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Steps to Revolutionise your Legal Team

Sophie Kernthaler, Director, Hogan Lovells

It’s been a turbulent 6 months, but the need to do more with less hasn’t diminished. If anything, it has intensified. If you’re looking at transformational change but don’t know where to start, here are 4 key considerations.

Process management and design

When there is a challenge in the way a legal team delivers its services, it can be hard for the people involved on a daily basis to see the wood for the workload. It may be that there is no formal procedure. Work is simply done as it was handed over – in the same way that it always has been. Add to that the constant pressure to do more with less and there is a recipe not to invest time in actually assessing the work itself and how and where it is done.

The issue is that as your in-house lawyers grow, develop and move to new challenges, there remains a core of legal work that needs to be done to keep the business running. That could be NDAs, merchant agreements, software licences or third-party engagement letters. Ask any GC and they will have a list of the jobs that their team of highly qualified, experienced lawyers are doing that could be done by a junior.

Having a third party come in and map out those processes can help to bring clarity to any problems/bottlenecks and allows an impartial observer to join the conversation. Often it’s the case that work requests are inconsistent, or that one team can take on more of the early stages of a matter before it gets into the legal team. But, it helps to have another party in the room, with the right data to facilitate the conversation.

Standardising key processes

Once the key areas have been identified, it can then be helpful to apply some science to prioritisation. By picking two or three work types to focus on it greatly increases the likelihood of success and the speed of delivery. Once a successful process/ handoff is in place it’s much easier to have further conversations with different areas. In my experience this can snowball quickly, so be prepared to defend the initial list and not allow teams to be overloaded.

By clearly articulating processes and procedures it gives comfort to managers and clarity to staff.

Apply innovative tools and solutions

Once you have a clear process it’s much easier to define where technology can help.

• Is one of the pinch points reviewing documents to find specific words or clauses? If so, maybe an AI tool is what you need

• Is it populating templated documents to produce a new draft? Then document automation could help

• Is it comparing a new contract to your standard terms? Again, AI can run multiple compares simultaneously.

• Is it reviewing a large volume of documentation to update key references?

 By clearly articulating processes and procedures it gives comfort to managers and clarity to staff.‚Äč 

It is not usually possible for individual businesses to invest in a range of these tools –especially where new developments are as constant as they are in the legal tech sector. By working with a third party you can outsource the investment risk and leverage their market expertise, working with them to define what could be best for your specific circumstances.

Staffing: motivation and retention

One challenge I often hear from clients is around the retention of junior staff. If you have centralised and standardised your work types, then the work required is by definition very standardised. This means that your best candidates, the ones who excelled in interviews, are going to get bored quickly. The worst-case scenario is that a small in-house team invests significant time in an individual, who after 6 months finds that the role is not challenging enough, but finds that with your company’s name on their CV they are much better placed to get the next role/training contract.

Preventing this is tricky. By its nature, this kind of work will be standardised, with little room for creativity in the completion. However, with the pace of technological change, there is great scope for innovation in both process and delivery systems. Business needs and expectations are constantly evolving, and it is often the more junior staff that are best placed to pick up and trial new software or systems. It also gives them the opportunity to support and train colleagues and stakeholders – which allows them to feel valued and demonstrate their contribution to the business.

The other strength of outsourcing this type of work to a law firm is the existing structures that they have in place to support and develop their employees. Few in-house teams are able to offer a training contract programme, and in a small team, the training of junior resources can mean that the work returns to senior lawyers and we are back where we started. By having larger, more flexible teams it enables colleagues to experience different areas and build up their skill sets, whilst staying engaged in the work.

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