Welcome to Legal Automation Group Insights!
Our experience helping hundreds of corporate legal departments and law firms has shown that only a small percentage of intended and necessary changes actually get accomplished. Even with the best intentions, projects often fail to get off the ground.
We hope that our unique perspective will help your team avoid these common challenges and begin to make significant progress towards your process improvement and automation goals.
First, let's see if this sounds familiar. You returned from CLOC, ACC or ILTA inspired, with your head full of great ideas. You went so far as creating a report of all the technology solutions that could improve your department. In January, you find that another year has passed, and you still lack solutions to those same problems.
This time, consider addressing these seven challenges:
Articulating a Business Justification - Legal departments and law firms continue to struggle with ways to justify the cost for legal technology initiatives. The focus is (and should be) on how to provide better legal services. The challenge is balancing current services delivery with ways to improve efficiency, control staffing levels and remain competitive.
As automation becomes the focus, and primary catalyst, for improvement, each legal team must develop a clear picture of where to invest and what benefits will result. When legal teams begin to take on their initiative, two main breakdowns are common. First, they have difficulty quantifying the value-versus-cost of a new solution. Second, they gravitate to solutions that require a long and cumbersome timeline to implement.
One of the main factors that determines a successful go forward plan is illustrating an accurate cost/benefit analysis. If the solution can be described as vital, it will often get funded.
Most forget that time-to-value is often missing when making the determination about what to deploy and how to deploy it. If the solutions you choose take many months - or years - before deriving benefit, you run the risk of ultimately never getting anything deployed.
Consider stop-gap solutions that can be deployed in a matter of weeks, not months or years. Even if they are replaced by something else, the derived benefit should outweigh the cost and your requirements for the final solution will be far better fleshed out.
Lack of Resources - The most common scenario we see involves the lack of department resources to focus on the automation initiative. We commonly hear "we are on a couple projects right now and can't focus on this" or "our staff is fully consumed by other high priority issues." Months go by, only to speak with them again to find they are living in the same story.
Automation requires dedication and, for a period of time, expending or obtaining resources for the necessary changes that will lead the team out of the perpetual state of overwhelm.
What most people don't realize is that analyzing and documenting processes leads to immediate improvement, even if the process is not automated. Establishing a functional requirement earlier enables the staff to practice and refine it. Meanwhile, the effort for what a process used to take previously, now takes a fraction of that time.
Automation can be done in parallel without a significant effort from the staff.
Market Awareness - It isn't the legal team's job to spend all of their time researching technology solutions. And, even if it was, nobody can be an expert at knowing everything that is available in each product niche.
Say there are 4-5 main technology platform needs for the legal market - Matter Management/Contract Management/Self-Service/eDiscovery/Billing Management. In each of those categories there could be as many as 20 to 30 potentially viable products. Let's say that somehow, you were able to only focus on the perceived top 10 ten in each category. That still leaves you evaluating as many as 40 to 50 vendors, if all areas are going to be included in your initiative.
The staff is inundated with calls and emails from vendors claiming to have the perfect solution. Product overview demonstrations all look fairly similar. Eventually, the task becomes too daunting for many and the initiative stalls.
Product Evaluation Process - Let's face it, the legal team doesn't typically consist of procurement experts. All too often, this results in the need to invent the wheel or utilize the most basic of evaluation processes.
We hear "maybe we will do an RFP" or "we need to gather all of our requirements." Neither has been proven to be very effective. Months go by while the little bit of extra time is able to be allocated to it and without the work effort defined, integration points established, user experiences researched, and hosting options considered, the RFP lacks the real elements needed to properly distinguish one vendor's solution from another.
It becomes a "we better buy from the known quantity" or a product beauty contest. In either case, this typically leads to long and expensive deployments of inflexible solutions with the highest overall total cost of ownership.
Legal departments should be using a completely different set of criteria.
IT Interference - More often than not, we hear "the legal department isn't a priority for the IT department." This has been the case for decades and although some progress has been made over recent years, it still remains very prevalent. The latest we hear is, "the IT department says they can build that for us," only to find that any legal solution is way down the list of IT's prioritized projects.
Worse than that, once the IT team finally finds time, their team utilizes old technology development approaches (maybe calling it "agile" but it is anything but) for building some sort of one-off application silo from scratch.
These approaches delay time-to-value and the department ends up with an inflexible system, incapable of adapting to the ever-changing department process requirements.
Next generation platforms enable rapid deployment of highly-tailored solutions. These can be modified as processes change and most importantly, the changes can be accomplished by non-developers, so there is no more waiting in line for custom coding.
Existing System Support - Most departments have some existing systems, for managing a portion of their day-to-day operations. Many are outdated and lack the features and or flexibility of next generation platforms.
In some cases, there are multi-year contracts that have been established. Even though the product does not address the original concern, departments continue to pay for the licensing and support for them. The dilemma becomes what to keep, what to replace and when.
Progress is often delayed as a result of this analysis process. The immediate thought is, "we can't touch that area since we have more years left on our contract." Departments end up paying for work-arounds or continue to live with things the way they are.
In many cases new and more cost effective solutions can be deployed for a small fraction of what was initially procured and the solution's derived benefit offsets the cost of the original purchase.
Failure to generate awareness and momentum - Typically, this is due to a lack of team buy-in regarding which solutions to deploy, as well as competing attention placed on IT projects with a perceived greater benefit to the organization. Getting buy-in is difficult when it consists of putting pen to paper and generic vendor demonstrations. Stakeholders who allocate the funds get frustrated and move on to other things.
No matter how much energy is spent trying to convince people to act, more often people can't translate what is written in a report or shown in a demonstration into something that is close to the exact department's requirements. Leadership fails to set priorities and competing interests leave all project stuck on the table.
A few thoughts and recommendations...
- Next generation technology platforms make it possible to modify and or iterate on the fly. No more exhaustive studies, lengthy functional requirements analysis and system definitions. You can deploy something in weeks. Put it through the paces. Get meaningful feedback, make adjustments, and most importantly obtain larger budgets, through a demonstrable justification.
- Develop a business justification for each of your potential automation initiatives. Include a cost benefit analysis for each use case and recognize that time-to-value is what will make your department a recognized leader.
- As part of the department operating principles, be sure that continuous improvement is a major element of every staff member's role. Have them own the obligation of raising issues and coming up with solutions. Be sure that they think through the justifications for implementing something new.
- It is most critical that the department stakeholders stand up for meeting their automation initiative goals and not let politics impede progress.
- Fewer vendors is better than more vendors. We often see as many as 6 or 7 different vendors involved in departments that have progressed with their automation initiative. This should be avoided if the goal is to get through the contracting/vendor onboarding phase, lower license costs, minimize training requirements, and support dependencies.
- Don't try to "boil the ocean." Most departments only accomplish one or two meaningful things per year. That isn't enough if you are looking to create the legal department of tomorrow. That said, taking on too much poses different challenges. Your roadmap should take into consideration what's realistically possible based on the selected platform. Prioritizing your use cases based on what will have the biggest impact, will help you gain and sustain momentum.
- Try piloting - Low risk/cost pilots typically include a short term, cloud licensing subscription and a minimal amount of configuration services. If your group is serious about change in 2020, think about using the early part of the year to pilot your three most problematic process challenges. More than 90% of technology projects get approved after the key stakeholders see something in meaningful in action.
Legal Automation Group provides guidance to corporate legal departments and law firms so they can leverage technology more effectively. Please reach out to us if we can assist with your legal automation initiative.