While in-house legal departments vary widely in size and depth across industries, one characteristic they all share is the need to align closely with the business as a trusted partner. With 52% of legal departments having increased their use of legal technology in the past year alone, it is particularly important to align with business objectives when it comes to the procurement and implementation of technology solutions. The actual value of these investments is realized when systems benefit not only the legal department, but also the business as a whole.
Consequently, technology investments in legal departments should not be viewed in isolation, but as capabilities that enable seamless workflows across the organization. Modern methodologies incorporate organizational assessments and design from the start, for this very purpose. Technology investments are best positioned for success when the right organizational structure is in place and partnerships are solidified—if not in practice yet, then certainly through future-state design. Furthermore, an effective organizational design provides an assessment centered around the people and business processes they support. A trusted partnership between the business and legal department lays the foundation for optimal performance for both the employees and the company. Any technology solution will be limited in its potential if, for example, the legal department is viewed as the cost center of “no,” left to operate at a bare minimum. Technology alone may not be the issue—it rarely ever is. Working through organizational problems or concerns is essential, these cannot be ignored or left for after implementation. If you want to maximize the return on any technology investments, you have to put in the work.
Know Thyself Before Making Investments for the Future
Companies must understand their processes and corporate culture before investing in legal technology. Initiatives such as the procurement and integration of contract management systems require understanding functional system requirements and the corporate culture in which the tools will integrate. These systems need to reach a critical mass of acceptance to succeed. The starting point for successful projects is to know thyself.
The legal technology industry was designed to create efficiencies from which other markets have long benefitted. One of the dominant forms of legal tech software is designed to provide the law department visibility of their contracts. The business needs to review their contracts carefully and turn them around quickly. Hence, legal departments are expected to receive incoming contracts, manage their workload, and process them thoroughly, but rapidly. The business practices that comprise this process are then used as a blueprint for systems requirements.
While business processes might be documented to some degree, the key details are typically obtained from digging in with stakeholders from all sides of the organization. Staff may express frustrations with the current process or inter-departmental relationships that cause challenges in execution. Identifying these issues up-front and tackling them head-on will significantly improve the chances of success in subsequent system rollouts. Some companies believe they need a new system when the real bottlenecks and challenges relate to other operational aspects.
Remember to confirm any legal reporting needs the organization has, including anticipated changes from regulators and auditors. Technology-enabled responses are significantly more efficient when dealing with evolving reporting requirements. Beyond the technology, however, the performance and efficiency of the department are often driven by having the right talent on board. This should also be considered during the organizational assessment before planning investments in new systems and processes. If there is a gap in technology literacy in the legal department and the business partners using the platform, the system will fail.
Apt Technology Selection Is Critical in Today’s Crowded Market
A thorough evaluation and selection process is essential given the number of options available today. There have been numerous new entrants into this already-crowded software market. Evaluate options carefully, as some products seek to capitalize on the opportunity but lack the depth and capabilities needed for many customers.
Before diving into options, perform an internal spend analysis and understand both the top and bottom lines regarding budget and functionality for your legal department and company writ-large. Not all buyers and sellers are created equal. As you look closely at the available products, calibrate your baseline with the possibilities you now see available. There may be innovative capabilities out there you had not previously considered that could streamline your operations or fit well with your true organizational needs.
After researching technology options, take the information you’ve gained and map it against your requirements and corporate culture. If the process has dragged on because you are busy doing your actual day job—as you should be doing—it may be that needs have changed. Be sure to assess one last time before moving ahead with your procurement process.
Reach Clear and Concise Agreements Across Stakeholders
Agreements on the overarching process and partnerships between departments are fundamental to making successful tech investments. Document the approach and ensure these practices are carried out in day-to-day operations. It is always possible that events may unfold differently than anticipated, but you have to make decisions and plan accordingly based on the best information available today. To the extent possible, future-proof technology designs so they are adaptable to anticipated changes or areas of the business most likely to evolve. For example, if the company is positioned to make one or many acquisitions in order to grow, pursue the technology that is geared for growth and has a multilayered platform design. The first commitment is on paper, but the significant one occurs in practice. The adoption of new technologies is dramatically accelerated when you have the buy-in of the C-suite and other key business leaders. Another effective technique is to designate champions within the business and legal sectors to encourage follow-through. Once the solution is launched, don’t forget about your investment. These techniques will help ensure the systems are accepted in practice and culturally, resulting in a great return on investment.
Ultimately, People and Processes Are Integral to Successful Technology Investments
When investing in technology for your legal department, remember that people and processes are what make the solutions a success. Organizational assessments and design can eliminate hurdles to success and help clarify the partnership between in-house legal and the business. By knowing your organization and understanding its corporate culture, effective technology designs can be created that align with the business practices and the needs of the stakeholders.
The market for technology like contract management software is loaded with options, so consider your options carefully. Eliminate the noise and home in on which solutions best meet the needs of your organization and the process agreed upon by all pertinent parties. There are some innovative capabilities available in the market, but the most effective ones are often practical solutions that fit with the right talent and processes in your organization.