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The Promise of Robotics in Legal Operations

July 2019 |
Brett Li, Head of Product Marketing, Tonkean

Robotic automation is exploding. In fact, Gartner predicts that the market size of robotics process automation (RPA) alone is projected to reach $1.3B by the end of 2019. And that’s just a single slice of the larger robotic automation pie. The concept of robotics is no longer limited to assembly lines in manufacturing, it is an overall technological approach that can have game changing impact for all workers in all industries.

However, while there is palpable momentum for robotics, its adoption is still relatively nascent in legal operations, and for good reason. Today, most software robotics technology is focused on recording user actions and building task-based bots that perform repetitive tasks like data entry. While these bots can automate individual tasks, they don’t have significant impact on processes as a whole, which require more advanced logic.

More importantly, the legal profession is an inherently human practice, which relies on the critical, strategic, and empathetic thinking from people. The common negative perception of robots replacing humans, leads to a machine vs. humans line of thinking, which for legal, is inherently impossible.

The future of software robotics

In reality, the future software robot, or bot, is neither “dumb” nor out to replace people. Rather, the next wave of software robotics will be human-centric. Human-centric bots can intelligently augment what people do by offloading routine, mundane, or tedious processes. They will also know how to actually work with people, instead of separate or in-lieu of people. By doing so, bots can help people focus on more meaningful work that bring higher value and fulfillment.

By keeping humans-in-the-loop, these bots can automate and coordinate complete processes and that has the potential to bring immense benefit to legal operations.

What are potential areas for robotics to benefit legal operations?

The best way to understand potential areas of benefit for legal ops is to think about two types of processes: intake and coordination.

Intake – Intake processes are ones where the legal team needs to handle high volumes of incoming requests or items. These processes frequently involve receiving, triaging, and routing requests from multiple sources. Examples of intake processes are legal service requests or legal matter intake. Today, legal teams have looked to streamline intake processes by creating form-based automated workflows for certain types of requests, like NDAs, SOWs, or other contracts. However, getting people to learn how to find and use new forms typically requires extensive training and change management throughout the organization.

Bots that are human-aware have the potential to streamline intake processes by plugging in to the existing organizational environment and automating tasks or coordinating with people behind the scenes. For example, a legal intake bot could be introduced to monitor various intake sources like emails, forms, systems, and even chat. The bot can then understand the incoming requests and automatically triage each request based on defined business rules, automatically responding to routine requests and routing higher risk or more complex requests to the right person on the legal team.

Coordination – Coordination processes are ones that involve managing items through multiple touchpoints with people or systems. These processes frequently involve following-up and maintaining statuses of items to ensure nothing falls through the cracks. Examples of coordination processes are legal approvals or legal holds. The main challenge with coordination processes is ensuring the proper follow-up with people to get them to take the necessary action, such as an approval or status update, in a timely manner. These follow-up tasks are mostly handled via manual emails or outreach today, which can lead to overhead and lengthy delays.

Human-centric bots have the potential to streamline coordination processes by acting as a “virtual coordinator” who proactively reaches out to people and actively monitors systems to ensure that necessary actions are being taken. An additional benefit of bots is that they have the ability to learn behavior. In cases of people coordination, bots can learn people’s habits such as what time certain individuals have a higher response rate and what platform (i.e. email or chat) people tend to spend more time in. Based on this, bots can then reach out to each individual where they’re most likely to respond, thus reducing delays in processes due to inaction by people.

The unique potential of robotics in legal operations

The fact that human-centric robotic automation software can plug into existing legal processes and technologies behind the scenes while interfacing with systems and people provides unique potential benefits:

  • No change management
    One of the top challenges to legal operations teams is convincing and training your legal team or business customers to adopt new technology or change behavior. Unlike workflow automation solutions that exist today, rather than automating processes by introducing a new “front door” like a digital request form, bots can plug-in directly to existing systems and communication channels to create efficiencies without long and costly change management processes.

  • Start small and iterate
    The additional benefit of not introducing brand new systems or interfaces, which requires learned behavior, is that bots can be introduced incrementally. This way, users can begin to realize benefits in days, not months or years. This also allows legal operations teams to mitigate risk by deploying bots on processes that are low risk and high value and then build on success over time.

  • Reduce barriers to change
    The pace of change for enterprises is faster than ever before, and it will never be slower than it is today. Bots can give legal operations teams the flexibility they need to improve processes regardless of their existing technology environment. This allows legal operations to better respond to shifting business demands and ultimately become better business partners.

The new normal for legal operations

In the future, the new normal for organizations will be a blended workforce where bots are used to augment full time employees who can then maximize their time performing strategic, creative, and human-centric initiatives. Robotic automation can remove the limitations of today’s systems and technology, which require people to perform mundane procedural tasks to satisfy the needs of the business. Additionally, by applying the right kind of robotic automation legal operations teams can have the flexibility to take a people-first approach to process design, which first starts with answering, “What’s the best experience for my people?” and not “What functionality does my system support?” By doing so, legal operations can best accentuate the value their legal team provides to the rest of the business.

About Tonkean
Tonkean is an augmented robotics process automation platform for legal operations to empower their legal teams by automating work and coordinating people. To learn more about Tonkean, please visit www.tonkean.com/usecases/legal.