A version of this blog originally appeared on the ContractWorks Blog.

Contract management is a complex, ever-evolving part of general counsel’s workload. Automating as much as possible can make the entire contract management process run more smoothly. A responsive contract management service should offer opportunities to improve automation throughout the contract lifecycle.

Standardize Contract Management Methods

In a large organization where many different departments function autonomously much of the time, each department may develop its own strategies and systems for handling contract management. This is also a common occurrence when one company acquires another. General counsel ends up not only managing a large volume of contracts, but having to keep multiple systems straight.

Opting for a single, cloud-based system dramatically streamlines the task of storing and searching for contracts. Cloud storage improves transparency between departments and eliminates the need to track down a department leader or travel to a satellite site to locate a hard copy. General counsel doesn’t lose time learning and reviewing an increasing list of content management systems. A cohesive system may also improve contract organization throughout the company.

Automate Approvals and Signatures

Mailing and faxing contracts at initial signing or for updates is a burdensome process. Faxing, in particular, may even feel less than ideal from a security standpoint if faxes go to a machine that’s out in the open. A contract management service can provide secure e-signature features. Opting for electronic signatures, preparing documents, and sending contracts and instructions is easy to accomplish from the user interface. This method of gathering signatures within one system may also make it easier for general counsel to create an audit trail.

Optimize Search Strategies

General counsel is already familiar with contract templates. Standard language, whether it’s formal legal language or a “plain English” version, helps automate the contract drafting process. Standard tags can serve a similar purpose for simplifying searches. 

Users can search for contracts based on parameters specified by tags. To ensure that all contracts in a category have the same tags, admins can create a tag template and make essential tags required fields before a contract can successfully be uploaded.

Creating a customized report based on advanced search options streamlines the process of locating and organizing contracts. ContractWorks also allows users to save, schedule, export, and share reports. General counsel can automate report scheduling and easily share reports with relevant parties.

Alert General Counsel About Contract Milestones

While there are slower, “hands-off” stretches in contract management, regular reviews are critical. There may be important negotiation opportunities at contract renewal, or according to a timeline specific to the contract. In other cases, general counsel may wish to coordinate a review of all contracts potentially impacted by a new compliance regulation.

Using local, individual reminder systems is a potentially risky approach. It’s all too easy for someone to mistakenly enter an incorrect date or lose a reminder. Working within the contract management system can provide a more consistent approach. Schedule reminders in advance, add all the necessary parties, and get notification alerts when you need them.

Compare Workflow Processes

One problem general counsel may face is inconsistent expectations from other departments on their role in the lifecycle of a contract. In order to manage contracts effectively, general counsel and other parties within respective departments must understand when the law department gets involved. Otherwise, general counsel risks missing important reminders.

Adding general counsel to automated reminders, as described earlier, is one important step. Other helpful strategies are uploading a workflow protocol document to the shared system, and using audit logs as an internal method of tracking who is accessing or updating a contract. Audit logs aren’t a common feature to encounter in contract management software, but it’s worthwhile to consider exploring software that offers this option.