In the corporate world, we talk about “value,” “returns” and “bottom line” as if we’re shy about the real issue: Money. Legal departments and the general counsel who lead them have always been measured largely by their ability to reduce costs without diminishing the quality of their performance — and as we break into 2019, a time with quantum computing and virtual reality, there’s no denying that legal technology is key to bringing money into the business.
But there are a number of tools out there, and they’re all very much the same. So how do you ensure that the returns you create for your legal team will ultimately offset the thousands of dollars you might spend on a software license?
The truth is, it’s not just about what legal technology you have, but how you use it.
Extracting Business Value from Legal Technology: 5 Things to Consider
1. Are you sure you don’t already have what you need internally?
Legal experts around the world are completely awash with the notion of technology, but you can’t let your imagination get away from you. The only way to reach those returns with a technology investment is to align your corporate vision with the technology itself; you have to begin with a plan. And part of understanding what you need involves understanding what you have.
Often, when we think about legal technology and how it can elevate our internal corporate strategy, we think: What’s in the market that meets our current needs? And that’s important, of course, but before we even ask that question, we need to know: What are we currently using in-house and how can we better use that to amplify its value?
Your corporate legal team could be working at a slight disconnect from the really powerful tools that the business is already using, and before you even begin to consider a new investment, you have to bridge that knowledge gap. For example, procurement uses an enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution that is typically distinct from the legal team — but lawyers could leverage the same solution to manage their own processes with more visibility and control.
2. What are the limits of your current technology?
Once you get a grip on the technology you have and what it can do for you, the next question to ask is: What doesn’t it do?
That question is critical, because it helps you understand where you’ll need to make up for that lack with other purchases. If an AI tool is used to extract information from contracts, how do you visualize and communicate that information to the C-Suite? How easy is it to share that intelligence across your jurisdictions and between the different functions within your company?
For the corporate legal function, the key trait to look for is integration. When all of your tools can speak to each other, you save money on other, big-ticket items because knowledge sharing and other corporate processes become more efficient across the business.
3. Is it scalable?
In some sense, when we talk about integration, what we’re really talking about is scalability. In smaller companies, you might be able to get away with communication at a snail’s pace. But as the company grows and time constraints close in, stakeholders across departments and even countries will need to be able to access the intelligence locked inside your technology quickly, easily and cost-efficiently.
With an urgent need to solve for, you might be tempted to skip the forward-thinking and adopt a tool that eases that pain immediately. But you have to take a moment to think of the future of your company; where do you envision it going and how does this technology support that vision? The tool should be able to facilitate the way you manage information — if you launch a new strategic business initiative, how will the technology adjust to your new business needs? Before investing, think not only about how the technology fits in with your current strategy, but also about how its value might change in the future.
4. How does it empower your business? How does it empower your people?
The ultimate call of modern technology is its ability to allow the corporate legal team to do what it’s supposed to do, better. The tools that add real business value are the ones that allow your people to become more self-serving, to waste less time on non-strategic objectives and to increase visibility for greater insight and control.
We often focus so much on the external implications of legal technology: Analytics, visualization, legal spend optimization. But how does the technology enable your team to be more internally efficient and to gain more momentum inside the organization? Contract lifecycle management solutions are a good example of this. Yes, they reduce friction around the contract management process, but they also provide insight into risks, patterns of behavior and areas for improvement.
Technology should not replace the human element, but rather enhance it. It should cut through the administrative noise so your team can focus on proactively applying their expertise to innovate and improve. That’s where its true value lies.
5. Does it have a real impact on decision-making?
Part of what “business empowerment” means for the general counsel is increased emphasis on their ability to convey the value-added contributions of the legal department. Once you know which holes in your legal processes you need to plug, you then need to understand how the technology can help you demonstrate what you’ve achieved for more proactive business decisions.
In other words, focus not on the product, but on the outcome of the product. If you’re able to distill what the product is and the value it creates for the legal function into easy-to-understand dashboards, you can engage with stakeholders more effectively and become an agent of change within your organization.
You won’t see a return on your legal technology investment without the right strategy, expertise and mindset. Any technology you implement should align with the human element of your legal team and the strategic element of your business as a whole.
Don’t expect to sit back and let the technology do the work for you — it won’t. Technology can maximize the money you bring into the business, but the way that you leverage it will be key to seeing any of that return at all.