It was a fitting setting as delegates gathered in the now-commonplace environment of Microsoft Teams to discuss the use of technology and the value it brings to in-house legal departments.
Video-conferencing was one of the early novelties of the pandemic-era, as professionals everywhere abandoned face-to-face meetings and shifted online.
Despite its drawbacks, video-conferencing is now very much a part of modern working life. This shows the adaptability of professionals, and how technology can help to bridge gaps and drive long term efficiency.
As organisations and legal teams emerge from the pandemic, those that have successfully navigated the challenges of remote working are aware that the next step is coming. Technology that was optional pre-pandemic is now vital, which changes the way legal teams need to think about their long-term digital strategy.
This roundtable session, co-hosted by Maurits Annegarn of Wolters Kluwer, Group General Counsel of French Connection, Sara Mackie, and General Counsel at Emerald Group, Emma Tregenza, looked at how legal departments can leverage legal technology to become more efficient and drive value within their business.
The session built upon research conducted in collaboration between Wolters Kluwer and The Lawyer. The research will be published in May and will include insights derived from interviews and a survey of leading General Counsel from across the UK.
Insights from the research project reveal that all GCs believe that their legal department will use some degree of legal technology every day within five years. 7 per cent of GCs indicated that they do not use any legal technology today.
Maurits Annegarn, Segment Manager Legal Software at Wolters Kluwer, commented that a similar question to the market five years ago indicated similar results. The fact that five years down the line there are still some teams that do not use legal technology every day demonstrates how resistant some departments can be to change.
The question is whether the pace of change with regards to the adoption of technology has increased in recent years. Attendees were broadly in agreement that it has, thanks in large part to the disruption caused by the pandemic.
Emma Tregenza said: “For us, the pandemic has accelerated the use and breadth of tools we were already using, such as e-signature. We’ve expanded its use to things like offline approvals. I’ve heard it said that due to the pandemic five years’ worth of digital transformation happened in three weeks, and that’s certainly been true for us and legal tech.”
Sara Mackie expanded on this point, adding: “It has been essential to allow everybody to access information disparately. We’ve seen huge benefit from cloud-based contract management systems, and this has facilitated efficiencies that we’ll take forward post-pandemic.”
Thanks to remote working, many barriers to the adoption of technology have not just been crossed but ultimately destroyed. Technologies that have helped to support business-as-usual during the pandemic have now become accepted and relied upon tools within everyday work and will likely remain so once things return to the ‘new normal’.
Lawyers are often criticised for being slow to adopt changes. One of the historic barriers to the adoption of new tech solutions has been lawyers being too baked in their habits.
The roundtable attendees discussed the paperless office, which seemed like a pipe-dream to many pre-pandemic but is now commonplace. “I was a huge sceptic, I didn’t think I could review a contract of more than two pages without it being printed out,” said one attendee. “Now I’m completely paperless.”
Habits which would formerly be held onto with ‘grim death’, as one attendee put it, have been left behind in the old normal. This means that formerly sceptical lawyers have had to upskill themselves for fear of also being left behind.
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. The hope is that this resistance has faded as a result of lockdown, allowing for smoother transitions to more efficient ways of working going forward. This does not mean however that all scepticism has subsided.
Emma Tregenza commented that trusting a solution can be difficult for risk averse lawyers. “We’ve been using AI on due diligence work but convincing yourself that the solution is trustworthy is a huge leap,” said Emma. “If you’re checking it again then there’s no point in using it in the first place.”
There is also a degree of caution about relinquishing control of low complexity legal tasks to the business via self-serve tools. This comes as 49 per cent of GCs that participated within The Lawyer and Wolters Kluwer’s research project indicated that they are planning to implement a ‘do-it-yourself-approach’ by giving the business more autonomy over the next three years.
Sara Mackie explained that it helps to see self-serve tools as a risk mitigation option, rather than a risk elimination option. “Sometimes you have to stand back and give control to someone that’s not legally qualified, and this is hard for all risk averse lawyers,” said Sara. “But the right technology could give the legal department comfort if there’s a safety net built into the solution.”
Safety nets discussed by the roundtable attendees included a red-flag system which can highlight potential errors.
Maurits Annegarn commented that legal technology should be introduced to solve niggling issues rather than coming in as a solution for 100 per cent of issues in any area. On standardised contracts for example, Maurits commented that: “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.”
By allowing the business to help itself on low complexity high volume tasks, the legal department has more time to focus on higher complexity tasks, driving business strategy and demonstrating value.
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.
This falls to 28 per cent for respondents from organisations with a turnover of more than £1bn but climbs to 47 per cent at organisations with a turnover of less than £125m. This is perhaps unsurprising, but it shows the gulf in sophistication between larger and smaller organisations.
Roundtable delegates commented that the skills needed to build a robust strategy, namely around budgeting and financial planning, are often missing from the general legal skillset.
“We don’t have the skillsets within our team, even though our business is at the cutting edge of digital,” said one attendee. “We’re struggling to keep up, and my fear is that if we don’t have a strategy, we’ll struggle to interface with the business because it’s so much more advanced.”
“When it comes to legal departments there’s a perception that as you’re a cost centre, asking for a budget for something that isn’t a legal fee is a really tough sell,” said Emma Tregenza.
Maurits Annegarn went on to explain that by outlining how budgeting for a new solution can improve value and long term efficiency, legal departments can get buy-in from the broader business.
“Try to put what you can get from a solution on paper,” said Maurits. “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.”
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.
A live webinar, hosted by Matt Byrne, deputy editor at The Lawyer, and Maurits Annegarn, Segment Manager Legal Software at Wolters Kluwer Legal & Regulatory, is scheduled to take place on Thursday 29th April at 10:00am BST. The hosts will be joined by guest speakers including James May, Operations Legal Counsel at Coca Cola, and Simon Cliff, General Counsel at City Football Group. You can register your interest here.
The full report, including findings from a survey of leading in-house professionals and interview insights from UK-based GCs, will be published soon after the webinar.