With such a wealth of legal operations expertise and insight on display at the second annual CLOC London Institute, it was a great opportunity to spot trends currently impacting in-house teams. While there were many interesting themes, one in particular was getting a lot of attention—the legal front door.

This unusual term has become more prominent in the legal operations community in recent months as legal departments look to transform how they are engaging with their organisations to provide legal services. They’re doing this by leveraging technology to provide a portal—or front door—to connect the business with its lawyers.

Challenges facing in-house lawyers

Listening to the fantastic speakers at this year’s event, it is clear why the development of legal front door platforms has become an imperative for many legal teams. Several speakers painted a vivid picture of “crazy busy” lawyers “drowning in work.” With in-house lawyers so stretched, legal operations professionals must look for ways to empower lawyers to better deliver solutions, outcomes and value to their organisations.

In many cases, in-house lawyers are still inundated with low-value work—preventing them from providing the far more valuable strategic advice and outcomes that the business craves. One way of solving this dilemma is by deploying technology to help move themselves up the value chain.

Self-service and more through the legal front door

So, what does a legal front door look like, and how do they help lawyers become strategic business advisers in the face of such overwhelming workloads?

Throughout the event we heard from many organisations that have deployed a legal front door, such as Sky, Vodafone, VMware to name just a few. In all cases, they had created an online platform that is accessible to business users who can access key legal tools and resources. The idea is to move low-risk legal services downstream through greater self-service.

In most cases, those who had created a legal front door portal were providing their business clients with access to a range of self-service contract assembly options from NDAs to outsourcing agreements. As Steve Harmon, vice president and deputy general counsel at Cisco put it, "If you're not using automated NDA technology—get on the bus." These automated documents are normally accompanied by integrated legal guidance with automated escalation mechanisms—thereby allowing the legal department to be responsive and efficient, while ensuring they adequately manage and mitigate risk.

But a legal front door is not just limited to self-service. It also incorporates legal intake. As we heard from several speakers, the legal service request process is often disjointed, involving several emails and phone calls to gather all information and documents—and that’s assuming that business users know where to go to get the legal assistance they require. The matters that do find their way to the legal team are often manually tracked using simple Microsoft Excel spreadsheets.

From our discussions during the event, it seems that many legal teams are beginning to incorporate structured intake processes into their legal front door portals. These legal intake tools allow business clients to use online forms to properly instruct the legal team for certain matter types—enabling lawyers to dynamically process, track and assign legal service requests using automated workflows. The organisation has complete certainty about how to quickly and easily engage the legal department, while the legal function receives all the intake information and documentation they need, together with a full view of their legal matter portfolio.

In the same way that we as consumers track our online shopping orders, matter intake tools also provide business clients with email updates and enable them to track the status and outcome of their legal service requests through the intake portal.

There are many other tools that legal teams can build into their legal front door portals to help facilitate the interaction and engagement between the business and the legal function, for example, legal training, current awareness, risk questionnaires and more. Some attendees at the event stated that their teams were also deploying chatbots—systems that use artificial intelligence to conduct simple conversations with users. These legal chatbots enable legal teams to deliver know-how and advice to the business without having to directly engage.

A gateway to data transparency

As was discussed in several sessions, transparency of data is becoming ever more vital for legal departments in order to drive better decision-making and help mitigate risk. The legal department should use legal data analytics gathered through their legal front door in order to derive insight and spot trends across their organisation. For this reason, many legal front door platforms also contain, or integrate with, dashboards and data visualisation tools.

The message was delivered loud and clear at the CLOC London Institute 2019—legal departments looking to optimise the way they interact with their businesses should carefully analyse what information and services they commonly deliver to the business (training, know-how, advice, contracts and so on), as well as how they manage intake from the business, and then intelligently deploy technology to build a legal front door portal that streamlines business enablement and engagement. In doing so, legal teams will improve legal delivery, increase their responsiveness and reduce the time they spend on lower-value tasks—freeing them up to focus on higher-value strategic initiatives.