As the end of the pandemic approaches, organisations are turning their attention away from the short term strategic thinking needed to weather lockdown and the return to the office and toward long term growth.

Many of the factors and attitudes which have underpinned working life during the pandemic will be taken forward into the ‘new normal’. Technology being one of them.

Stagnant or pessimistic thinking about solutions and digital strategy were broadly swept aside during the pandemic. E-signature is a perfect example of this, as any organisations formerly hesitant in adopting digital signature solutions had to change their approach in a world where physically putting pen to paper became practically impossible.

This General Counsel Strategy Summit roundtable session, hosted by Maurits Annegarn and Shay Ogunsanya of Wolters Kluwer, discussed how legal departments can take the lessons from the pandemic forward to increase efficiency and drive value within their business.

The session built upon research conducted in collaboration between Wolters Kluwer and The Lawyer which was published earlier in the month and included insights from interviews and a survey of leading general counsel from across the UK.

Acceptance of legal technology                                      

Insights from the research project revealed that all GCs believe that their legal department will use some degree of legal technology every day within five years.

This broad acceptance of legal technology was not always a given, explained Shay Ogunsanya, Manager – Legisway UK. “5 years ago when I’d go to our clients and discuss legal technology I’d often get a tentative response. Now the conversation is very much ‘yes, we know technology can bring value, tell me what your specific solution can do for me’”.

While this trend was underway before the outbreak of Covid-19, lockdown has undoubtedly had a hand in encouraging acceptance. One GC in attendance explained that lockdown helped encourage the business to buy-in to a new digitised legal services platform that their department had implemented. “We had a huge launch including presentations and cupcakes, but at the end of the day people had to adopt our technology because of Covid.”

Technology’s ability to integrate legal with the wider business was another key topic of discussion. The same GC continued that: “Our implementation was so successful that the wider business is interested in implementing similar processes. I’m quite amazed that legal is leading the way within the business, as we used to be lagging as an industry when it came to technology.

Another GC commented that a key issue for them has been the integration of differing strategies across the business. “We started our digital journey in 2018, and now we get requests from other areas of the business for our data. Our focus now is on integrating strategies across functions.”

Insights from the research project reveal that more than half of GCs believe that gaining stakeholder/user buy-in is a key challenge when introduced legal technology.

Roundtable attendees agreed that this can be done by adopting a business-wide approach when discussing a solution.

“We get buy in by looking beyond our legal tech roadmap and toward the digital landscape in general with regards to how we’ll need to deliver legal services,” said one attendee. “If you can paint your strategy as being about the wider business, and not just about legal, it helps to get buy in.”

Strategy and improvements

Despite the broad agreement that outlining a strategy to the wider business can help ensure successful adoption of legal technology, mature strategies are far from ubiquitous.

The research undertaken by Wolters Kluwer and The Lawyer reveals that 40 per cent of GCs do not have a digital strategy for their legal department. 30 per cent of those that do have no specific plan or due date for that strategy.

One GC commented that they struggle to accurately signpost their digital plan due to the constant need for change in the way they deliver legal services. “I tend to find that I constantly have to rip up my digital plan. We follow a set of processes, but it is ad hoc in a way as I put together a business case for each individual piece of tech.”

Maurits Annegarn, Segment Manager Legal Software, went on to state that digital strategies need to be flexible. “A digital strategy shouldn’t be a narrow roadmap, it needs to be flexible to change. You can do this by reserving space in your budget and pushing for solutions as and when the need arises.”

Solutions that are increasingly in vogue include those that allow departments to structure processes and to collect data which can be used to demonstrate value.

Shay Ogunsanya commented that: “Data is playing an increasing role. Years ago when people would talk to me about solutions they’d neglect that data is usually a core aspect. The right solution can allow you to better use the data you already have in demonstrating value.”

The desire to demonstrate the value of the legal function was echoed by roundtable attendees. “In-house lawyers have been trying to show what their value is for the past decade, and that’s much easier now that data is available to do so and legal information has been centralised.”

By collecting and presenting data around time spent on both high and low complexity tasks, in house lawyers hope to demonstrate to their boards where solutions can help to improve efficiency both within their department and the broader business as the legal team helps drive organisational strategy.

This roundtable formed part of an ongoing project conducted in collaboration between Wolters Kluwer and The Lawyer, which aims to provide a platform for in-house legal departments looking to leverage technology to drive efficiency in the new normal.