7 lessons from a legal innovation project by the Financial Services giant Royal London
A pair of recent reports demonstrate that without proper planning, the procurement of legal tech can leave an organization stuck between a rock and a hard place. For example, some organizations wind up buying tools their team doesn’t like using, or simply won’t use at all.
A survey by Dashboard Legal found that “lawyers are generally unhappy with the technology tools available to them,” according to reporting by Legaltech News. More than half (60%) of the lawyers surveyed were dissatisfied with the software on hand to help them do their job.
One reason for the dissatisfaction may be that current software products are outdated. “Despite the growing number of legal tech tools on the market, many attorneys are not using relatively new tools,” according to the report.
Effects of failed legal tech implementations
Be that as it may, the solution isn’t to run out and buy new tools. That’s what the findings from a survey by Contract Works suggest. This is because a failed tech implementation is even worse and can have lasting effects.
The findings show this isn’t an isolated incident. More than three-quarters (77%) of in-house lawyers surveyed said they had experienced failed technology projects.
There are several reasons why this happens. The “most common factors contributing to the failure are - lengthy processes (38%), overcomplicated solutions (36%) and technology unfit for their actual needs (33%).”
What of those lasting effects? An article on the study by Corporate Counsel summed up the impact neatly:
“Nearly 30% of the survey participants said their tech troubles made them question whether their employer really knew what was best for the business, while 27% said the experience hurt their self-confidence and made them consider leaving their jobs.
Not only that, but 25% said the situation made them resent their jobs, 24% said it prevented them from doing their jobs properly, 23% reported that they’d left a job because of a bad tech experience and 21% said tech snafus divide in-house teams."
Merely pushing a tool through procurement and forcing it on a team isn’t likely to lead to success either. A whopping 90% of respondents said they “struggle” with the “technology solutions implemented by their employers”.
Tried and true tips for legal tech projects
It’s amid this context that a recent article in The Docket by the ACC – How Royal London’s Legal Operations Team Used a Data-Led Approach to Improve Decision Making – is instructive. It describes a data-led legal innovation project by the UK’s largest mutual insurance company, that included the successful implementation of multiple legal tech tools.
It's packed full of lessons that show the steps to success begin long before procuring a tool and, when done right, will endure long after a software product has been implemented. Here are a few of the lessons that stood out for us.
1. Begin with a well-defined problem.
As is the case with many in-house legal teams, “Royal London would undertake certain activities in-house and send other matters to external legal service providers.” However, “these decisions were largely unstructured, based on precedent, and difficult to justify”.
This made the focus of the project clear: review and improve the decision-making process for keeping work in-house or sending it to law firms and alternative legal service providers.
2. Empower the right people.
Improving a process requires change management, so it takes a special person with the ability to gain consensus across an in-house team of 26, including 17 lawyers. The GC, Fergus Speight, chose Jenny Hacker who leads the legal operations team. As the article suggests, she had both the mandate and skillset to work collaboratively across the department to make things happen.
It's worth mentioning here, that research shows most legal departments in financial services (85%) have someone charged with innovation.
3. Collect data to make the case.
Jenny and her team started by collecting data. Sure, they had hunches too, but the primary way they evaluated what was happening, and made the case for the next steps, was by examining the numbers.
Sometimes legal innovation projects can produce data sets that become unwieldy if a team tries to tackle too much at once. Royal London was careful to hone in on a specific legal practice area that allowed them to be thorough with data collection.
4. Gain buy-in from the team.
Much of the traditional advice for developing a business case suggests obtaining leadership buy-in. No doubt that’s important, but just as important is gaining consensus from the team members that will feel the effects.
The article notes the legal operations team had a stutter step here with the lawyers initially. This caused them to change their approach – specifically the way they spoke about the project – to address the lawyers’ pain points so that the team could then see how the project would benefit them too. “The lawyers could see that capturing and analyzing data was useful and could lead to the reduction of low-value work, improving their day-to-day jobs.”
5. Build on the success of small wins.
This is a classic tip for projects initiated in large organizations – and it works:
“One of the first issues tackled was non-disclosure agreements (NDAs). The team identified that the volume and repeatable nature of NDAs was impacting capacity and that improving this would benefit everyone – increasing buy-in for future initiatives.”
Among those future initiatives was a decision matrix for sourcing all legal work flowing through the department. More importantly, that decision matrix was “linked to the overall company’s risk management framework and overlaid with a legal complexity rating.”
6. Start using simple tools and then evolve.
It’s here that we finally get to legal technology. Royal London made do with spreadsheets for a while. Eventually the needs “grew beyond the faculties of a spreadsheet” and now the “legal team operates within a fully-fledged ecosystem” comprised of technologies that include:
- “A legal front door portal, matter and document management software, which includes time-recording, triage and work allocation functionality developed by Repstor (since acquired by Intapp).”
- “Legal spend management software provided by Apperio.”
- “Contract management and signing software, implemented in collaboration with colleagues in procurement and finance provided by GEP (their SMART product) and DocuSign.”
This is an important point because the time they spent in spreadsheets allowed them to think through the possible use cases and define the requirements they’d want in a modern technology stack. When they were ready to procure technology, they had already identified specific needs.
7. Deliver continuous improvement.
While transformative projects like this one have milestones, they often don’t have a finish line. Each milestone, however, can be carried forward to future benefits:
“These initiatives have enabled Royal London to use data to drive improved and proactive decision-making. It has led to the legal operations team facilitating material cost savings, with a proportion re-invested in further legal technology.
Nested within larger business goals
One of the underlying themes throughout this story from Royal London is the focus on the bigger picture. The entire purpose of the legal innovation project was nested within the larger goals of the overall business. Ideally, the legal department is an enabler of business. When it is aligned with the business goals in this way, legal innovation projects and tech tools to support the in-house team will naturally follow suit.
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Be sure to read the full article in The Docket and check out this podcast interview with Jenny where she discusses the maturation of legal operations, and offers advice for legal leaders looking to build out these teams.
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