Evolve Law was back in Silicon Valley for another great legal tech event, this one focused on the "Tech Savvy In-House Counsel." The evening kicked off with a Darwin Talk from Tina Fan of SimpleLegal. Tina's presentation was on "Best Practices for Implementing Legal Operations Software". When it comes to implementation, there isn't a one-size-fits-all answer for every company; there are many tools available for firms and companies to use. When looking at implementing legal ops software, in-house legal departments need to examine what their goals are as a department and ask whether they align with what the company goals are, as well as asking why they're looking to implement software and what they are hoping to accomplish with it. They also need to plan for how they want to implement the software and the resources necessary to get it implemented correctly and to get everyone in the department or company on board. Perhaps most importantly, when you're looking to automate a process, you want to make sure that it's a good process that you're committing to.
Our panel was moderated by Monica Zent of Foxwordy and Zent Law and featured Joel Benavides of Box, Stephaine Corey of UpLevel Ops, and Dan Ralls of ZapLabs discussing the role of the general counsel and the legal operations department in the current environment, how it could improve, and where it's headed in the future.
As the legal landscape has continued to shift, legal operations departments have completely changed and evolved in the last five years. Whereas legal ops departments used to be the province of large corporations, now even small companies are implementing legal ops programs. These new and existing legal ops personnel fill an increasingly important role within the legal department, implementing the legal department strategy and helping organize and meet goals and deadlines. The rise of cloud-based technology has both made it easier to tackle things in-house that were once farmed out to outside firms and necessitated the role of legal ops, with a new set of security requirements like GDPR that companies and their legal departments have to monitor and comply with.
Even as the role of legal operations departments are expanding, companies are increasingly looking for ways to cut their legal spend, and that means using metrics to measure what is efficient against what isn't and how well and how widely the current technology implemented is being used. Technological tools for things like collaboration, finance, e-billing that allow you to work more efficiently and capture data on what you're doing is a great step forward, but it only truly works if everyone in the department is on the same page and is using the same programs and applications. Beyond creating confusion, employees going rogue and using their own solutions could be harmful if the security standards on that program aren't up to the level required by your company or firm.
Implementing new technology in a legal department requires asking lawyers to change and that is a difficult proposition. It can be almost impossible to win back the goodwill of lawyers if you implement new technology they don't like and won't use. When implementing tech, make sure it's something the department really wants; if it's not something that they decide they want to use, they won't use it. When you do implement a new app or new software, it's important that the attorneys in the department stick to those, and don't use other programs that aren't tracking data department-wide, or may not be as secure and are therefore putting client data at risk. When looking at tech solutions for legal departments, you also have to consider how any new programs might impact other areas or departments in the company.
Lawyers are slower to adopt tech, so when you're looking to maximize department efficiency, you want to make sure you're maximizing the technology that is already in place within legal departments first. For those that are starting form scratch, it's fortunately easier now than it's ever been to implement new technology in companies of all sizes, given the amount of options available in technology and legal tech. There is also some expectation that outside counsel and consultants you work with will either already be using or will adopt the technologies that your department is using, especially given that technology adoption is increasing overall. Outside counsel is increasingly aware of the need to work with legal ops departments and to provide value to clients, and technology is the key to being able to do that.
Maintaining that positive relationship with outside counsel is key to being able to work with them to meet the changing needs of your legal department. Being able to understand one another and the needs of the other enables that cooperation. As part of cutting costs and outsourcing work, legal departments are looking to alternative fee arrangements with outside counsel and sending work to alternative service providers, as well as pushing work down to junior attorneys within their own department. Your most important relationship with outside counsel is with the relationship partner for that firm, who sets the expectations for budget and results. Legal ops departments also need to ensure that the outside counsel they work with are adhering to security standards for their data, which can be challenging given that law firms have always struggled with technology.
As the role and dynamics of legal departments continue to change over the next few years, the legal ops department will become a more formalized role in every legal department regardless of size. Companies can no longer afford to have attorneys performing the manifold duties they once did within the department, so the legal ops department will be able to take a lot of that work off the attorney's hands. Legal ops will be a strategic partner to the business overall with all of the issues related to security and compliance. Part of this change will be facilitated by bringing in new blood to legal departments, whether that be younger attorneys, non-attorney legal professionals, or people with business backgrounds offering different perspectives. Attorneys aren't used to or even trained to think outside of the box, so in order to adapt to a new way of doing things, so it will take outside forces to help move change along.
The evening's closing Darwin Talk was given by Tom Spaulding of Inventus entitled "Don't Risk It All!" on the risks that general counsel face and how data analytics can help mitigate that risk. Ethics, compliance and regulatory issues are all ones that worry GCs, yet not much is done to address these issues. Taking a proactive approach to spotting potential issues and figuring out how you might be able to change what your department or company does to avoid these problems is a growing trend. While the proliferation of data can prove a challenge for any company looking to maintain security requirements, in the aggregate it is also a way forward, as the analysis of this data helps to spot problem areas and trends.