Last week the good folks at LawGeex released their free 2018 Legal Tech Buyer’s Guide. Jammed full of valuable information, it’s essential to any in-house department looking to purchase legal tech. If you haven’t downloaded it yet, do it now. On June 11, 2018, I’ll be speaking at the ACC Legal Operations Conference in Chicago about practical uses of Artificial Intelligence in legal departments. And, as you readers know, I am a sucker for a good gadget (watch for my 2018 “Cool Tech” blog later this summer and check out my interview with legal tech blogger Colin Levy). All of this got me thinking about the fact that I have been around for – and helped buy and implement – a lot of legal tech over the years. I was there when fax machines were cutting edge and when e-mail was new. I helped build a home-grown document management system and now I am looking at uses of artificial intelligence for my team. From typewriters to AI, yellow pads to iPads, is a pretty healthy span of technological change for any lawyer. The one thing that hasn’t changed is the process you go through when buying or implementing any type of technology. If you go about it the wrong way, you can end up with a very expensive lesson and a piece of software that no one wants or uses. Trust me, I know. So, it’s important to get it right. This edition of “Ten Things” walks through some of the lessons I have learned about buying and implementing legal tech:
1. Why technology matters. A fundamental truth you must accept is that the right technology can make an enormous difference in productivity, accuracy, timeliness, and a host of other virtuous benefits. If you don’t believe this, you can stop reading because none of what follows will make any difference to you. For the rest of us, technology holds the promise of something better than we have right now. That is why the rest of the business invests in technology to run their departments. Legal is no different, nor should it be. Long gone are the days of the legal department being hermits in a cave, dribbling out legal advice when someone appeared at the door. Today, in-house lawyers are expected to be strategic partners in operating the business. To do this, you need timely, accurate information on-demand. Likewise, no one is looking to throw money and headcount at the legal department year in and year out. Instead, the common refrain is often “do more with less.” Want to get more work out of the same size team with less money to spend on outside counsel? Technology helps you do this – if you get the right technology and you use it properly.
2. Understand the business use case. If you have ever attended a legal tech trade show it is difficult to resist the urge to want everything. It all looks so cool! Unfortunately, if you buy software because it looks cool, you’re in trouble, unless having it look cool and unused is your goal. So, you need to do is understand your business case for purchasing the software. In other words, what problem are you trying to solve? What are your biggest pain points? Is it a logjam in providing services, lack of visibility into spending, the need to create better reports, saving costs, or trying to eliminate drudge work so your team can focus on higher-value work? Whatever the reason, you need to know the problem inside and out. If you don’t have a meaningful problem to solve, buying technology isn’t helpful. Here are the key points to develop your business case:
- Identify the problem.
- What is the current manual process to solve the problem?
- Is there technology that will replace this manual process and solve the problem?
- What will it cost and do you have (or can you get) the budget?
- Will the benefits of the technology outweigh the cost? And how soon will those benefits pay off the cost? What is the return on investment (ROI)?
- Do you have the support of management (inside the legal department and elsewhere, e.g., CFO, CTO)?
3. Create a requirements document. Once you have figured out your business case, it is now time to draft a requirements document. This document will set out exactly what you are looking for regarding technology, including a list of features necessary for your use case. It should prioritize what you need vs. what you want. Need is the key. Focusing on need will keep you from falling prey to all the shiny baubles that are whiz-bang cool, but which don’t solve your problem. When assembling this document, ask your team to contribute. If there will be users who are outside the department, get their input too. Take your time when preparing this document, rushing it will not be helpful. The document doesn’t have to be very long, one page is fine. It’s basically a checklist (not a document software engineers would use to create a new product). Regardless of length, the requirements document will be your guide as you analyze different software or products. Here are a few items to consider including in your document (you will tailor your own list to your specific requirements:
- Overview (a summary of what you’re trying to accomplish – what problem will it solve).
- Must have (a list of all the features the product must have).
- Should have (a list of nice to have features, but not critical).
- Does/Does not (tells the reader what the technology will do, and what it will not do).
- Cloud/Local (will the technology be cloud-based, or installed locally).
- Budget (target cost).
- Must connect to… (to which other systems/products in the department must the new technology connect to).
- Support (what level of support are you looking for – internally and from vendor, e.g., 24×7).
- Scale (will the product easily scale to meet your needs, now and in the future).
- User Platforms (where can people use the technology, e.g., smartphone, tablet, laptop, etc.).
4. See what’s out there. Now that you have defined your problem and written your requirements, you need to survey the landscape to see what legal tech products are out there that can solve it. There are many places to find legal tech and you can start with a basic web search. Just type in the problem you are trying to solve and add “technology” and “legal department” to the search and you will get some good results immediately. Second, attend a legal tech trade show (click here for list). Third, ask other in-house lawyers you know (or who are part of a group you belong to) if they are aware of technology that solves your problem. Fourth, check out legal blogs, such as LegalTechNews, LawSites, LawGeex, or LawTechnologyToday. There are also legal tech comparison sites such as SoftwareAdvice.com and Capterra.com. Finally, don’t forget the Buyer’s Guide mentioned above and its great chart on the AI legal tech landscape (published with permission):
If possible get a free trial for any products you are interested in. If that’s not possible, get a full demo via webinar or in-person. Mulitple demos is better in this case. Ask in advance if you can supply a sample contract or problem for the demo to solve, a problem that is real to your needs vs. the “dummy” problem the vendor might use. Keep your requirements document handy during any demo and check off the matches and note the short-falls. Finally, remember that your goal is a well-researched list of products that will solve your problem. It doesn’t matter if the product doesn’t solve your problem exactly the way you envisioned. Be flexible here. The real question is “does it solve it?” If it does, it should go on your list.
5. Vendor selection. As you start to zero in on products, do some due-diligence on the vendors. Ask for references from each vendor and reach out to other in-house lawyers or a community (e.g., ACC, LinkedIn, or Twitter) for opinions. Look for software analyst reviews too. While no vendor is perfect, you want to be able to determine which vendors stand by their products and will be a true partner in the implementation process. If you have a procurement department, remember they are your friend. You can turn much of the vendor selection and contracting process over to them so you can focus primarily on the requirements and product review. Regardless, here are some key things to focus on in addition to basic product requirements:
- Who needs to be involved in the decision to buy? Don’t buy a major technology product on your own. You’ll likely need Procurement, Security, IT, and several others to all be aligned on a major technology purchase.
- Does the product have lots of users or are you one of the first? Products that have a large user-base and have been around a while have a greater likelihood of being a viable choice. That said, every product was new at some point so this cannot be your sole criteria.
- Spend time with the people from your vendor who will be implementing your product. Sales people are nice by nature, but you want to speak with the folks who will be working on getting you up and running with the product. Anyone who says “yes” to everything deserves extra scrutiny. And be careful about a vendor who focuses more on running down the competition’s product than talking up their own.
- Make sure you understand the true cost of using the product. What does support cost? Future upgrades? Is training included? What’s the cost to run the product on your systems? Will you need to customize it (vs. off-the-shelf) and what will that cost? How many users are included and what does it cost to add more? Do you need any special hardware? Is there a cost to transfer data?
- Make your technology decision based on what is actually available today. Do not rely on promises that products will solve your problem in the “next release.” It needs to solve it now. If not, stay away.
- What happens when the contract ends? How easy is it to get your data back? Will the vendor help you transition away?
6. Create a project plan. A requirements document is great, but once you buy the product you will need an implementation project plan, i.e. the document that sets out step-by-step how you will implement the product. If the product is small and easy to implement, you may have a very short project plan (if one at all). But, sophisticated products will require a plan. Ideally, you will have people at your company in IT whose job it is to manage the implementation of technology, especially any technology that will touch company systems. For a complex technology implementation, you should set up a steering committee comprised of members within and without the legal department. Their job will be to manage the implementation process (so it doesn’t all fall on one person). This includes change management, a critical part of any technology implementation. Your project plan should include: milestones (for critical parts of the implementation), responsibilities (who is responsible for what), budget, scope, data migration process, training, user acceptance, interdependencies of the different tasks, and deliverables. It is a bit more complicated than I can write about in this blog, but I will say that having a project plan and process is critical to success with a new piece of technology.
7. Ensure user acceptance. No matter how nifty and cool the technology is, it will fail miserably if no one on your team (or in the company) uses it. This is why user acceptance is among the most critical tasks in your project plan. User acceptance is primarily the process to ensure the technology is presented – and works – in a way that people will use it, along with the training program on how to use the tool. To start, the interface matters. If the interface is confusing or jammed with too many options, users will turn away. A clean interface with simple processes will have the opposite effect. Always go with simple! User acceptance also helps you find bugs in the software. As you start the process of implementation, consider developing a handful of “super users.” These are people you will train extensively on how to use the product with the plan that they will become champions of the new tool and encourage others to use it (and can answer questions and teach other users). Having a group of people who are excited about a new tool – including the GC – will drive adoption throughout the organization. Additionally, their feedback will be invaluable as you tweak the tool through the implementation process so it becomes more user-friendly and more attune with the actual workflow of the department (or the company, if the tool will also be used outside of the legal department). You also need to consider a communications plan, i.e., how you will communicate what’s coming and get users excited about the new tool? Part of the communications plan will inform users of the training program because without proper training the technology will languish. Your training program is the most important piece here as a properly constructed program will greatly increase adoption.
8. The Big Three. If you are going to implement technology for the legal department, you should focus on the Big Three first, i.e., the core technology every legal department should have in place or planning to put in place:
- E-Billing System – number one on your list should be an e-billing system. With an e-billing system, you can do away with spreadsheets and paper invoices and get instantaneous data about where you are spending money and on which matters. This is one tool that will definitely make your life as an in-house lawyer easier.
- Contract Management System – if you’ve ever been asked to locate a certain contract in a hurry, you know the value of a contract management system. Not only is it a central repository for all the company’s contracts, it allows you and the company to manage those contracts, in terms of price increases, termination, and slice and dice contract information whenever asked. Additionally, many contract management systems can also create contracts allowing in-house counsel to work faster, or in many cases, create portals providing access directly to the business to create contracts themselves within pre-defined parameters – meaning they do not have to involve the legal team at all!
- Legal Research Tool. Every in-house lawyer will at some point need to do some legal research. It might be on a specific legal issue or may be trying to find a sample contract template you can use for a deal. There are many choices out there including, Bloomberg, Lexis, Wolters Kluwer, and Thomson Reuters. I prefer Thomson Reuters because of Practical Law, which I think is the best tool any in-house legal department can implement.
9. Augmented Intelligence is here! I would be remiss to write about legal technology and not mention Artificial Intelligence. I think we should start referring to Artificial Intelligence as “Augmented Intelligence” because that is what it is, i.e., it helps lawyers do their jobs better but it doesn’t replace lawyers. If you want to catch up on AI, start with a four-part series I wrote last year. The true promise of AI for in-house lawyers is how it can augment you or your team. Finally, there is a way to actually do more with less. It won’t replace your team but it will help them work faster and will allow them to spend less time on drudge work and more time on high-value thinking and advising. If you are looking at AI solutions, focus on small steps and practical products that help you can solve easily identified problems, e.g., NDA review or contract review. Don’t feel you need to “go big” right at the start. Take your time with AI, but don’t for a minute doubt that it’s not here to stay.
10. Always keep the human touch. Technology is great. People are better. If you come to rely on technology 100% of the time, it will be a disaster. Just think of the over-reliance on email in place of conversations in person or over the phone. Email is often misinterpreted because you cannot convey tone. With email, you cannot read body language or hear inflections in voice. It’s a pain (and dangerous) to try to hold a “conversation” over email because you just cannot possibly write down everything you would say if you were speaking on the phone or sitting in someone’s office. The same is true for Artificial Intelligence. It is a great tool to augment our work lives, but it cannot ever truly replace an in-house lawyer. AI is tone deaf, it doesn’t understand “why” the question was asked, it doesn’t understand “why” it gives the answer it gives, and it is subject limits based on the data available. AI will need people around for the long foreseeable future. So, load up on the right tech, but never forget the basics of the human touch: pick up the phone, walk down the hall for a chat, and listen carefully to what is being said and why it is being said. Context matters, as does a pat on the shoulder or a good handshake.
Legal department technology can be a tremendous time saver and problem solver – faster, better, cheaper. And it will only get more prevalent in legal departments, whether you want it to or not. The train is moving, get on board now! When searching for technology, it’s easy to get distracted by a slick product demo and lots of tech-compliant buzzwords. Be skeptical – just like a good lawyer always is. Like anything done correctly, there is much more work to do than watching a five-minute product video on YouTube. A successful technology implementation requires much thought about what’s needed, investigation into what’s available to solve that need, a solid requirements document and a project plan, along with a well thought out user acceptance and training program. Get it right, and you’re on your way to better productivity and happier lawyers. Get it wrong, and you’ve just wasted a big chunk of your legal department’s budget and time. While technology can be a game-changer, don’t forget to bring the human touch to every legal project. Technology cannot replace the one-on-one connection between lawyer and client. And it never will.
May 31, 2018
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You posted quite a few nice points there. I did a litte research on the subject and found most people will have the same opinion with your blog.
Hi Scot – thank you for reading the blog and for taking the time to post a comment. Appreciate it! Regards – Sterling