May 24, 2021
By Jerry LevineReading Time: 3 minutes
If there is one thing that no legal professional wants to hear as they endeavor to ‘return to normal’ from COVID-19s, it is that there will likely be another contagion — or calamity — that requires legal teams to shift their legal operations altogether. However, it is our job — as legal, risk and compliance professionals — to consistently prepare for changes in the marketplace and the rest of the world. Ask yourself, then, if you started to think seriously about legal digital transformation in preparation for that next large-scale crisis.
When the so-called ‘coronacrisis’ hit, I was the in-house general counsel (GC) for a New York City-based multinational technology company, which provides artificial intelligence, cognitive, and autonomic solutions to other global businesses. One key element in the organization’s survival was the successful adoption and implementation of an advanced, end-to-end contract management system (CMS). It did not have anything closely resembling a CMS, which prioritizes the needs of the corporate legal team, when I joined the company in 2015.
A CMS makes contracts and related documents readily accessible, no matter where you are — so long as you have internet access, of course. It allows in-house corporate attorneys to remain productive pretty much anywhere in the world, at any given time. It prevents the office-bound issues that inflict misery on companies — being perpetually stuck in manual contracting mode or using herky-jerky legal technology!
But how do legal departments and operations begin their digital transformation journey and encourage user adoption in the first place? During my time as a GC — with more than a modicum of tech savvy — I have used best practices to improve contract management processes and methodologies, increase overall productivity, and ensure business continuity during times of crisis. Here are four critical success factors:
Realizing the Legal Team’s Role
The role of legal teams in selecting, implementing, and customizing a contract management solution can never be understated. When legal is not involved in the selection and rollout, the project is most likely doomed. The importance of legal professionals embracing the solution wholeheartedly cannot be stressed enough either. If they are not comfortable using the system, the rest of the company will not be either.
Naturally, legal teams do not have to handle every single step, but they do need to have a hand in creating the company’s vision for the CMS. They can then assign others, who have proverbial ‘skin in the game,’ to handle other parts of the digital transformation project.
Valuing the Engagement Manager
Although legal teams must be invested in the decision-making around a new CMS, engagement managers’ involvement is vital as well. For the most part, engagement managers are people who can say confidently, “Here is what I want to see happening.” They show business teams how to configure what they truly want out of their new software and facilitate communications between each. It is not nearly enough for a paralegal, for example, to merely run with it as is. Companies, whether medium- or large-sized, require sound expertise and ongoing technical support. They also need users who can test — and retest — the new solution to see if it meets the business use cases.
A word of warning, though: the legal team must continue to have a stake in the project. That is because a fully configured application must work for lawyers, first and foremost, while supporting other users in sales, finance, or IT when necessary. With an effectively implemented contract management platform, basically, “you adapt to it, or it adapts to you.”
Defining CMS Needs
It is true, though, that most GCs and legal executives will say they just “don’t have the time” to define what they need at the outset of a digital transformation project. But they will end up getting “whatever works” if they do not. Accordingly, they should invest some of their time in the software selection process. After all, they will not have nearly as much of it when they have to constantly adjust the software to mirror their business processes.
The question then becomes whether GCs and legal executives should be involved in decisions around users’ experience, digital workflows, and other lovely technical details. My answer to that is, “yes — 100 percent!” Even if they do not describe themselves as a technologist, they need to help define the look and feel, capabilities, and other aspects of the CMS. They need to get to the point where there is project buy-in from stakeholders.
Alternatively, if they allow a technology vendor to do all of the above instead, they will get the kind of general practices that work across many other companies. This is perfectly fine, of course, if they ask the vendor to recommend best practices. However, general practices and vendor recommendations do not always reflect companies’ unique business processes. GCs and legal executives should be involved in communicating their wants, needs, and individual practices, accordingly.
Getting Even More Involved
In the context of selecting and implementing a CMS, ‘getting involved’ really means being an active project participant from the very beginning to the end. This significantly improves the chances that a legal digital transformation will be successful for legal and other teams. Participants’ questions for vendors should revolve around software capabilities — not only from a corporate legal perspective, but also from those of their business colleagues. Their close working relationships with customer success managers should not only be established, but also maintained.
When they are engaged fully and ask the right questions, it helps deliver the results that legal departments and operations demand and deserve.
Starting Your Legal Digital Transformation Journey
Ultimately, deploying a contract management solution makes contracting easier at just about every level. The further along you are in your legal digital transformation, the less human intervention is needed for contract assembly, review, and analysis, as well as other functions. What this translates into is increased efficiency, enhanced agility, and — better yet — improved business continuity. It prevents legal professionals from falling way behind. Say, for example, in the middle of a global pandemic.
With these implementation best practices in mind — and a powerful digital tool in hand — GCs and legal executives can begin to increase the value they bring to the table and take on some of the biggest organizational challenges, both today and in the future. They can aspire to use a framework like CLOC’s 12 core competencies for legal operations, reaching new levels of optimization and maturity.
Learn More from ContractPodAi
Do you want to find out how legal digital transformation can help you to be more flexible, both operationally and commercially? At the CLOC 2021 Global Institute, ContractPodAi was joined by Steve Rigler, Inmarsat’s Director of Contract Operations. Together, we discussed how Inmarsat went about streamlining and simplifying its day-to-day contract management.