This article appeared in Cybersecurity Law & Strategy, an ALM publication for privacy and security professionals, Chief Information Security Officers, Chief Information Officers, Chief Technology Officers, Corporate Counsel, Internet and Tech Practitioners, In-House Counsel. It was written by Rebecca Yoder who is global partner solutions director at SpringCM (a DocuSign company).
Relying on legacy tools in rudimentary word processing and manual editing prevents legal teams from reaching their full potential, especially when they have cutting-edge solutions at their fingertips. Artificial intelligence and automation are creeping into the workplace of every industry, bringing the added benefits of efficiency and security. As more organizations implement AI solutions across their departments, businesses still relying on outdated, manual processes will fall behind.
Legal departments ranked AI solutions last for their technology needs, according to a survey by HBR Consulting—a surprising finding considering the plethora of administrative tasks legal teams handle, like document editing, work tracking and routing. A recent report by SpringCM found legal is the primary department involved in contracts for 59% of businesses. If other departments use AI to address inefficiencies that take time away from other projects, why are legal teams ignoring the potential of artificial intelligence to transform the contracting process?
While other industries have embraced digital transformation, the legal industry’s adherence to tradition has delayed the adoption of new technologies. But relying on legacy tools in rudimentary word processing and manual editing prevents legal teams from reaching their full potential, especially when they have cutting-edge solutions at their fingertips.
Why Legal Departments Need Automation
As legal departments face stricter industry regulations and tighter bandwidth, their workloads increase, creating pressure to balance business-critical tasks with tedious, routine operations. A core responsibility of law departments is to manage clients’ contractual obligations, and if that process is not optimally performed, it can lead to a few problems.
Vulnerability to Security Breaches: When workers physically pass documents back-and-forth or share contracts via email, it’s easy for a file to fall into the wrong hands. SpringCM found that human error regularly impacts contract management processes, with 34% of organizations using email as the primary tool for sharing contracts. Automating the process guarantees legal teams handle documents securely and confidential information isn’t compromised, preventing penalties and fines from regulators that could damage business growth.
Lapses in Accuracy: In addition to the security risks that come with a manual contract management process, sharing multiple versions of one document creates inconsistencies. In-house counsel can overlook a crucial addition or omission to the contract, or use an outdated version to close a deal. An automated process routes the document through an organized workflow, ensuring that the most recent, clean version of a contract is the only existing file in rotation with any changes clearly tracked.
Drain on Productivity: Not only does automation avoid breached or misinterpreted information, but it also speeds up the contract lifecycle. Instead of documents sitting in clogged inboxes or on top of crowded desks for weeks, when changes are made or contracts are signed, the file is automatically updated and routed to the next step in the process. By expediting this system, businesses can close more deals, move projects through the process faster and save costs by making up for lost time, directly benefiting corporate revenue.
Although legal departments hesitate to implement AI and automation tools, they should consider the challenges these solutions help solve. Replacing outdated processes with modern technology can transform the repetitive tasks businesses require legal teams to handle and allow more time for critical thinking projects. However, like any new, unknown technology, the intended solutions could halt business processes if not implemented correctly.
How Legal Departments Should Implement Automated Processes
Many legal teams don’t know where to begin in the adoption of AI solutions. But identifying the tools best suited for the specific needs of the company and following the suggestions below will provide a smooth transition and avoid stalled operations.
Take It Step-By-Step: Although big AI projects draw attention, like Watson’s ROSS, “the world’s first intelligent attorney,” legal teams should start small. Attempting to automate every mundane and repetitive task right off the bat is an overwhelming undertaking, and legal departments could end up wasting resources on solutions that don’t benefit the bottom line. As organizational structure often siloes legal teams from the IT department, they need to break down those communication barriers and work with their IT team to evaluate tech needs with a top-to-bottom assessment.
Addressing low-hanging fruit is a simple way to implement automation one step at a time. Every department has tedious, low-risk tasks that sap time and energy — these are the optimal processes to automate. Targeting non-invasive, small-scale projects allows employees to adapt to the changes and gain comfort with the technology.
Many workers dread having to learn new processes, so easing them into new ventures will ensure employees use tools to their full capacity. As managers introduce these processes, legal departments should have members regularly assess the solutions to guide upper management on their exact needs. Continuous feedback from employees who will benefit from the automation tools helps determine the success or pitfalls of the implemented solutions.
Getting Leadership Buy-In: Automating a process in the legal department is meant to free up bandwidth and provide employees with more time to work on challenging projects. But these solutions are useless without the support of the full team. The most efficient tool will disrupt the workplace if the workers using it aren’t onboard, wasting resources and amplifying the problems it set out to solve.
Business leaders need to anticipate the questions and concerns of the legal department when implementing a new solution. They should be able to answer questions like, “What are the department’s priorities that justify the change in processes?” and “What capabilities does the solution provide?” Fully communicating the journey and vision of the technology will help team members better understand the value of automation. Executives should create a customized communication plan and training strategy that addresses concerns directly to reduce any hesitation or restraint from employees.
Automation is changing how organizations do business, and legal teams in particular have much to gain if business leaders introduce solutions strategically. The right implementation plan can eliminate monotonous tasks that waste time, money and resources, allowing legal departments to dedicate more energy to business-critical challenges and big picture projects.