Ensure the success of your next legal tech implementation with these tips
Even as late as 2020, some in-house lawyers still quietly suspected that the wave of digital disruption weathered by their business colleagues might simply skip past their department’s doorstep. However, the events and market conditions of the past few years ended these suspicions. The pandemic made clear the need for advanced collaboration tools, legal operations emerged as an impactful industry movement and, most recently, ChatGPT caused knowledge workers everywhere to reassess their long-term career prospects.
Suddenly the most urgent in-house legal conversations centered on which new technology to install next. And while I’m glad to see more legal departments shift their mindsets, I still preach caution. Budgets are tight, change is difficult and selecting the right tool at the wrong moment can prove counterproductive.
So before starting the search for innovative or new legal tech, it’s always best to assess your readiness with a few quick criteria.
1. You Already Considered People & Process
People, process and technology. Those are the three main variables in legal operations strategy—and they’re best considered in that order. Starting with people, you might look at reallocating work assignments across your in-house team, outside counsel and alternative legal service providers (ALSPs) to get you to your goal without the need for new tech. Looking at processes, could you adapt or create a workflow that solves your business challenge by making smarter use of existing resources?
The answer in each case may ultimately be “no.” After all, there are real limits to how far people can stretch and processes can bend without breaking. But if you answer “yes,” then you’ll know it’s likely better to preserve your legal tech budget for a more pressing need.
Either way, you’ll still be glad you asked the questions. Because as you consider each inquiry, you’ll naturally discover the personal preferences and procedural requirements any effective solution will need to align with.
2. You Feel Out of Step With Industry Trends
One of the most admirable traits of the in-house legal community is its transparency. Whether it’s on LinkedIn, at conferences like those hosted by the Association of Corporate Counsel or ALM or in publications and podcasts, you don’t have to look far to get a sense of the industry. And one of the clearest themes you’ll hear echoing across all channels is a growing focus on tech innovation.
Consider, for example, this finding from the latest edition of Blickstein Group’s Law Department Operations Survey: 88% of respondents now have, or are developing, a legal department technology roadmap. So if you ever sense that you’re slightly behind the curve on industry norms, don’t dismiss that feeling. The corporate legal arena is challenging enough even when you have the latest and greatest innovations working in your favor. Strictly limiting yourself to legacy tools only does your company (and career) a disservice.
3. You See Efficiency as the Primary Goal
Successful teams play to the strengths of everyone on the roster. For business leaders, that means putting both human and technical resources in positions where their talents will shine. So before welcoming any new technology into your legal department, be clear about the job you're asking that tool to do. Efficiency is tech’s superhuman strength and it should be treated accordingly.
Software plays best when assigned a large volume of clearly structured and highly repetitive tasks. And luckily for legal department leaders, that also happens to describe the category of work that lawyers enjoy the least and perform the worst.
Departments that honor this simple principle can quickly unlock a virtuous cycle. For example, in the case of Ocado Group, implementing Brightflag’s legal spend management software enabled the team to eliminate nearly 1,500 hours’ worth of admin work annually by letting tech take the lead on invoice review, financial reporting and performance benchmarking. This simultaneously improved morale among in-house attorneys and enabled them to net significant cost savings by allocating more of their time toward optimizing outside counsel relationships.
4. You Want to Promote New Work Models
The way lawyers operate is changing and many now believe the traditional dynamics of the industry no longer work for them or their clients. Attorney burnout is unfortunately common, and it stretches across wide swathes of the industry, from recent graduates to veteran lawyers.
I’ve already highlighted efficiency as one of tech’s top attributes—and harnessing it effectively can go a long way toward making workloads feel more sustainable. But perhaps the more transformative byproduct of tech innovation is transparency. Before you can change your operations for the better, you first need an accurate understanding of how your team works today. And by leaning on technology to build that perspective, you can protect against the human biases that all too often cloud judgment and halt progress.
5. You’re Investing for the Long Term
If the previous four signs point you in the direction of adopting new legal tech, then the final checkpoint should be an honest discussion of time horizons. Considering the urgency of the business priorities that new tech is typically implemented to address, and the scrutiny surrounding most corporate budget requests, some project stakeholders may have little patience when it comes to investment returns.
To be clear, you shouldn’t have to wait months for tangible results to arrive. But you should be investing with the knowledge that your most profound gains won’t be realized unless you give them time to compound. If your stakeholders don’t yet share your long-term investment thesis, then you must have the humility to press pause and dedicate more time to developing consensus and putting together a strong change management plan.
Forging ahead with misaligned expectations will exponentially raise the risk of project delays, cancellations and failures. And any one of those outcomes could spoil your company’s appetite for all future initiatives on your legal tech roadmap.
Moving Forward with Confidence
Digital disruption may be visiting corporate legal departments last, but its moment has undeniably arrived. No operating strategy is complete without a consideration of how stronger tech could support and accelerate progress. But the next time a new tool rises to the top of your wishlist, take a moment to reflect on the five big questions outlined above:
Can you solve your business problem with a people or process solution?
How do stakeholders view the tech you have your eye on?
Does your business goal suit tech’s top strengths?
What broader changes do you hope to promote?
Is your team fully committed to long-term goals?
Specific answers will vary widely between companies, but the overall value of the exercise remains the same for all: deeper conviction in whichever legal tech strategy you decide to pursue.