Onit and Meggitt gathered 10 in-house lawyers across a range of sectors as part of The Lawyer’s Smarter Working Week event, to share important considerations and best practices around planning and delivering a technology strategy for a legal department.

The virtual roundtable was led by Meggitt’s SVP general counsel & director of government relations (UK & EMEA) Barry Matthews and Onit delivery manager EMEA Graeme Scott.

Barry Matthews

Through his experience guiding in-house teams at different stages of maturity in using digital tech, Matthews was keen to understand how the other delegates had approached it. He shared a story from his first day at Meggitt, which he joined in July 2020 after 15 years in various management roles at ITV.

On day one, Matthews swiftly realised that he would need to build up the tech infrastructure from scratch: After asking where the document management system was, there was a quizzical look and Matthews was directed to his predecessor’s laptop in the cupboard – there was no cloud platform and the business was still operating on Windows 6, which was about to go out of support.

“I was very surprised that given our outlook as an organisation covering cutting edge tech in the aerospace, defence and energy markets, we weren’t that sophisticated when it came to in-house functions,” he says.

“Finance, HR and legal, generally speaking, were the forgotten children of the organisation. Given that there wasn’t the money to buy a tech solution, you you think ‘what can I do with no money?’ Where do I start?”

As innovation is the child of necessity, when you’ve got to do something, you innovate quickly. Matthews explained that going back to basics was a solution that worked for him.

“Everyone thinks tech will solve process and operational problems – it will enhance process, but it won’t solve problems. For me, it involved looking at the matter management system. It can be an Excel spreadsheet or workbook with various sheets of the particular divisions of product groups we serve.

You can spin a document management system out of a Sharepoint site with an organised hierarchy and start from there.”

Matthews asked the delegates what their starting points were. A number were the first lawyers in their respective companies, and like Matthews, had introduced the systems themselves with little budget. For them, it was scoping out what they already had in place, who was responsible for what, who did they talk to and what did they do once they had the required information.

For example, one of the GCs at a manufacturing business had arrived as the first lawyer in its 40-year history – all of the legal work had previously been done by the chief financial officer and farmed out to external firms. He explained that he too had taken it back to basics – talking to clients about what they needed from each other and determining with what they had in place was good enough.

“To begin with, it was a manual process supported by spreadsheets. Tech came long later when we couldn’t bring in another lawyer. So it came down to: Can tech replace a lawyer?”

The GC of an agricultural business expressed similar frustration to Matthews – when she arrived at the business and asked where the documents, were she was handed a metal safe and no commercial contracts.

“They were all in people’s drawers around business as there had been no central point of collation. Firstly, I drafted a legal protocol to tell the business what it is that the legal department does, what they should use it for and how documents should be executed and stored.”

The delegates agreed how important it is for the lawyer to educate the business, but user adoption once a system has been implemented was a significant concern.

“There’ll be an IT rollout and people will be trained, but it comes to day-to-day usage,” the lawyer continued. She described her set-up of a legal front door for internal customers, whereby they fill out a matter request form through a portal, which is sent to a head of department and allocated to a lawyer. This is followed by a workflow through to execution.

The key is to start off with an unsophisticated matter management system which is then digitised.

“You can build technology-based systems in Word and Excel as a starting point,” suggested Matthews. “These can then get more mature in terms of the tech used to take basic processes make them more accessible in a consistent manner, through platform technologies, automotive workflow technologies and e-signatures.

“It can be a sequential journey leading towards Eldorado in terms of efficiency.”

Another challenge is internal blockers – CEOs want to know what the pitfalls of a new system will be. A unique struggle for in-house lawyers is that they are often viewed as cost centres without a revenue line against their name, and so their voice often falls further down the value chain, particularly on tech roadmaps.

Matthews detailed his experience at ITV when he was tasked with filing obligations to Ofcom after the company’s merger. In order to deliver 4,500 agreements over the course of 12 months he upskilled salespeople in the regions to be contract drafts people. He hit a roadblock when there was a request for it all to be hard-coded.

Stressing the importance of self-sufficiency, Matthews said that he made it his mission to ensure that he could own and control whatever platform was brought in.

“Getting procurement and information security involved early on is vital – otherwise you rely on solutions that are generic and won’t do what you want them to.”

The group discussed devolving responsibility from lawyers to the business, with one of the GCs stating that he implemented a web self-help.

“The business pulls down the contract they want, answers a questionnaire and they can track it through e-signatures. You can have a NDA executed within 90 seconds,” he said.

The GC referred back to adoption by the business: “If it looks complicated and boring like SAP they won’t buy into it. It has to look user-friendly, so they see the benefit of using it.”

For many in the group, the biggest blocker was the wider business’s mistrust of legal tech, and therefore reluctance to use it. A GC listed the problems he had come across in user adoption including people not realising that it is secure and unique to the business.

“We have a self-help system but lawyers can get involved and take over a deal if necessary. There is a secure port where people can negotiate contracts in real time, however no one wants to use it.

One of the biggest misconceptions is that the tech is untrustworthy if lawyers are involved,” he argued.

Selecting a platform and pricing was another significant issue that was raised, though this varied according to the size of the businesses each of the delegates belonged to. Nonetheless they were in agreement that once a business scaled up, platform technologies become horribly unaffordable.

One GC of a tech start-up had struggled to find an affordable platform: “We do high volume 10-year deals that are really expensive, so we are looking for something that has self-service – to an extent.  But for more bespoke contracts there has to be a lawyer involved. It’s important to have flexibility within the system and for it not to be hard-coded,” he said.

Matthews detailed how he has been promoting solutions at Meggitt, which he referred to as a phased journey. The first six months of joining the business centred on building a business case to create the architecture allowing him to provide legal advice in a more self-sufficient way.

“From a reporting point of view, I need to showcase what type of work the lawyers are doing, how much of it they’re doing and who the biggest users of legal services are. The first stage is to get a handle over the workflow and legal resourcing. I’ve got more than enough work and we keep on uncovering more work and lost opportunity.”

Matthews added that he was trying to build less and less reliance on legal by creating better tools, such as precedents and playbooks which are jurisdictionally led.

To conclude the roundtable, a lawyer within a pharmaceutical company raised his definition of legal digitisation to the group as the introduction of new tools, organisational changes and crucially, a change in mindset.

“My struggle is how to convince lawyers and others in legal, as well as clients, that there’s a new way of doing things,” he said.

Matthews considered that his approach was to be bullish in making it clear that his goal is to make things faster and simpler for the business.

“I tell them: If you come down this road with me you won’t have to wait for me to come back to you to make a contract review, because I can build a tool to help you do it yourself. You’ll be more efficient at your job, with less frustration and more deals.”

Alternatively, the department making the request could use some of their budget to pay for another lawyer.

“If they want that kind of service, we will provide it to them but they can fund it,” as one GC said.

Comment from Graeme Scott, Onit

User adoption was a big topic in this roundtable. A commonly-implemented technology for legal departments is enterprise legal management (ELM). Some estimate that ELM helps save up to 10 per cent on outside counsel spend, but the people component of an implementation is often neglected. Here are four recommendations to avoid that that can really be applied to any software:

Graeme Scott, Onit

Get the right hands on deck for your ELM implementation.

Because you’re likely making a pretty significant investment, you’ll want to establish a consistent cadence for reviewing progress. For example, set a weekly or monthly schedule for monitoring whether you’re on track to hit milestones and whether progress is dependent on anything else within your organization.

Get your internal business partners on board.

Because implementing ELM will require integrations with other systems, you’ll need to get all your internal partners on board before your implementation. To get the engagement you need, you should start working within your internal channels as early in the process as possible. That groundwork needs to be paved by your team before implementation starts.

Get your users ready and excited for the ELM implementation.

As with any change, it’s important to prepare your users. The more you can get buy-in across the organization, the more successful the implementation will be.

Whether it’s a company-wide email, a newsletter, a town hall meeting, or something else, you want to generate buzz about your new enterprise legal management software implementation.

Help your ELM provider deliver the system you need.

Invest some time analyzing your department’s current state before implementation kicks off, documenting your processes end to end. Process maps and use cases are valuable for requirements and design and can save a lot of time and minimize distraction during the ELM design phase.