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What does legal tech transformation look like in practice?

George Lawton Profile picture for user George Lawton June 25, 2024
Summary:
Legal tech digital transformation takes different forms across the industry. In the enterprise space, this runs the gamut from rethinking the legal experience, driving business transformation, and up-ending the status quo.

legal

The legal industry has been much slower in adopting cutting-edge innovations than other industries. However, innovations are starting to seep in and nourish different visions of digital transformation across the industry. 

At the recent LegalTechTalk Conference in London, lawyers from outside counsels and within corporations weighed in on the future of digital transformation in the legal industry.

All sides of this conversation approach the need for digital transformation from a different perspective. Traditional law firms are starting to question the need to do things the way they have always been done and consider the wisdom of providing better legal user experiences. Enterprise legal departments are exploring new technologies' role in automating many legal services that were typically outsourced to outside firms.

Re-thinking the legal experience

Rachel Broquard, Service Excellence Partner at Eversheds Sutherland, a larger law firm, says that for her, it all comes down to purpose. She recounted a story of an executive client trying to get off for the Christmas holidays while trying to complete a deal. One of the documents had a problem, which needed a fresh signature. She felt a feeling of accomplishment after talking him through the new DocuSign app, which meant he could get home to his wife and children before bedtime.

Broquard says that a seminal moment in embracing digital transformation occurred when the firm started investigating feedback around improving its due diligence reports. She reached out to clients to learn more. One client gave an example of a traditional due diligence report thick with lots of words and a newer approach with a better structure showcasing highlights. She explains:

Traditional law firm due diligence reports are quite thick. They're written in Word, and they go from the top of the page to the bottom of the page full of text.  As lawyers, we like Word documents and lots of words on paper. But our clients don’t necessarily think that way. Some clients are visual learners, and the reader needs to have an interesting experience when they engage with the text, so the important things they need to know about jump out of the page.

Later, she resonated with newer approaches for design thinking and human-centered design. The key takeaway is that law firms needed to start thinking about building a better user experience for their corporate clients rather than just carrying on as if it were business as usual.

Identifying automation opportunities

Sarah Zaman, General Counsel at Hyve Group, a global events company, says it is all about providing an efficient legal in-house department that supports the business, arguing: 

The best way to do that is through tech because I'm certainly not going to get ten additional lawyers on my team even though I asked for it lots of times. But there's lots of tech that can support many different parts of my business, and our business as a whole is transforming. It's digitizing, it's becoming more data-led, and legal cannot be left behind on that.

Zaman observes there has been increased pressure on law firms and in-house legal teams to deliver more with less, which is driving ways to rethink many existing legal processes:

As part of this transformation, where I would actually like to get to is that in twelve months' time, I don't want my team to actually be doing any traditional legal work anymore, such as marking up the contracts, T's and C's [terms and conditions], and  NDAs. I don't see that as valuable to the business.

Fortunately, the executives at Hyve see the legal team as strategic advisors. This makes it easy for everyone to look for opportunities where the legal team spends a lot of time and energy on traditional legal tasks that don’t elevate the team or enable overall growth.

Zaman also collaborates with a strong peer group of general counsels that discuss shared issues and opportunities for improvement. One best practice lies in keeping tabs on the mix of new legal work as it arises. She explains:

How do I start tracking even the work that's coming into my team? How do I start to get some really important data points to help me advise on what we actually need for a forward-looking legal team? So, it's really an education that I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't educate myself because we would be left in the dust if we were continuing to do that traditional legal work.

It's also important to communication how legal transformation can have a broader impact across the business. Zaman explains:

My job is to explain to the business why this isn't something that will just benefit the in-house legal team but the business as a whole. So, why is this a beneficial transformation for finance, procurement, exit readiness, governance, and compliance and not just a legal tool? You need to meet people where they're at. And I think you need to demonstrate the value to the business as business transformation, not as legal tech transformation or in-house legal transformation.

My take

Many waves of innovation and transformation are washing over the legal industry. In the enterprise space, these could exacerbate tensions between enterprises trying to keep costs down and external legal firms evolving to stay relevant and profitable.

Companies are looking for opportunities to automate processes and take advantage of new services. Both may help control the substantial costs associated with traditional external legal firms. Conversely, the law firms serving them must also rethink how and what they deliver to their enterprise clients through efficiency and rethinking legal experience design.

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