Guest post: Five Ways to Smooth Your Next Legal Tech Implementation

The legal and compliance team at Cornerstone has implemented three different legal technologies over the last couple of years; here are some of the key lessons learned along the way

by Phil Warren and Nicholas d’Adhemar 

In-house legal teams currently spend a median of two percent of the legal department budget on technology. That figure is likely to grow as more inside counsel seek new ways to improve service delivery while also controlling costs.

Legal technology certainly has the potential to improve the efficiency and efficacy of legal operations. However, harnessing that potential requires more than just a budget. It requires problem identification, analysis of possible solutions, and a suitable allocation of resources to make it happen.

Cornerstone, the UK’s leading mobile infrastructure services company, has learned this first-hand. Their legal and compliance team has implemented three different and significant legal tech solutions: matter management, corporate governance and legal spend management – over the last couple of years. Below are some of the lessons learned along the way.

  1. Start by defining the problem

Successful technology projects start with a well-defined problem that needs fixing. The problem itself should be fairly obvious, so the effort in this step needs to go towards examining the details.

For example, if your legal department spends a lot of money with outside counsel, but can’t articulate where and why, there may be an issue with spend management. Similarly, if finding documents associated with matters is chaotic – such as a record of instruction when the assigned in-house lawyer is out of the office – then document management solutions may be a good place to begin.

Spend time understanding the root causes by mapping out the overall process, noting the obstacles and how you expect technology to help. This is a key step because it will naturally build a list of requirements to treat underlying issues and automate inefficient processes. Most important of all is the human factor: ensuring stakeholders understand the project scope and buy into the need for change. This has the added benefit of facilitating user adoption later in the process by involving them in decision-making from the start.

  1. Make time to get educated on solutions

In-house lawyers are busy, but it’s important to make time to get smart on the technologies available. Speaking to peers, reading trade publications and attending conferences are all reliable sources of information, but don’t rule out the vendor community and service providers too.

Vendors are a rich source of information. Many produce thought-leadership blogs, white papers, videos and podcasts. The latter are especially practical because they can be consumed passively while commuting, exercising or carrying out general life admin.

Web demonstrations are helpful as well. Some law departments turn these into a professional development vehicle – such as monthly “lunch-and-learn” sessions for the team. Be upfront with the vendor community that you are simply looking, and you are not a prospective buyer. Most will respect that as they still stand to benefit by broadening their network through discussions with the legal community.

Finally, some law firms can be a wealth of information because they’ve watched many clients go through this process. Cornerstone found one of the law firms on its panel, Osborne Clarke, had a tech consulting arm which was a clear unique selling proposition for the firm. The consulting team proved instrumental in implementing and developing a matter management tool, a project which later earned public accolades.

  1. Create a shortlist and include key stakeholders

Once you have a well-defined problem – and you’re informed on possible solutions – narrow the options to a shortlist of viable tools for a competitive bid. As you do this, be sure to include key stakeholders. For example, your procurement team can help you develop requirements and negotiate with vendors. Likewise, the IT department can help with technical specifications and provide a security assessment.

Articulating the potential returns of an investment in technology before it’s implemented is very difficult. So, another technique is inviting senior-level stakeholders to important meetings. For instance, Cornerstone invited its CFO to a demonstration of a legal spend management tool it was interested in procuring. This allowed the CFO to see the benefits first-hand and help to build executive buy-in along the way.

  1. Dedicate internal resources to implementation

Implementation is the culmination of all the efforts the team has put into the project so far. While many vendors today provide customer success managers to assist, it’s still important to designate internal resources to coordinate the effort.

Co-ordination requirements include:

  • Gathering feedback from users and prioritising any issues for remediation;
  • Liaising with IT for internal systems integration; and
  • Communicating with law firms for external systems integration.

Working with law firms on technology integration tends to draw less emphasis in the era of cloud-based software, but it’s still crucial. For example, Osborne Clarke had an instrumental role in the implementation of the matter management product at Cornerstone. Further, other law firms working on Cornerstone matters would eventually need access to the product too.

The implementation of legal spend management is an even better example. The spend data Cornerstone receives is exported from the practice management systems used by their law firms – so they must participate. Law firms are incentivized because the transparency provided by the spend data means their invoices are paid faster and without a lot of back and forth.  

  1. Designated responsibility for continuous improvement

After putting all this time, effort and company treasure into a legal tech solution, you want to be sure you are getting the most value out of it. One proven way to do this is to designate someone with responsibility for continuous improvement.

These duties include:

  • Providing product feedback to the vendor for future development;
  • Communicating and supporting the adoption of new features and functionality; and
  • Keeping track of product usage, training new users and documenting tangible benefits.

This concept of continuous improvement would fit well under the broader responsibility of innovation. To that end, a study commissioned by Apperio found 85% of surveyed legal departments in financial services have a person or team charged with innovation. Responsibility for legal innovation is fast becoming a must-have throughout the corporate legal community.

A material impact on the legal department

The technology projects at Cornerstone have had a material impact on the Legal and Compliance team and the work it does. They have helped the in-house team to:

  • automate aspects of organising documents associated with matters and improve certain business processes;
  • collect and analyse data to support decision-making;
  • develop its reporting and the information it provides to the business; and
  • manage legal costs by reducing aged WIP and promoting better law firm behaviours.

As a result, the team has been able to eliminate many of the rote tasks that consume time but offer little value – and instead focus their efforts on the things that deliver value for the business.

Phil Warren is the head of legal and compliance at Cornerstone, a leading provider of mobile infrastructure services in the UK.

Nicholas d’Adhemar is a lawyer turned entrepreneur and the founder and CEO of Apperio, a legal spend analytics and matter tracking platform for in-house counsel. Disclosure: Cornerstone is an Apperio customer.

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