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What Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares can tell you about implementing legal tech

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I watch Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares quite often. For those that are unaware of the premise of the program – it is basically Gordon Ramsay (a famous chef) parachuting into struggling restaurants and putting them back on the profitable path again. If one was to watch superficially then you can absorb the drama – but I enjoy looking at it to see the real-world business issues restaurants have. At this point you may be wondering how this could have any bearing on legal/legal tech – I’ll explain.

One of the misconceptions about legal tech tends to be that just buying some licenses and starting to use it will immediately provide incredible inefficiencies – without any real analysis of the processes involved or how people will use it. If I go back to the Kitchen Nightmares analogy – it would be like Gordon coming into the struggling restaurant and delivering them a new kitchen – and then saying job done. It would undoubtedly be one of the shortest episodes in the series! While equipment may be part of the issue that particular business is having it undoubtedly isn’t the sole issue – which is usually related to people or processes.

Quite regularly in the programme restaurants fall into the trap of providing too many choices for the customer – effectively becoming a jack of all trades when it comes to delivering the food, rather than being a master of some. Gordon usually comes in and refines the menu, making it easier for the customer to choose and ultimately for the kitchen to make. For this one – imagine the customer to be a user of tech in a legal setting.

One scenario could be this – a legal user has access to numerous applications in their day to day work. There are quite a few of them but the user doesn’t really have the time to delve into what each does – and for those they do they probably only skim the surface of the functionality. Even if there were devoted resource to inform the user what they do – it’d still take the user time out of their day to day work to improve their knowledge and skills of the relevant applications. So in essence, lots of great applications have been bought by the company/firm but they are just used in a limited way. Refining the options would therefore be useful as users would get more use out of less tools.

Another scenario could this – a company decides to implement a contract lifecycle management tool and decide they want to use all their current templates without harmonising or standardising them. They add all the different variations used across the company – effectively replicating their current position. In doing so, it becomes clear that users are storing agreements of the same type but with different names, and potentially even different data. One man’s ‘NDA’ could be another’s ‘Confidentiality Agreement’, and likewise with ‘Statement of Work’ and ‘Work Order’. It also becomes clear that too much choice means users are unsure which type of agreement they should be generating. All of which negate in part the efficiencies that the company is looking for. Therefore by refining down the menu options – and keeping it consistent across the organisation – tech will amplify those improvements in process.

Another issue that comes up in the show is that food is not good enough – some customers never go back while others return their food which leads to re-work for the restaurant. While this doesn’t have the greatest analogy in the legal setting – it should be noted that the contract being drafted is usually the product a customer wants (in law firm setting) or the product that needs to be agreed with a counterparty in the minimum amount of time (in the in-house setting). In adopting a tool that either automates contracts or improvements contract lifecycle management it merely makes more efficient the generation of a first draft defined by the company or law firm’s own templates. Those templates are the result of legal knowledge poured in to make the contractual ‘recipe’ for either a client-specific event or a business need. Therefore if bad contracts are automated it just means that bad contracts are produced – “rubbish in, rubbish out” as they say.

A badly drafted contract, like bad food in a restaurant, will have a negative impact on the business. A CLM tool in this context just delivers the badly drafted contract quicker. The generated contract would undoubtedly prolong negotiations as there would be more points to negotiate, tracked changes to review, etc. The legal function of the business would be tied up with negotiations that could be have been avoided – negating the benefits of a generating a quicker first draft.

Another issue on the programme tends to be around the people involved in the process – either they aren’t motivated, aren’t leading effectively or just aren’t skilled enough to do what they need to do. These issues aren’t limited to restaurants – they undoubtedly have impacts in the legal world too. Lack of motivation has the potential to lead to working around the process in place – and that the tech seeks to enforce. Equally, it may also impact quality with the acceptance of lower standards of output regardless of approval processes in place driven by tech. So clearly – while tech has the best of intentions – the ‘people’ element is clearly something to keep tabs on.

Regardless of what tech is implemented, if users don’t have the skills to use it, or use it effectively, then those efficiency gains will again be eroded. For example, Gordon could have added the latest state-of-the-art appliances into those kitchens he visited – but ultimately if the recipients don’t know how to use it it’ll just remain on the shelf. Even the most commonly used applications like Word and Excel will only be used with a fraction of its functionality. So the more complex it is the more preparatory work is required to deal with the change.

In conclusion, there are three core components to any tech implementation “people”, “process” and “tech”. While it is easy to jump straight to the ‘sexy’ part of buying the licenses and publicise the adoption of the latest tech – the reality is that it just amplifies the hard work done on the comparatively ‘boring’ stuff of reviewing/refining processes and preparing for change management. If there is one thing to be learnt from Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares it that efficiencies are gained by simplifying processes and motivating and upskilling employees. Any tech added to the mix merely amplifies the gains from the already well-oiled machine – it isn’t the efficiency gain in itself.

Marc May

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