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4 ways Tech General Counsels Can Keep Up With the Speed of a Business.

One topic that often comes up during our conversations with GCs in the technology space is whether they feel under greater pressure than they might in a more ‘traditional’ business, to align their legal departments with the strategies and models that underpin their products and services and which drive the behaviour of their commercial teams. The answer is usually a resounding ‘yes’.

Most commonly we talk about aspects such as scalability and flexibility, speed and agility of service, data driven decision-making, leanness of operating models, and reliance on technology / automation tools. These are very often present to a high degree in technology businesses, but they are not always mirrored within corporate legal teams. This can put the legal department at a disadvantage, both in terms of productivity but also with regard to its standing within the business.

If you do feel that legal is unable to match the pace of the business teams or is viewed as an outlier in the organization, a starting point is to look at whether there are models or approaches that you can pick up from other parts of the business and which can be implemented within the legal department to ensure that it maintains a central role within the business.

We have a few ideas and focus areas that can help you make this change and relieve some of the pressure. We have split these up according to the key verticals of People, Data, Technology and Process.

People

Diversify your external resources supply chain for greater work efficiency and cost control. Using consultants and remote workers, outsourcing and offshoring are well-known concepts and used for many functions within technology businesses, internally and as a service itself. We know that legal departments have historically not used such models to the same degree but this is changing fast and these solutions should be in every GC’s toolkit considering the cost, flexibility and productivity benefits that they can offer.

If you are open to using talent beyond geographic boundaries and your permanent team, the reality is that you have a dramatically deeper talent pool to choose from. With a broader talent pool, you can then disaggregate the work and ensure that every single task in your department is allocated to the best equipped and most cost-efficient person for the job. Repetitive, high volume work can be handled by people that specialise in that work, allowing senior lawyers to prioritise higher value matters.

These models also enable you to scale output without adding to headcount or sending overflow work to outside counsel. Additionally, interim or specialist support like this can usually be switched on or off at short notice, meaning you optimise utilisation and only pay for a resource when you are using it.

Data

A grasp of data enables the legal department to speak the same language as the business teams and to quantify the contribution that the legal department makes to the business. When you are working with business teams that base their decisions on data, lawyers should aim to do the same. Operationally, data can be used to give a GC immediate oversight of key issues such as workflows, costs and risk, enabling it to better manage and predict problems, increasing responsiveness and effectiveness. For some ideas on how to get started, see  "You can't manage what you don't measure" 

Technology

From communication and workflow management tools and document automation to more sophisticated contract lifecycle management and AI based solutions, there are many ways to leverage technology for legal use-cases. However, don’t overlook solutions that your business teams already use and do explore ways in which legal can integrate with those rather than fighting for budget for specific legal tools. For example, we have seen a number of legal teams using ticketing systems employed elsewhere in the business as a means of triaging incoming work and monitoring response times. We have also seen chatbots deployed by legal to help business teams self-serve and reduce demands on the lawyers. Check out how Andrew Janis, APAC Legal Director at Uber,  puts this into practice in his GC Spotlight.

The other more general point to make about the legal function within a technology environment is the importance of having team members that all understand the core hardware/software at the heart of the business. This enables legal's output to be practical and solutions-focused whilst ensuring legal risk management, especially where speed to market is important and where laws and regulations are often slow to keep up with fast changing technologies.

Processes

Often not given the attention it deserves by lawyers, but look at your business teams and more often than not you will see a rigorous focus on process optimisation and reliance on standard operating procedures (SOPs). If this is unfamiliar territory, have a look at the approach and consider how it could be applied to the legal workstreams. We see SOPs used effectively in two areas: (i) work allocation – who does what work (e.g. based on risk or value) and how that work is approved and delivered; and (ii) document processing playbooks, which can speed up legal review time and also help business teams manage more of the documentation process themselves, thereby reducing the legal ‘inbox’. In case you missed it, we pulled together a more detailed list of suggestions on easy process improvements in this article: "More for less, more for less, read all about it!"

Conclusion

Technology is changing the way business is done and the way services are provided; legal work might still often be an outlier but the clock is certainly ticking and seemingly at a faster rate for legal teams in more technology focused businesses. We believe that those lawyers that look beyond their own departments for learnings and are open-minded about the solutions available to them will be best equipped to manage the increasing demands of their businesses.

Rob Shakespeare