In a series of monthly interviews, LawGeex speaks to top In-House Counsel adopting legal technology to enhance productivity. Here, we speak to Vicky Lockie, Senior Consultant VBL Consulting, and formerly Associate GC at Pearson.

Vicky Lockie is formerly associate General Counsel at Pearson where she oversaw major change in the legal department. She now uses her expertise to give legal teams advice and provide services effectively.

What is Pearson and how is its in-house legal team organized?

Pearson is the world’s leading learning company, employing more than 35,000 people in 70 countries. Pearson is undergoing significant change as its business transforms moving from print to digital, from products to services, selling more directly to consumer and into the world’s growth economies. This is all underpinned by a major restructuring of back office systems designed to simplify business processes.

As part of this strategic shift Pearson has created a global legal team of approx. 170 staff with the bulk of its legal team based in the US and UK.

What problem were you trying to solve?

Like most in-house legal departments, we were under pressure to ‘do more with less’.

We decided to use the corporate drive to simplify business processes as an opportunity to do things differently and to redesign some of the legal departments processes.

Education company Pearson was forced to change its legal strategies as it began selling more directly to consumer and into the world’s growth economies.

How did you decide what to do?

Against the backdrop of wider business transformation, we identified a business team which was using a disproportionate amount of legal resource. That team we generating many low value, low risk contracts needing lots of legal support. The work of that team had been done the same way for a long time and provided an opportunity for process improvement.

What was your objective?

We had several objectives; for the legal team, we wanted to free-up lawyers to deal with more strategic and intellectually challenging work; for the business team we wanted to give them more control over this area of work as it was closely tied to product creation.

we wanted to free-up lawyers to deal with more strategic and intellectually challenging work; for the business team we wanted to give them more control

To achieve these objectives, we decided the business should be enabled to create their own contracts and move away from a set of manual, time consuming and resource heavy processes.

As we only had a very modest budget we decided that these objectives would be delivered using our e-signature tool. Most e-signature tools allow for creation of basic automated workflows and embedded forms, in this case a set of simple standard contract templates. This would provide a simple solution which could automate the process and provide valuable data.

Practically what did you do?

As a first step, we worked out the current ‘as is’ process. This required discussion with all stakeholders both within the legal function and the business teams.

The existing process was examined to identify areas of simplification. After elimination of any unnecessary, out of date, duplicate steps a new process was created embedding the use of the e-signature tool.

Collaboration over this process is essential to ensure success of any such project.

With the new process established templates for the contracts were created. Standardization simplification and rationalization of existing contract templates was essential to reduce legal risk and to ensure the business teams could choose the correct contract template to use.

Finally, with everything in place we trained the legal and business teams who would be following the new processes. We also created a set of support information containing the training materials, ‘how to’ video clips, and FAQ’s which were placed on the intranet site.

How did you communicate change to the business?

It was essential to ensure that the business stakeholders were fully engaged with the project. As part of the initial planning process all stakeholders were identified and communicated with. We spent considerable time on preparation, particularly with the legal stakeholders – most importantly understanding anxieties and letting people vent. Getting it all out upfront helps not to derail the project further down the line.

The business and legal stakeholders were fully engaged with process mapping and the training. This collaboration brought benefits far beyond the scope of the project.

Pearson’s transformation saw a reduction in average contract turnaround times from several weeks to less than 24 hours, and cost to legal per contract reduced by over 80%

After implementation, all users were asked to participate in a feedback process. It was important that the feedback was seen to be taken seriously and improvements were actioned quickly.

What have the results been?

For this team the move away from bespoke contracts has resulted in many benefits including;

  • Reduction in average contract turnaround times from several weeks to less than 24 hours
  • Cost to legal per contract reduced by over 80%
  • Adoption of standardised and consistent contracts has reduced legal risk
  • Move to paperless contracting has reduced postage, filing & storage costs as well as being more environmentally friendly
  • Increased levels of user satisfaction

What advice would you give to other In-House Counsel facing change?

  • Pick something relatively quick and simple as your first project. By being able to execute a project successfully you will gain trust and credibility not only with the teams who are affected by the change but also more widely in the business.
  • Be clear (with yourself and others) about what you are trying to achieve and why.
  • Understand the change process – the change curve is real.
  • Remember that you are dealing with individuals, people all react to change differently and go through the change process at different speeds. Allow more time than you think and you will need and be mindful of the tone of your communications.
  • Think about how you use technology – there are lots of tools on the market but the real key to success is the process, technology is just a tool to enable a better process.

Do you think it is harder to encourage change among lawyers than other professions?

I do. With any change, it very important to understand the psychology of people you are dealing with. Inherently the legal profession is conservative, lawyers have been trained to focus on detail, analyse all potential issues, they tend to seek perfection and can be risk adverse.

Should lawyers be worried about automation or rise of technology?

It depends on their perspective. I see the increase in automation as a real opportunity for the profession to move away from the routine to focus on intellectually challenging and strategically important work. However as this will involve a major shift in the way in which our work is rewarded – shifting from output based (the billable hour) to outcome based reward I can see how many will see this as a threat they don’t want to embrace.

I would advocate a ‘wake up and smell the coffee’ approach rather than adopting the ostrich position.

What tech would you most like to see invented for in-house lawyers?

A real virtual ‘Alexa like’ assistant where you can speak a request and your assistant can find what you are looking for or execute your request.

e.g. “could you find the email I send to someone at x company a couple of weeks ago, where I mentioned project y”

Is today’s tech age, a better or worse time to be an in-house counsel?

Again, it depends on your perspective. For those who relish change I think in house counsel have an unparalleled opportunity to learn new skills and embrace new ways of working but it’s not for the faint hearted.

Vicky is among the top in-house counsel featured in The In-House Counsel’s LegalTech Buyers Guide.

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