Julia Chain, Director of RPC Perform – our consultancy service that helps in-house teams optimise legal processes, strategy and operations – argues that if you're not already exploiting technology in your team then you're going to get left behind.

Earlier this month I chaired the Economist's GC 2016 conference – as always, a highlight in the legal calendar. This year's theme was Adapting to Change and joining me on stage were some very senior business lawyers who helped frame a debate around the need for GCs to adapt to a changing role in a changing world.

Using automation and "techy tools" to do the routine tasks thereby allowing in-house lawyers to concentrate on delivering high value advice was a constant theme. So, when I posed the simple question (to nearly 100 lawyers): "do you have a matter management/e-Billing solution", I was surprised when only about eight people put up their hands! But maybe I shouldn’t have been. I am constantly amazed that, despite the user-friendly cost-effective tools available, so many of us are still relying on a manual system to store documents and manage our external legal spend. Part of the problem could be that with so many products available – and so many vendors trying to sell everything from soup to nuts – looking for a sensible IT solution is often in the "too difficult" box. Well if you don’t know the answer – find someone who does!

We recently held a seminar called Decoding Legal IT explaining to a group of GCs what legal IT is available and how it works. As part of that session, we also did some real time benchmarking, the results of which were very revealing.

Use of legal technologies

Apart from standard desktop software packages, 55% of legal teams represented at the seminar have implemented document management – this is similar to industry benchmark research reports. Around 30% already have matter management and eBilling, and 36% use eSignatures – again, both are within the range of research reports and in line with our experience. BUT that means that 70% still don't have matter management/eBilling at all.

So, why is that?

Matter Management and eBilling

Demand, often from stakeholders, for more management information and analysis of legal spend is probably the reason 70% of those surveyed believe they will have eBilling solutions at some time in the future – although this still leaves 30% who have no interest in legal eBilling, possibly because they in-source the majority of their work. The survey also highlighted that teams with external legal spend in excess of £1m pa are more likely to implement a spend management solution in the next 24 months – those with a lower value of spend believe they will move to eBilling solutions over a slightly longer timeframe.

Reducing demand on the legal team

Legal teams are increasingly looking at options to empower the businesses they serve to become more self-sufficient, and to carry out some work that would previously have been passed to lawyers or paralegals. This is probably reflected in the biggest areas of likely increase in use of legal technologies: document assembly tools are anticipated to rise from being used by 10% of legal teams today to 50% within the next two years; and the use of eSignatures – which, despite being one of the newer tools, are already used by 36% of legal teams – is estimated to be used by more than 90% within the next two years.

Hard to believe maybe, but we love document assembly and think it is a seriously underutilised way of working more efficiently

Is Artificial Intelligence just hype?

From our survey, no in-house legal team is using Artificial Intelligence (AI) today. But, interestingly, 30% believe they will be within the next two years, although 50% have no interest in this type of solution.

The question is, why not? It’s the future.

For me, the message is clear: to be influential in the boardroom, GCs need to spend more time on the high value work, and using automation to clear the decks of low value work is the easiest most cost-effective and efficient way of doing this.