3 Steps to Get Legal Digital

Digitizing routine legal tasks saves 20% of your team's time


One of this year’s more positive developments has been rapid digital adoption across workplaces and the large-scale demonstration of its benefits: faster processes, collaboration despite distance, and flexibility for remote workers. Social distancing and government restrictions have been catalysts for digitization that used to be all too easy to put on the back burner.

But if you work in a risk-averse business sector, you’d be forgiven for feeling like the digital revolution hasn’t yet materialized in your day-to-day workload. The legal sector is a good example of one that’s traditionally slow to embrace technology-enabled approaches. 

In a survey by Ernst and Young (EY), 64 percent of general counsels say the legal space hasn’t benefited from digital innovation as much as other functions. That same survey found 82 percent of companies planning to reduce legal function costs over the next two years, despite a reported growing demand for legal services. Technology seems like the obvious way to reconcile that disparity, but the legal sector hasn’t always excelled at embracing it.

Here are three steps for changing that.

1. Start with mindsets

Some legal professionals tend to employ an “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” mantra when it comes to technology. They think the way they have been working and serving clients is good enough or in line with client expectations. But, along with the tension between cost pressures and service demands, there are many  reasons why lawyers and legal professionals need to take a fresh look at what clients want and start thinking differently about technology.

Lawyers tend to be openly wary about the potential risks of new tech. Not only does this ignore the security credentials of many solutions, as well as the ability to customize them for compliance purposes, but it ignores that paper-based processes may increase your risk exposure in some ways. Paper processes lack the visibility and clear audit trail provided by most digital workflows.

Risk as a poor reason to delay technology implementation (or refuse it completely) as it masks a deeper fear or hesitation about one’s ability to adopt new ways of working. Additionally, those who wait to implement new digital ways of working are gambling with their competitive edge and their ability to keep and attract talent. A change in mindset requires a top-down recognition of these risks. 

The current emphasis on remote work gives leaders a prime opportunity to innovate, with legislators updating rules in support of the digital landscape and relaxing musty rules about electronic signatures. Incredibly, both employers and employees in the legal industry are becoming more open to new ways of working. These mindset shifts – pushed through years earlier in other industries – shouldn’t be squandered.

2. Identify your most critical needs

In the legal sector, a lot of technology information gets thrown at you and it’s hard to know which tools are legitimately useful. Some are super shiny on the front-end but don’t do what they say on the label. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed.

To cut through the noise, start with your most obvious bottlenecks or employee pain points. EY found 67 percent of legal functions devoting 20 percent of their time to low-value tasks and routine compliance. Is this true for your organization and, if so, what’s driving it? From there, you can map out how a digital solution would help and why a specific product is a good fit for those needs.

For instance, contract management is fertile ground for inefficiencies, with over one-third of all major agreements still using manual processes. Cloud-enabled contract management digitizes and streamlines processes. What used to take days or weeks to complete, now takes hours or even minutes. Before implementation, these workflow processes were drawn-out rituals with back-and-forth emails, but it’s now possible to auto-generate a one-page consent form that guides the customer to specific areas for signing.

It is a huge advantage to have the ability to monitor agreement processes from any location, empowering you to flag problems early and keep transactions moving forward despite physical distancing requirements. It also helps reduce some of your biggest bottlenecks, which means you can focus on proactive and strategic tasks instead of chasing paper or emailing for approvals.

3. Establish digital champions

Understanding what’s at stake and narrowing your priorities are important first steps, but you also need to find team members who can act as ambassadors for change and digital efficiency. There are usually early adopters hungry for the conveniences of digital tools. Identify who they are and enlist them to bring others onboard.

These digital champions are crucial partners from start to finish. They provide on-the-ground feedback about inefficiencies and potential product solutions, as well as communicating the benefits to the wider team before, during and after implementation.

It’s not just about bringing people on-side. Change management can be a major hurdle even if your team is enthusiastic about the change. A good digital champion can encourage adoption while helping everyone get the most out of the solution.

Talking about digital change is easy—making it happen is hard, especially since most legal teams are already spread pretty thin. But the legal sector has reached a stage where it’s time to think seriously about technology as a priority. With regulatory environments becoming more complex, Canada’s economic recovery likely increasing pressure to cut costs, and digital trends showing no signs of slowing. 

Legal function leaders need to ask themselves not whether their processes are ‘broken’, but could those very processes they rely on be broken in the future – and what can we do now to fix things to prevent that breakage and stay competitive?

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Contributor: Verity White, Principal, Checklist Legal