If one thing is certain, it’s that things remain uncertain. For the next six months at least, continued lockdown restrictions mean that remote working is here to stay.
Throughout lockdown, we have been speaking with leaders of in-house legal teams and, in the process, uncovered a trend of accelerated legal transformation and digitalisation projects. In the early days of the pandemic’s spread, the assumption was that business uncertainty would lead to projects being put on hold and legal tech budgets clawed back. Instead, we’ve found that projects have been reprioritised but not necessarily postponed.
Ben Eason, Barclays’ Head of Legal Transformation and Business Management, had this to say: “At Barclays, employees are organically embracing an end-to-end review of daily work. I have seen people look at their day jobs, and as they prioritise and review their work stack, they are dropping tasks they don’t need to do. As long as that’s done in a good way, we’re dropping waste and making processes more efficient. Pre-crisis, it might have taken five or six workshops to map out workflows. The team are coming to those conclusions themselves and dropping pointless tasks that were only done because of habit and routine.”
Changes to daily working have led to organic improvements in efficiency and the way legal teams support the business, while legal technology investment has jumped up the priority list. Projects are being reprioritised, with change and technology projects now being seen as core rather than as a luxury. In-house legal teams are focused on reducing costs, digitalising processes with a quick ROI, and minimising risks.
This is evidenced in a recent survey by Alternative Insights, which found that 35% of in-house legal departments see ‘completing digital transformation’ as the biggest opportunity facing their team as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. Another 30% said ‘the chance to make fundamental changes to working practices’ was their number one.
There are an increasing number of examples that in-house legal tech usage is increasing during this period, with home working accelerating the use of software to enable remote meetings, document sharing and signing, paperless processes, electronic billing, improved messaging, and more flexible working.
Natalie Salunke, Head of Legal at RVU, commented, “Certain processes and reviews are not going to be as effective so companies are having to be more flexible in that sense. Other processes though, like getting documents signed or paying invoices, are business critical and companies need to invest in the tools that enable legal teams to do this work from home, while staying connected and managing projects remotely as a team.”
Legal teams are making much more use of cloud technologies to collaborate on matters because they now lack face-to-face interaction, but they are also prioritising legal-specific technologies that enable the legal team to function effectively in a fully remote and digital manner, including electronic signatures for contracts, e-billing and matter management, and knowledge and document management.
Joachim Kaempf, General Counsel at ECE, explained, “Remote working has presented challenges in terms of transparency and knowledge sharing. We already have e-billing, which has meant we can continue to review and pay law firm invoices in a totally paperless manner, and we are now prioritising solving knowledge and document management challenges. My three-to-five year plan for the legal department has been fast-tracked to an ‘end-of-year plan’, as the business is changing and we need to continue to deal with sensitive matters in the most effective, connected and secure way possible.”
Legal spend management software enables legal teams to take advantage of automation and reporting to improve visibility and control of outside counsel spend, identify and action cost-reduction opportunities, free up the legal team to focus on high value work instead of admin, and forecast future spend. The first stage in legal spend management is e-billing, which automates the review of legal invoices by checking them against billing guidelines.
Bryan King, an independent e-billing consultant who works closely with law firms, says, “This is an area of digitalisation that has ramped up over the past six months, with some law firms reporting a surge in e-billing requests from their clients, particularly since March. Whether this is COVID-related is open to discussion but the drivers are understandable. It is much easier and much safer for documents and bills to be routed electronically to various people for verification and authorisation, and e-billing is an ideal tool for this.”
E-billing is also being extended to other suppliers of legal services, such as e-discovery and temporary legal resources – not just their law firms – as they try to move completely away from handling paper.
Full legal spend management goes further than e-billing by using the invoice data to spot trends that can influence strategic spend management decisions and drive further savings. As well as e-billing, the software includes spend dashboards and reports, RFP and sourcing tools, vendor management and review, and legal analytics functionalities. Legal spend management enables legal operations to make data-driven sourcing decisions, fee arrangements and negotiations, while facilitating collaborative, value-driven relationships with firms.
Automating daily processes and centralising data helps teams who are under additional pressure brought about by remote working and pandemic-induced cuts by reducing errors, controlling legal costs and improving efficiency and decision-making.
Technology brings huge benefits but approaching it in the right way is crucial. If you’re only just at the start of the digitalisation journey or having to quickly accelerate this process, take the time to prioritise which tools will be of most benefit first. Don’t feel pressured to go straight for advanced or emerging tools; even the most basic technologies – data centralisation, automation, reporting, collaboration etc. – can make significant differences to legal teams who are working remotely and need to ‘do more with less’.
The key to successful digitalisation is choosing the right tool for your business with the most demonstrable impact without being overwhelming. Identify pain points and engage stakeholders from the offset so you have clarity on your requirements and buy-in before approaching vendors. Getting the basics right paves the way for the adoption of more advanced technology later on down the line – but only if the technology fits the business case. The need must always come first – and right now, the need couldn’t be clearer.
Lindsay Lovell is Marketing Director at BusyLamp. She has seven years’ experience working with large corporate legal departments, first gained by facilitating networking events for General Counsel. At BusyLamp, Lindsay is responsible for global marketing efforts; creating resources and events that inspire and assist in-house legal professionals to achieve their legal operations goals.
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