.

Many legal departments are now embracing the need to digitise, whether out of necessity brought on by the pandemic, or as part of an effort to embed a culture of continuous improvement in their teams. Transforming your legal department and implementing technology requires a lot of work, though the challenges, even for a large organisation with a global reach, are certainly not prohibitive. The key to unlocking the benefits of a successful transformation project is ensuring that adoption of technology is done with your processes and people in mind. Ensuring that your international team is well served by new legal technology requires an understanding of the nuances of culture, language, technology and priorities in each location. Thinking globally about your international technology needs will help you overcome these obstacles and transform your legal department.

Download your copy of  Digital General Counsel are Transforming the Corporate Legal Department.

Listen to our recent webinar, The Future Digital GC: Accelerating legal department of the future.

In-house agenda: September 2021 What COVID-19 tells us about the future of work for lawyers Diversity and inclusion: challenges and success stories How GCs can earn a seat on the board In-house agenda: August 2021 The Hearing: Episode 81 – Stanley Litow (P-TECH) The Hearing: Episode 80 – Brain injuries in sport: where is the duty of care? In-house agenda: July 2021 In-house agenda: June 2021 Leveraging the legal operations of tomorrow: 2021 CLOC Global Institute