The post-COVID economic and political climate is putting greater demand on legal teams than ever. Businesses are asking corporate legal departments to ensure compliance and minimize risk while at the same time maintain business agility. To meet the increasing demands, legal operations must invest in ways to increase their own efficiency. One way to do that is through legal workflow automation.
However, with all the “burning fires” that must be put out, legal ops professionals need to invest in technology that helps right now, not later. So the question is, how can legal workflow automation, once adopted, be leveraged to deliver immediate value?
Step 1: Define outcomes and identify opportunities
As is true for all technology, the first step to value delivery is actually not about the technology at all. Rather, it’s a matter of thinking about the outcomes you’re trying to achieve, and identifying opportunities for using new technology to address challenges.
Corporate-level pressures are likely pushing legal teams to improve turnaround times for legal requests and to find savings by increasing usage of internal resources. The immediate opportunities for making good use of automation, then, will often reside in identifying areas in your processes where there is low-value, manual work being done by high-value, high-cost resources. To identify those opportunities, it’s critical to look at your people.
The typical employee spends only 2.8 hours a day on high-value work. Corporate attorneys spend a significant portion of their time reading through email, chasing business customers for follow-up information, routing items to appropriate team members, and other administrative tasks. Interviewing your people will help find areas in your processes where people are doing work they shouldn’t or don’t want to be doing. For example, with legal intake, you may have an entire team simply reading email (and other forms of intake) and figuring out how to handle requests. This is something that could be automated by defining the rules for how each type of legal request needs to be handled and then automatically processing each request.
It also helps to zoom out and look outside of the legal department. Legal processes always involve some individual or team outside of core legal. For example:
- Contract processes originate from sales and can often involve finance.
- Litigation can originate from outside the company and can involve IT and HR.
- Working with outside counsel can involve coordinating multiple backs and forth between different law firms.
There are often manual gaps here, such as having lawyers chase other team members for follow-up information to process a legal request, that are very time consuming. There are also data silos introduced by the multitude of systems being used within and outside the organization that can cause delays simply because something has fallen through the cracks. Identifying manual steps and gaps across the various touchpoints of legal processes can uncover fast-value opportunities for automation.
Step 2: Design legal workflow processes to reduce change management
Once the opportunities for automation are identified, the second step is to design the process in such a way that improves efficiency. Here, it’s important to think not only about how to achieve the goals you want to achieve with automation, such as improving contract processing times, visibility of KPIs, or attorney utilization, but also about how to design automation-augmented processes that would work best for legal team members and business customers.
Improving processes today frequently requires forcing people to change their behavior. A few examples include:
- Closing off email, chat, and other forms of legal intake and requiring business customers to find a specific intake form on a legal portal to fill out.
- Forcing attorneys to adopt a new matter management system to manage requests and update statuses.
- Introducing yet another system for eBilling or contract management.
The problem with coercing people through constant change management—at least through change management as it’s conducted today, which is to say, without keeping the needs of people in mind—is that it makes them less efficient when going through the change, and forces people to perform tasks that are less valuable than their core duties. For legal operations teams, change management ultimately delays process improvement projects and limits how quickly value can be realized.
The opportunity with legal workflow automation is that it can minimize the need for and time-cost of change management by helping process designers better leverage the tools and systems that are already in use. Perhaps rather than asking people to adopt a new legal portal, the legal email inbox (or inboxes) can be automated to auto-handle simple requests and route more complex ones. Or a contract request can be automatically generated when the “sales” stage in the CRM is moved to the “contracts stage.”
By reducing change management, legal operations teams can accelerate innovation and realize value much faster.
Step 3: Implement legal workflow automation technology that actually fits your needs
However, to actually improve processes quickly, it’s not enough to simply follow the steps. Legal operations teams must also select workflow automation technology that gives them the self-sufficiency to move fast and the flexibility to cater to their unique needs. Not all workflow automation technology does.
Legal technology is in a renaissance. Tremendous innovation in the legal space is providing legal operations teams with more capabilities and flexibility than ever before. The form-heavy legal workflow automation solutions of the past are giving way to automation solutions that natively integrate with existing tools like email, communication platforms, and other systems like CRM, contract management, eSignature, ERP, etc. Legal operations teams now have access to no-code solutions that reduce their reliance on IT or external developers without losing the flexibility needed to manage complex legal processes.
With more self-sufficiency and flexibility—delivered with the right workflow automation partner—legal operations teams can reduce the bottlenecks that occur while waiting for technical resources and while fighting through long change management processes.
At Tonkean, we talk daily with enterprise legal operations teams looking to optimize processes using workflow automation. We see legal operations teams building complex workflows that handle everything from simple NDA requests to coordinating long, complex matters. Legal teams are saving millions by reducing manual tasks, gaining more agility via no-code, and extending the value of their existing technology.
If you’re looking into optimizing your processes with legal workflow automation, come talk to us. We’ll equip you with the best practices and technology that will help you deliver immediate impact to your team and business.