The legal industry has taken a major hit from the COVID-19 pandemic. Some firms and businesses have succumbed to the stresses of the pandemic; others have remained operational, overwhelmed with triaging new challenges while staying on top of daily tasks. Now that some countries and states are moving toward reopening their economies, legal departments and GCs have to once again switch gears and adjust operations for the new normal.
This is easier said than done. Not only has the pandemic changed where and how business is conducted, the resulting economic fallout has made it difficult for businesses to effectively position themselves for the uncertain future.
Fortunately, there’s a roadmap to long-term success. Standardizing your processes, adopting supporting technology and getting expert assistance can help organizations reposition — no matter what is to come in the future.
In this blog post, we’ll outline the steps to enter the repositioning phase that’s vital to building business continuity and future resiliency in this new era.
Standardize your contract processes
Consistent, well-understood and thoroughly documented processes enable businesses to remain on-track, even in times of crisis. It may not be possible to make all of your contracts consistent, but the processes that they trigger can be standardized. To future-proof your department, start by conducting an analysis of your current processes and mapping their journeys — that is, the various workflows that take place between a process’s beginning and its end. This is the first step to process mapping and standardization.
Mapping out your process journeys in this way will highlight points that are redundant or cause bottlenecks or other inefficiencies. After identifying and flagging these areas, designate an individual to be responsible for standardizing and adjusting the processes accordingly in each process area or department.
Finally, think about long-term business continuity. Test your contracts against current conditions and those that may present in the upcoming months. Before moving on to the next step of the repositioning stage, make sure you can answer this question of any of your contracts: What will this contractual relationship look like at the end of the year?
Eliminate manual tasks with technology
Your map of existing processes will most likely reveal steps that currently rely on manual intervention. Often, however, getting a human involved isn’t necessary. With automated legal technology, your legal department can eliminate manual tasks, decrease inefficiencies and streamline operations. There are several key areas where automation can play a critical role in improving contract processes in the modern law firm:
Contract management systems (CMSs): Organizations often have thousands (sometimes hundreds of thousands) of contracts distributed across many departments and systems. Due to their volume and distribution, sorting, tracking and managing these contracts is a major challenge, often leading to losses in important business opportunities. A CMS replaces a drive-based or spreadsheet contract repository, allowing your teams to quickly discover specific clauses, like force majeure clauses, material adverse event (MAE) clauses or others that may have been impacted by COVID-19.
Artificial intelligence (AI): AI solutions like machine learning (ML) and optical character recognition (OCR) can replace laborious manual processes, ease time restraints and decrease human error. ML auto-extracts and structures enterprise contract data, turning contract management into an agile, real-time approach to strategy. OCR software searches documents to identify patterns around searched words and supply context, uncovering relevant phrases in documents in seconds.
Reporting and analytics tools: Reporting and measuring your progress towards healthy contract management is crucial to staying on track and enables you to make any necessary adjustments on the fly. Reporting and analytics tools can provide key insights for more informed decision-making and complete visibility into your contracts. When assessing which tools to adopt, look for ones that can support you when assessing for risk exposure, identifying contracts that require amendment or searching for contracts that will impact your supply chain.
With the various tools and technology available to legal departments today, identifying those best suited to your organization’s needs requires collaboration across stakeholders — and, just as importantly, expert support.
Seek expert support
While your legal teams are contract experts, they’re more than likely not technology experts. Thus, adopting additional tools that digitize and modernize the contract management process may be a challenge. Turning to third-party technology experts to assist in onboarding and change management sets your teams up for success, and improves your likelihood of implementing effective solutions for the long-term.
Experts in technology, process improvement, and/or change management can help guide your organization through the repositioning phase and beyond. Third-party legal technology partners allow you to fuse your business experience and institutional knowledge with industry best practices and technological expertise. And in many cases, third parties can be more cost-effective than building an internal team.
Reposition to tackle adversity
Modern legal departments want to be able to eliminate all risk from future contracts. However, becoming completely risk-free isn’t feasible. Instead, organizations should develop a better understanding of their own risk areas and find suppliers, providers and investors with similar requirements and the necessary experience. Building greater contracting equality than existed before the pandemic will be critical to surviving future crises and to making your organization more robust.
Rather than focus on the chaos of the present moment, legal teams need to turn toward establishing longer-term strategy. The more proactively and consistently legal you do this, the more successfully you’ll be able navigate this challenge and the challenges of the future.
If you’re seeking further guidance on how to reposition your organization for the future, you may be interested in our guide, Moving Beyond Crisis Mode: Long-Term COVID-19 Strategies for Legal Departments.
Or, get in touch with one of our experts; we’re always ready to discuss how organizations can future-proof their legal processes.