Shoosmiths partner Tony Randle

When it comes to legal tech, Covid-19 has served as a turbo boost for many businesses in adopting different ways of working. Changes that would have previously taken years to implement have been rushed through in months.

This transformative impact triggered by the pandemic was at the heart of a recent roundtable hosted by Shoosmiths, which posed the question: ‘Is now the perfect time for in-house legal teams to be adopting legal tech and innovation?’

There are no doubts businesses will want to learn from the lessons over lockdown and there are many reasons why GCs should be adopting legal tech; however, it is not without its obstacles.

Whether it be the cost, the perceived drain on time and resources or unrealistic expectations, these were just some of the issues addressed by Shoosmiths partners Tony Randle and David Jackson alongside an array of in-house lawyers during The Lawyer’s most recent GC Strategy Summit.

Shoosmiths partner David Jackson

To start off the conversation, the opening topic lay in whether: “The aspiration of perfection is getting in the way of improvement”.

Put forward by Tony Randle, who is part of the team developing new products for the firm’s clients, he explained: “Lots of the GCs we talk to are keen to adopt legal tech but recognise there are lots of choices,” he said. “There’s almost too much choice.

“When we start to talk to them about a piece of legal tech, all of a sudden their wish list becomes awfully long compared to original aspirations.”

This suggestion sparked discussions as to what the opening chapter of legal tech should be for a business. Where should an in-house lawyer start when searching for a game-changing piece of tech?

For one GC at a major manufacturing company, she said: “For us, it was about getting a system that meant we could start the measuring process about what the team is doing.

“After getting that data in, we then had something to see how well we are doing. We had to take those first steps just to start monitoring the team to show the impact that we were having [on the business].”

Another GC agreed, saying: “It is absolutely invaluable in having a much better overview of what my team is working on, looking at where the pinch points are and how much work is flowing into the department.”

The idea of gaining a work overview to help reach level one seemed to be the consensus among most in the group.

As for a broader perspective when implementing legal tech, one GC at a tech start-up said: “With legal tech, the approach is often seen as one big bang. But you can adopt legal tech in incremental steps, you can take bitesize chunks. You could have an end goal, but you don’t have to invest all of it upfront.”

This idea of gradual progress was shared by a fellow delegate, who added: “You are not going to achieve perfection in one go. You need to break it down and look at what the big wins are.”

Yet, to achieve anything, an in-house legal department must often have to first win over the business hierarchy, which can pose a problem: “The difficulty I’ve got is making the business understand that we should be treated as a separate case,” said another GC. “We have just implemented Salesforce for example. It’s not what I need for my legal function.

“I need to justify to the business spending a much smaller sum of money on getting a separate system. That is the difficult bit. They don’t understand why we can’t use the same tools as the rest of the business.”

One potential way around this is proving that a piece of tech can boost the bottom line for a company, said one lawyer: “For us, if we can demonstrate an improvement in workaround times and can close transactions quicker, this can then improve revenue.”

Rather than merely acting as a cost-saver, he believed that tech in the right circumstances can help bring money in.

However, despite the side-show of how to implement tech solutions, there is no doubt that lawyers must now engage with technology more than ever before, particularly with the inevitable rise of remote working.

This, therefore, gives in-house lawyers the ideal platform to pitch for new tech

“The biggest selling point in getting the legal tech through was just to bring us into the 21st century as lawyers,” said one GC. “You see that in other departments. As a legal team, this is bringing us up to date with what all other departments of the business are doing currently”

This is perhaps the most important point, as in-house lawyers can no longer rely on working models of old. It was just 12 months ago that calls over MS Teams seemed like overkill and Zoom was nothing more than a buzzword; however, now is the time for GCs from across all industries to bring themselves into the 21st century.