What should the role of technology be in Legal Operations? How can it meet the needs of both legal professionals and the wider business? Apperio had the pleasure of speaking to Keruschka Shunmugam, Legal Operations Manager at Trainline.
Trainline is Europe’s leading train and coach app. Representing hundreds of travel organisations across the continent, Trainline’s contractual load is high. Committed to easing the burden is Keruschka Shunmugam, a paralegal and Trainline’s Legal Operations Manager.
“I have always had an interest in legal tech”, she says. “Even before I joined Trainline, I would go to legal tech conferences throughout Europe. And one of the pieces of work I was hired to achieve at Trainline was to terminate an old contract management system that didn’t meet their needs anymore, and to create processes for how we could manage that afterwards.”
Key here are processes: Shunmugam is not an advocate of technology for its own sake. “I’m interested in making things efficient, because as a paralegal I get a lot of time-consuming tasks. So I’m always looking for ways to develop a process to speed it up. I’m all about how can we cut effort and work in a more efficient way without losing quality. But when I sense a problem, it’s not my first instinct to implement a tech solution. Tech is a secondary part of the Legal Ops role. Legal Ops is about building processes, whether they be manual or automated, and technology feeds into that. The key is creating more agile workflows in your team and then finding the solutions to help you.”
Understanding activity, what Shunmugam calls “the problems you’re trying to fix”, ensures that technologies actually deliver operational value and their deployment considers the needs of users. “If you can’t fix the problem manually, then you have to articulate what it is that you’re trying to fix before you look for a technology solution. So, for instance with Apperio, we knew that we were unable to track our external legal spend. When you know what your problem is, you can interrogate suppliers to a really granular degree. They have to understand what your pain points are.” Shunmugam is rigorous in this respect: “At the moment, we’re looking for an AI solution to make our contract reviews less of an administrative task. I’ve already discounted more than 10 LegalTech AI suppliers – working for a tech company, you quickly understand what great solutions look like.
On the user-side, “you have to bring teams – legal or not – along with you on the journey. With Jira, for example, lawyers are often used to manual processes – checking off to-do lists and such, but when they see that the rest of the company operates differently, it’s a convincing argument. With Apperio, we had to show the value to our law firms. Often, it was the first time anyone had requested that sort of transparency, but you have to demonstrate value. ”
“There is this perception that people in the legal industry are stuck in the mud, but that’s not the case. We’re trained to be risk-averse. So I have to alleviate those concerns. I consult constantly across the company. What are their concerns, what would their preferences be, what are the pain points in a manual process that maybe I can alleviate?”
Equally, persuasion is no substitute for discipline and risk mitigation. Shunmugam’s deployment process is rigorous: “I always run a trial within our team, to see what their pain points are and what their feedback is. Then we trial with a non-legal test team and again collate qualitative feedback. Only then do we roll it out to the wider business. We’ve done it this way for all of our different solutions and processes.”
And Trainline is well placed to pioneer legal tech. “It’s a tech company, so most of our suppliers are cloud suppliers and, of course, we have the advantage of an in-house security team”, Shunmugam says. “So when we are bringing on any supplier, we have a procurement process; and before we even get to the contracting stage, it will undergo a security review. Otherwise I won’t even look at it. If you don’t meet specific thresholds, the security team will just not accept it.”
That will satisfy the worries of most legal minds over cloud services, but the security benchmark is only the start of Shunmugam’s specification for useful technologies. She has three key criteria:
Scalability: “Trainline is internationalising fairly fast. I want a solution that will scale up as we continue to scale up.”
Cost: “Obviously we work in-house, and in general, legal is seen as a cost centre in any business. So I don’t want to implement a system that will just add to that reputation that we have somehow managed to get.”
Customisation: “Every in-house team works differently and every company works differently. So we need a solution where we are able to feed into it and create something a little bit more bespoke. Apperio has been great at doing that; they have been creating and feeding back ideas that really help us in terms of efficiencies.”
Today, Shunmugam is on the brink of completing the rollout of a contract automation system across the whole business, similarly completing the deployment of Apperio, and bringing the Legal team onto Jira for task management (and so aligning it with the rest of the company). She is building an AI chatbot which feeds into Slack, the integrated virtual workspace tool, so that contact with the legal team can be logged, triaged and – in the case of quick answers – completely automated. The “problem she’s trying to fix” here is ambitious, yet simple: “I want to cut out the bottom 20% of legal work”.
The legal business, in-house or in firms, is being disrupted by technology in the same way as every other profession. Most commentators agree that far from taking away jobs, automation will allow legal professionals to concentrate on more useful, strategic and high-value effort. As a process specialist, Shunmugam’s advice for Legal Ops Managers is simple; to focus on: