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Legal Darwinism: The future for in-house legal teams is agility

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Since its inception in 2001, ‘business agility’ snugly fit into a list of cool catchphrases deployed by management teams to establish thought leadership. Simply put – the agile methodology plays on the idea of unit mechanics. Imploring teams to be lean, prioritize process evolution over documentation, and increase collaboration for better, faster results.

So far, it has worked invariably across businesses, with most individual functions customizing agility towards what works best for them. Unfortunately, in-house legal teams weren’t given the memo. For long, they have managed the gigantic quantum of hyper-sensitive operations through their own resourcefulness, overwrought with longer work hours that sometimes leaked onto weekends. 

All this, without the help of technology or workflow improvements. 

Incidentally, legal teams are also the most leveraged with their hours stretched thin since every business dollar can be immutably tied back to a contract executed before it. Therefore, they also have pronounced implications on the business they serve. A November 2018 survey by global analytics firm – RELX, found that among 1,000 U.S. senior executives surveyed across a diverse spectrum of industries, legal executives were among ones least touched by technological progress.

It is natural, that the people employed to mitigate risks, will be the ones most unwelcoming of the uncertainties that come with leaving decades of proven modus operandi to adopt or experiment with new processes or technology. 

Deal-closing has never been a handshake and manually liaising with multiple stakeholders (both internal and external) generates tremendous noise and workflow inconsistency. It is natural therefore, that a pandemic that has upended our idea of office has only compounded these already pertinent problems. Technology and process innovation will not only de-risk workflow, or achieve faster handovers now, but will also help them cope with the change, achieve work-life equilibrium and decrease individual tolls – hence, agility. There’s no reason why in-house legal professionals shouldn’t therefore enjoy the same liberty their friends in other departments do. Here we discuss how.

In-house legal 2.0

The legal profession is labour-intensive, commands enormous decision-capital and demands acute attention to detail. This means, an in-house legal is typically reviewing and negotiating critical contracts, incorporating stakeholder feedback, and strategizing for cost efficiency while maintaining in-house matter management – all at the same time. The fact that there must be no compromises in the quality of output, is implicitly agreed upon.

One of the most efficient methods to defrictionalize the process is to integrate deep human ability to strategize with the ability of data to analyse and provide insights. Even for contract analysis, data can significantly reduce turnaround time to minutes, highlight inconsistencies and minimize human errors, giving lawyers the ability to then look at the actionables required to execute the contract. For sensitive functions like legal ops, the data set to be analysed are also best understood when read with their underlying context. Today’s tech landscape provides emerging solutions that address the ‘content+context’ problem. Tools thus developed are increasingly being tailored to fit the contextual analysis of legal operations.

To make it better, technological improvements facilitate today’s legal teams with a ‘second brain’ through artificial intelligence. AI can dictate historical inconsistencies across voluminous contracts – something that has for so long been a time consuming ordeal, and can save the organization thousands of dollars in research and time.

With technology as a weapon, today’s meta-lawyer is truly agile, can overshoot their performance indicators, minimize errors, and make their direct implications on organizational revenue much more visible, without employing the same Herculean efforts.

Collaborative counsel

Modern dynamic workplaces and their shifting expectations begs the question – “how independent should the roles of in-house legals be of everyone else around them?”

This has also been a persistent problem for in-house legals across industries. Their true potentials have not been materialized since there does not exist as many process/technology innovations to help them communicate with other client-facing functions in the business. This means in the age of the internet, lawyers are largely still restricted to setting appointments, paper pushing, and awaiting lengthy reverts, and in the worst cases- miscommunication. A lot of time is therefore spent on ‘due diligence’ than generating faster outcomes.

Since legal communications are pragmatically different than most other forms of communication, today’s conversations solutions need to be customized and contextualised for legal teams and their specific tasks. It is exactly these challenges that technologies like SpotDraft’s in-line legal editor help eliminate, by allowing legal teams to collaborate with multiple stakeholders at warp-speed.

Most of our clients, irrespective of company sizes, believe that the power to manage conversations can directly impact compliance assessment and reduce client-business friction. This can be the gamechanger for legal teams. Seamless communication produces faster, more contextualized and accurate handovers and reduces conversion time. Not only does that mean more efficient collaboration, it also means better relations with the associated functions. Win-win.

People prioritization

It is important to note that despite all process innovations, true agility is unachievable without a stable, operational team culture that is bred out of an ethos of support and consideration. Legal professionals have long been working in an environment that has historically rewarded labour and not output. They should also be encouraged to robotize low-complexity work and take more control of activities that need considerable cognition and can make their value more visible to the organization.

For legal teams to be able to directly grow businesses, management units must actively aid in removing this notion and its associated hubris. Manual review of documentation and contracts running into 100s pages in an attempt to find risks and non-compliance to standards. Using AI tools will bring down these hours giving lawyers time to focus on their core functions.

The difference between good and great teams is not just in tool upgradation, it is in truly evolving the people within the unit. In-house legal teams therefore must be ordained with acute training around legal evolution, adoption to approach and process changes, and the significant bearings of changes in law enforcement in local and global markets. They must also be given greater involvement in the procedure of developing AI and tech-focused solutions instead of being driven by manual operations.

In addition, there should also be pedagogical intervention to improve the softer, emotive aspects of their occupation through work prioritization, skill-building and the promotion of work-life equilibrium.

An unforeseen pandemic and its equally unprecedented implications on healthcare, business, and economy are nature’s way of driving realization that the no pre-established strategy holds mettle in the face of a crisis, and hence most durable teams must always learn to modify themselves frequently. It is now time that legal teams do it too.

Shashank Bijapur
CEO, Spotdraft