Technology as a Tool to Aid the Legal Function
In Japan’s first reported case of artificial intelligence (AI) saving someone’s life, an AI tool succeeded where a team of skilled human doctors did not. A woman with a rare type of leukemia was correctly diagnosed by the AI. Even more remarkable, it took just ten minutes to compare the woman’s genetic information with 20 million clinical oncology studies to arrive at the life-saving diagnosis.
With so many technological advancements in every sphere of our lives, the role of lawyers has also evolved and transformed. Gone are the days when lawyers had to rely on their oratory skills alone. These days, the revolutions in technology has prompted the legal professionals to be equally adept at legal research software, contract management and automation systems and a whole host of other time-saving methods to aid their professional practices.
In my capacity as a global counsel of a European SemiConductorequipment manufacturing company, I have faced the usual challenges that are customary to such a role. With a small team of lawyers to advise, draft, negotiate, document all the transactions and policies across all functions ranging from operations, sales, procurement, compliance, HR, IT to name a few, in over 14 countries, it has been a daunting task to say the least. By way of this article, I intend to provide the reader(s) with an overview of how we have introduced the use of technology to circumvent our daily operational requirements such that my team and I are able to concentrate of the high-level managerial decisions while letting the technology take care of the day-to-day commercial requirements of the organization.
Introducing technology into the legal function – sharing a firsthand experience
In law school, I was taught that the very top lawyers are not only logical and analytical, but they display a great deal of creativity in their problem solving. My take has always been that if lawyers can use some that creativity to solve their own problems, it would go a long way in demonstrating their ability to their clients. My work strategy has always been to try and not reinvent the wheel every day, although it can certainly keep me busy and gainfully employed.
With so many well researched, published and updated legal research tools available in the market, i find that lawyers can explore new horizons
In my career span, I have seen a transition from working out of documents being received and sent through post (snail mail), to having been equally proficient on MS Word, Outlook, Excel etc., to the current phase where we have introduced client-facing portals. The fundamental question has always remained the same - how can the client’s requirements be served in the most cost-efficient, timely and competent manner? Would the use of a portal be of any help to the organization as well as to the legal division? The answer has many facets.
In our (or any) organization, technology means control and predictability. Our contract management software allows the users (read commercial departments) to populate certain predetermined fields and create their own contracts and route them to us for review, to solicit feedback from the counterparty, to enable the internal approval process, to have it signed electronically, to file it on the data base, to be able to easily access it when they need to refer to it and to be reminded when it’s time to renew.
For the lawyers, it means being able to concentrate on the more strategic affairs of the company, while retaining control and visibility of the more standard agreements. In terms of time spent, sorting my emails early every morning and triaging on what needs to be addressed first, I save at least an hour, if not more, daily, thanks to the contract management software where I can access the dashboard to get a sense of the developments and the urgency in a matter of seconds.
For the senior management, it means to finally be able to attempt to measure the productivity of lawyers. We have in-house capability of generating reports on concluded agreements per country, per function, per person or per subject matter.
Florence Nightingale used statistics to pioneer sanitary reforms in the UK 200 years ago and it’s a pity that legal in house teams still consider the use of pie charts reflecting legal documents to drive company strategies as a present day innovation.
Other than introduction of contract management software, we also use various technological advancements for legal research and legal training initiatives of the company.
With so many well researched, published and updated legal research tools available in the market, I find that lawyers can explore new horizons. The concepts of jurisdictional expertise can very easily transcend into subject matter specialization because of access to case studies, analysis and current news across the globe. As a technology lawyer called to the bar in India, working in Singapore and advising on the EU GDPR has now become possible because of the access to these innovative capabilities which help me stay abreast with the legal developments, almost real time.
Also, from a compliance point of view, we find that we, as a company are able to drastically reduce our carbon footprint by not being necessitated to travel extensively for meaningfully educating and trainings our stakeholders. Legal trainings conducted regularly in different languages, attendance recorded and assessments conducted, all without any regular effort on the part of the legal team.
Lawyers sitting in different continents can now talk, share documents, negotiate, mark up documents over a cup of coffee (albeit in their own cozy offices respectively). The mammoth contribution that has on the speed of business is perhaps under recognized.
We, at ASM, have not stopped at this. Our next plan is to introduce a pioneering procurement and supply chain solution that will help us digitize and simplify our processes end-to-end and will enable us to collaborate better with the various internal teams for supplier engagement.
To get to this stage, where I author an article on legal technology for the august readership of this publication, the challenges have been many. For in-house lawyers considering the introduction of technology into their legal function, a word of caution; the time commitment is an important factor because one needs to juggle the daily workload alongside driving this humongous project. But then, that’s what bonus targets are for.
The time spent to assess the various offerings in the market and to select a solution that is best suited for our industry and within our budget and is user friendly and easily customizable, is time well spent.
This will make the subsequent steps like securing management buy-in; effective transition into the system by creating a data base and training and enabling the end user to effectively use the tool, a lot easier.
While, some would call technology, disruptive and imply a threat to our livelihood, there are always others like me, who find that these steps we take today, will mean that future lawyers will have all the time and resources to create a new legal landscape.