Imagine one of your lawyers is drafting a non-disclosure agreement. The agreement is standard, will likely have little negotiation involved, and is something they do frequently—and yet, this simple document is taking time that could be better spent on more complex and profitable matters. Alternatively, imagine you have an automated solution that allows the sales team to access a web portal while they’re in a customer’s office. After they answer a series of questions, a non-disclosure agreement is auto-generated within minutes and can be emailed to the client for digital signature directly from the field. It all sounds great, but getting to that stage can be a complex process that requires a tailored solution and outside assistance.
In today’s competitive market, legal departments are increasingly turning to alternative legal service providers (ALSPs), or consultants who offer options for cost savings and improved efficiencies that are people-based, technology-based or a combination of the two. The example above is just one instance of how ALSPs can positively impact your standard routine. But the myriad options available can be confusing, and making the wrong choice can be costly in terms of money, time and credibility. Here are steps to take to make the right decisions.
Determine Your Initial Scope and Likely Future Areas of Need
According to a 2019 survey conducted by the Georgetown Law Institute and Thompson Reuters, the top five areas addressed by ALSP engagements are:
For many companies, the most pressing need is for contract collection, review and ongoing management. From a pure manpower standpoint, companies also need a reliable source of highly competent lawyers who can step in on a cost-effective project/contract basis to fill in for a parental or medical leave and/or supplement the legal department during a significant transaction or “spike” in work.
Whatever the reason, your first step is to determine the area where you want to start. Your priorities will vary depending on the maturity of the legal function, nature of the business, and the risk profile. That said, you also need to consider areas of future need so that the solution you select today is flexible enough to account for changes as your company grows or faces new legal and regulatory issues.
Understand Your Options
The market for ALSPs is over $10 billion per year and growing rapidly. ALSPs come in a wide range of sizes and business models. The Big Four accounting firms offer legal support services that compete directly with large law firms. Large ALSPs can provide enterprise-wide solutions that include consulting, technology and contract lawyers. Many large law firms are also in the ALSP business as they use technology to create value and reduce costs for their clients. You may want to ask your outside counsel what solutions they can provide to meet your defined needs. For smaller legal departments or those wanting to stage their involvement with an ALSP, specialized consultants can serve as objective brokers and experts to guide you through the process of bringing in an ALSP.
Given the range of options and the velocity with which the landscape is changing, selecting and overseeing an ALSP is a big job. Law departments with a director of operations with project management experience may be able to handle the process internally. For other law departments, it makes sense to engage an independent consultant who is not tied to any particular product or solution.
Seek a Partner
The next step is to select a provider. Begin by creating a clear and complete list of desired outcomes. Whoever is leading the process (whether internal or external) can provide guidance on realistic outcomes and use the list as a basis for assessing the suitability of various solutions. Some companies run a formal RFP process; others may simply create a checklist of requirements to use as a scorecard for comparing software and service providers.
Design a Solution
After selecting a provider, the hard work of project design, implementation and ongoing management begins. Depending on the nature of the solution and the size of the enterprise, it could take weeks or months to customize the solution. To ensure that the solution truly meets the needs of the team and to enhance the likelihood of successful adoption, create a small group of lawyers to be part of the design and testing process. They will provide the ALSP with invaluable feedback on what is and is not useful and practical about proposed solutions.
When ALSP/technology based solutions fail, it’s generally because the legal team finds reasons to avoid adoption. This behavior can range from demonstrating an unwillingness to learn to actively undermining development and implementation of the solution. Bringing in an ALSP can feel threatening to lawyers who fear that the work they do and the relationships they have could be replaced. Therefore, a strong, honest and clear communication plan is essential to gaining buy-in from the team.
Clearly and realistically explain the process and the work that will need to be done to design and implement the solution, as well as the benefits to the company, the team and individual lawyers. For individual lawyers, it is often the case that the work of ALSPs replaces low complexity, low value-add work and allows them to take on more interesting and higher-level work.
Train. Implement. Measure. Incentivize. Repeat.
The rollout of a new solution takes careful planning. If the team does not have a good first experience with your selected solution, it will be difficult to overcome their negative impression and both your bottom line and credibility may suffer.
The design team should implement training that meets the needs of everyone affected by the change. Be sure to schedule online training at times convenient for various time zones. Include an option for recorded online training and written materials for non-native English speakers or people who have different learning styles. Measure the results after implementation and share those results with the team on a regular basis for the first year. Incentivize people to support the change through the performance review process or one-off awards. The cycle of train, measure and incentivize should be repeated until the technology or ALSP solution becomes fully integrated into the way the legal team works.
Although implementing a technology or ALSP solution can be challenging, it’s fast becoming an expectation of any leader of a corporate law department. Demands for law department efficiency and effectiveness are not going away, and the sooner you begin to put solutions in place, the easier you will find it to navigate the future along with your team.