Technology, automation, and self-service have transformed countless industries in recent years — and legal is next.

The technological pace of change has reached breakneck speed. Consumer-facing gadgets might steal the limelight when it comes to our personal lives, but technology, automation, and self-service are having a similarly transformative impact on the professional world too.

AccountingTech, MarTech, and FinTech have gone from strength to strength in recent years. Likewise, legal tech is reinventing an age-old industry — making in-house legal teams more productive, efficient and, ultimately, more valuable to the wider business.

This article will delve into everything you need to know about tech, automation, and legal self-service. It will examine the rise of these technologies before exploring the value they bring to GCs, as well as the business at large.

The rise of legal tech

Even the most traditional of lawyers cannot have failed to notice the rise in legal technology over the last few years. Confronted with an increased need for speed, more complex deals, and a desire for legal teams to provide additional commercial and strategic value, innovative technology has provided a perfect go-to solution.

But legal tech alone is not necessarily the answer. Instead, it forms one element — though an incredibly important one at that — of the wider trend towards embracing legal ops. Legal ops, the practice of providing legal departments with the support they need to succeed at scale, is now a must-have — not a mere consideration.

Indeed, the percentage of companies with their own in-house legal ops managers has risen to 58%, up from 34% in 2018. This is not simply a hot trend. Instead, businesses are beginning to see that legal ops can have the same impact as sales ops did when it first emerged a decade or two ago. You can’t imagine a VP, Sales in this day and age working without a sales operations team.

However, this is contingent upon the technology at their disposal. With the right tools in place, legal ops and the GC they support can maintain complete visibility over their in-house legal team’s tasks and workloads, as well as providing an all-in-one source of truth for all tasks.

According to Gartner, legal technology budgets are therefore expected to rise threefold over the next five years.

However, it’s worth noting that this increase is still only a fraction of the total legal department budget. There is still a way to go before legal tech is commonplace. Look elsewhere and additional research reports that GCs expect 25% greater workloads in the next three years, yet 88% of them also plan budget cuts. And the biggest roadblock to adoption is lack of buy-in from the c-suite. The reality is that lawyers don’t yet know how to buy legal tech.

In other words, legal tech is still not pervasive. Some are yet to take the plunge, while early adopters — or those who have been sold the dream but delivered a nightmare — are failing to see the ROI from their investments. This is the unfortunate case with many failed CLM deployments from recent years, and one reason that I would always advocate the baby steps approach: Crawl, walk, jog, run, etc.

Legal automation in action

Almost every industry has embraced automation, leveraging technology to perform repetitive, low-value, data-heavy tasks accurately and without the risk of errors.

That said, legal has been noticeably slow when it comes to adopting automation.

Research suggests that fewer than 50% of UK law firms are using automation tools. Meanwhile, 25% of UK legal departments are not using any technology at all, compared with just 11% of businesses in the US.

So why is this?

The main reasons are simple:

  • A lack of trust in the technology
  • Fear of subjecting the business to undue risk

In a highly skilled, highly trained area such as law, some worry that technology will make mistakes that humans would not. This is why some legal tech vendors have wrapped their AI products inside a human services layer where the human performs some final checks. At ThoughtRiver we have created what we call “cautious AI” where the machine will always err on the side of caution.

This is why it is so important to choose the right technology for your business. The right tools will always give your lawyers full control at all times. For example, ThoughtRiver allows you to digitise your company playbook on our Contract Acceleration Platform. This means that all new contracts can be reviewed against what your lawyers have already determined is and is not acceptable.

Any queries are raised for legal to look at, so they only review wording that is considered to be contentious — there is no need to review the whole contract.

The speed with which lawyers can review contracts goes through the roof. Accuracy and consistency are maintained at all times with minimal effort, and this is all without ever compromising risk levels.

How to safely self-serve

GCs and senior lawyers are in high demand due to their knowledge and experience. But what if there were a way to capture this expertise so that it can be applied even when they lack the time to undertake the work themselves??

We are not saying that technology can replace lawyers. We are, however, saying that certain tasks — like preliminary contract reviews — can be expedited and handled outside of legal with the help of the right tools.

Tools such as ThoughtRiver provide a built-in safety net for all contract reviews. Unacceptable wording is flagged within the ThoughtRiver platform, with the ability to drop in replacement wording that is pre-approved by legal in one click or escalate to a lawyer for legal review as required.

In other words, non-legal colleagues can undertake a first review of contracts without additional risk. ThoughtRiver’s AI reviews any new contract against the company playbook, as well as assessing it against any existing contracts previously negotiated. Discrepancies are raised as alerts, meaning legal and the counterparty can immediately see which terms need further negotiation.

Contracts reach signature faster, the full value of a deal is realised, and “stuck in legal” is forever banished from your company’s vocabulary. And your legal team is in control at all times.

Take your in-house legal team to the next level

Technology, automation, and self-service are not here to replace lawyers; they are here to enhance their work and help them become better lawyers.

Let technology and automation handle time-consuming, low-value tasks, which in turn increases productivity and ensures your GC’s time and energy is spent where it truly matters.

Leading enterprises are harnessing self-service, using AI-based tools to capture critical expertise and enable non-legal professionals to conduct preliminary, time-consuming contract reviews.

It makes contracting easier, more efficient, and more effective. Focus your in-house legal team's valuable expertise on the areas where it’s most needed and allow machines to handle all low-value duties.

Key takeaways

  • Automation-heavy, self-service legal tech makes in-house legal teams more productive — thereby transforming organisations’ bottom lines.
  • However, despite its promise, the uptake of legal tech is still surprisingly low. This can be attributed to a lack of trust and the fear of subjecting the business to undue risk.
  • The right tools eliminate these fears. They harness senior lawyers’ expertise to provide non-legal employees with a safety net when conducting initial contract reviews.
  • These tools still give legal full control at all times, and they only need to intervene once the bulk of the time-consuming work has already been completed.