Recently, I was lucky to join more than 100 GCs in Spain for The Lawyer General Counsel Strategy Summit 2019. As part of the event, we welcomed more than 45 in-house leaders to our four roundtable discussions to examine the ideal tech state for corporate legal teams, and how to get there.
There's no shortage of buzz right now about the benefits of technology for in-house legal departments, but with so much noise, we wanted to explore what GCs should expect from their technology journey and what success really looks like. Our roundtable guests discussed what technology they are deploying (or hoping to deploy), what they're prioritising and the lessons they have learned along the way when it comes to successful technology rollout.
Our sessions sought to shine a light on the steps that in-house lawyers can take to streamline their departments with technology and create a 'digital GC' culture. Here are four of our key takeaways:
Legal tech is good, but for in-house legal teams, business tech is king
One thing that I heard loud and clear is that when it comes to technology for in-house teams, legal tech really isn't the right term. Legal departments are an integral part of commercial organisations—they work hand in hand with other functions across the business from sales and human resources to R&D and marketing.
So, any technology that is deployed to help optimise legal department management will likely need to be used by other teams across the business and be capable of integrating with those team's own tools and systems. Not only does this mean that a broad group of stakeholders need to be involved in any technology purchasing decision for the legal team, it also means that the best investment for in-house teams is business tech—useful and flexible technology that helps them work seamlessly with other departments in their organisation to deliver value to the business and improve outcomes.
This collaborative and integrated approach to digital transformation across the business will also make it more likely that any newly deployed technology will stick. There's no better, quicker way to make in-house technology deployment fail than to select and implement it in a silo.
Check out your existing technology—you may be surprised
Mention technology to in-house teams and you'll often receive a derisive glance from several GCs in the room. "Wouldn’t that be nice," they'll say, "but we just don't have the budget." It's a fair comment.
Many legal teams are viewed only as a cost centre—unlikely to receive any budgetary allowances for technology procurement. While some legal departments are starting to see results from their technology procurement campaigns, or alternatively finding creative ways to finance new technology tools, it's certainly true that many in-house teams can only dream of being given the money they need to streamline their department with new systems and applications.
However, there is a very simple and low-cost solution—make do and mend. Many GCs who attended the roundtables talked about using their organisation's existing technology stack to achieve their desired outcomes.
The advice was clear; talk to your IT team, explain your challenges and see what technology the business might already have that can help. More often than not you'll be pleasantly surprised about the ways you can repurpose existing technology to solve corporate legal department challenges.
Lead with the problem, not the technology
I began our first roundtable with one simple question, "How many people are contacted on a near daily basis by a tech vendor through LinkedIn?" Most of the hands in the room immediately shot into the air. There was broad agreement that while ‘hype’ may not be the best term to describe the overwhelming attention that legal technology is receiving right now, ‘noise’ is certainly a fair description.
The advice for filtering out this tech interference was simple and obvious—don't get caught up in technology, focus on the most important underlying problem you're trying to solve for the legal department. It's easy to get carried away by the benefits espoused by vendors about their own tools, but the worst thing a legal department can do is make a buying decision on that basis.
Technology is the enabler, not the solution. Do the necessary groundwork to advance your digital transformation by coordinating with your procurement team, defining your problems and challenges, and clearly identifying and documenting your requirements. Then you can be laser-focused on what technology you need—to the exclusion of all the unnecessary noise.
Leverage new roles, and don't forget to use outside counsel for digital services
Unicorns aren't something you expect to discuss at a GC retreat, but we broke the mould in one of our roundtable sessions. Admittedly, we weren't talking about the legendary mythical creature, but those rare and uniquely skilled lawyers who are also creative, analytical and fluent in technology. There was no doubt about the huge impact technology can, and will, have for in-house teams, but the same question kept being asked, "who's going to guide us on our journey?”
There was broad agreement that legal departments need to recruit new skill sets into their teams—T-shaped lawyers who can bridge the gap between law, process and technology. The consensus was that legal operations professionals are doing a great job filling this need. However, where dedicated resources just aren’t possible, GCs and their departments should look to their outside counsel to provide these skills and services.
Many law firms are now offering legal technology services and legal operations advisory functions—don't miss a trick, talk to your external lawyers and see what they can do to help you.
It was fascinating to hear the range of insights shared during our roundtables. It's clear that while most GCs agree on the digital destination for their departments, they will all get there in different ways with different guides. However, it was also clear that inaction certainly isn't an option, and we at HighQ look forward to helping in-house leaders along the path to becoming a digital GC.