In this latest 60-second interview, Wolters Kluwer segment manager for legal software Maurits Annegarn talks to The Lawyer about legal tech trends for 2021 and beyond, why legal departments struggle with gaining buy-in when it comes to legal tech and how communication is key to ensuring user adoption.
What are the main trends that you are seeing for 2021 and beyond, when it comes to legal tech?
It’s clear that legal technology is on the minds of in-house lawyers. Our research report with The Lawyer, which was based on a survey conducted early this year, revealed that 70% are planning on implementing greater use of tools and solutions to increase efficiency. This shift has been accelerated by the pandemic, because there’s been a much faster acceptance of integrating technology into day-to-day work. In-house lawyers have recognised the value of having solutions which have helped to maintain business as usual, even when working from home. I doubt that this position will reverse when the pandemic is over.
Solutions aimed at working together remotely are at the core of the changes so far, and will see improvements going forward. Think about working together on legal documents, channelling and tracking requests to the legal department, and automating processes to run smoothly in a remote work culture; all will see renewed attention in 2021 and beyond.
What advice would you give to a general counsel about to embark on a digital transformation journey?
It’s tempting to start by looking at the tools available on the market, but you actually need to take a few steps back and take a look at your existing processes, structures, and policies first. Take a look at the processes, which are high priority but low complexity, such as responding to requests from the business or the creation of standardised agreements. Digital transformation, and the technology you implement as a result, should solve persistent issues, rather than aim to solve 100 per cent of issues in any area. If we take the creation of standardised contracts as an example, the contract and all its variables will still be controlled by the legal department (after a self-serve solution is introduced) but the creation of an individual document happens within the business. This will be a standard process, and when there are issues it can get escalated to the legal department.
How can general counsel get buy-in from the business when it comes to legal tech and why do so many still struggle with this?
The research report revealed that gaining stakeholder buy-in is the top challenge when introducing legal technology. The reason legal departments struggle with gaining buy-in has to do with how the department is perceived by the rest of the business. If the legal department is perceived as a cost centre, then getting stakeholders to approve budget for a technology solution will be a tough sell.
In terms of winning stakeholder approval, stakeholders want to know how the investment will impact the bottom line. I recommend putting together a business case. It doesn’t have to be very complicated. You can start by measuring the amount of time you’re spending on certain tasks today, and then determine how much time you could save by introducing a given technology by weighing up supplier promises and the experience of your peers. Once you have your own data/numbers you’ll have a way to calculate what the value gained from a solution is.
One of the reasons technology fails to deliver on its promise is because of the low adoption levels within the team. How can GCs increase adoption levels and ensure that the technology they implement is utilised to its full potential?
This isn’t necessarily a legal-specific question, but more one of project management. Project management isn’t a skill that comes naturally to most lawyers. It is critical for business leaders, however. The general counsel often has two roles when it comes to ensuring user acceptance. Managing up involves aligning with business leaders and explaining why development of the legal department is important for the overall strategy. Managing laterally means managing not only the in-house team but also all other related business functions, facilitating knowledge sharing and taking ownership of what’s being developed.
Communication is key to ensuring user adoption, so be sure to involve stakeholders and communicate with them regularly from the start. You want to make sure that barriers to adoption are removed, to ensure a successful launch. Make sure users understand how the solution will affect their work – is it a ‘plug and play’ solution or does it involve a substantial learning curve or change in behaviour? By continuing to communicate while you are working on implementation, your end-users, whether legal colleagues or the business, will be aware of what is coming and can mentally process the change before it happens. This will make for a smoother launch, and a higher chance of successful implementation.
Who has been the biggest influence in your career?
Naming a single person would be difficult for me as I feel that the start of my legal tech career as a consultant is what shaped me. Working on projects for over 150 different legal departments, the general counsel that explained the challenges of their work, the solutions they came up with, and the goals they set for themselves, shaped my own experience. What has always delighted and inspired me is the absolute passion and commitment these individuals have shown in their work. As such I inspire to always have the same level of enthusiasm and consider it one of the most important drivers of my career.