December 5, 2022
By DocuSignPage Reading Time: 4 minutes
In a recent CLOC Ask the Experts webinar, legal operations experts from the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, Uber, NCR Corporation, and DocuSign shared why the digital transformation of contracting processes is essential for legal teams today. A modern contracting process can make your legal team more efficient, unlock scalable support for other business teams, and unearth a trove of useful data. By transforming your contracting process, you can drive efficiency and contribute real value to your organization.
Here are the three important reasons why legal departments and legal operations should modernize their approach to contracts.
- Improve efficiency while reducing risk
With increased pressure on margins and a challenging economic climate, legal is beholden to budgets more than in the past. According to Nancy Kumar, law vice president at NCR Corporation, these new constraints make driving digital transformation and continuous improvement all the more critical. By partnering with sales and members of the legal department, legal ops can improve contracting processes and save their organization significant time and money.
Sandy MacDonnell, senior manager of legal operations at DocuSign, saw this firsthand. By implementing DocuSign esignature at her former workplace, she saved the company an estimated $1 million in the first year alone. “We no longer had stacks of papers sitting around,” MacDonnell says. “Legal was no longer being that cost center.”
Just as electronic signature tools and digitization have improved efficiency for countless legal teams, so too can building integrated contract management processes across the organization. A contract lifecycle management (CLM) tool like DocuSign CLM consolidates all contracts and related data in one place, and automates key generation, approval, and signature tasks, allowing for more connected workflows.
It also makes it easy to track obligations and milestones, which can greatly reduce contract value leakage, says David Silbert, senior director of Agreement Cloud strategy at DocuSign. “Everyone works so hard to get their favorable terms into an agreement, but if you’re not actually tracking what you’re entitled to under that agreement in the real world…you’ve left dollars on the table.”
Improving contract management not only enhances efficiency but also helps legal teams reduce risk. Centralized repositories and systems lead to better security and allow you to easily find critical documents, while best contracting practices prevent recency bias or missing unfavorable terms during negotiations.
- Allow your legal team to scale
Historically, legal teams have taken a reactive stance to address problems in the contract process instead of a proactive one, entering the picture after a problem has been identified. This hinders an organization’s ability to scale, notes Dan Linna, Jr., senior lecturer, and director of law and technology initiatives at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law and McCormick School of Engineering.
“Through innovation and transformation, we really have an opportunity to shift to a prevention mindset,” says Linna, Jr. “We need to think about how we can design systems and processes to identify and prevent problems early when the cost of addressing them is lower.”
A potential solution lies in automation and data. By leveraging automation, legal can build processes that provide employees in other departments access to legal guidance, as well as self-service options like pre-approved terms and clauses. These new systems and processes are not only more efficient, freeing up time and supporting growth, but they also mitigate risk. Pre-approved terms and contract workflows, for instance, help catch non-standard terms, reducing risk exposure. Meanwhile, analytics can help identify and predict outcomes, empowering legal teams to avoid undesirable downstream consequences to poorly written contracts or unclear obligations.
- Unlock more and better data
With a digitized contract management system, legal ops can gather useful information to improve legal processes. Features like centralized storage, automation, and analytics all allow for greater insight and provide legal ops with critical data points, including contract volume, time to signature, and context on where escalations occurred.
Document generation forms, which allow your sales team to stay within Salesforce when generating agreements and other sales documents, are another key tool for gathering data. By looking at document generation templates, legal ops can gather metadata to better support their colleagues, advises Jonathan Johnson-Swagel, senior legal and business operations manager at Uber.
“When groups think intelligently, carefully, and preventatively to identify that metadata at the outset of designing the CLM product and those document generation forms, they end up with a treasure trove of valuable data,” says Johnson-Swagel. “This data can be visualized and tailored to the audience to help them identify and understand trends, highlight risks, and drive business decisions at the management level.”
Kumar adds that document generation forms also provide insight into how often people in the organization use templates. If usage is low, legal operations teams can make adjustments to better meet their needs. Ultimately, better data allows for better decision-making, from financial decisions to hiring.
For Sibert, having technology that provides structured information at scale removes the guesswork from establishing and achieving goals. Rather than answer complex questions about the use case or the business based on best practices or estimates, he can now answer them based on actual information.
“I used to have to explain to people, yes, there’s this thing called AI and it can apply to contracts,” he says. “Now we’ve moved so far past that. People are all bought in on the idea…But the key is having people and organizations think about what they want to attempt to solve for and how to get there.”
Legal ops as drivers of contract transformation
Legal ops teams are well-positioned to help their organizations design and meet goals around digital transformation of contract processes. For one, because the contracting process touches so many disciplines, legal ops works with multiple departments, making them qualified to lead and facilitate cross-organizational change.
Legal ops teams are also practiced at building relationships across the organization and understanding stakeholder needs—essential skills for launching a digital transformation initiative. Kumar suggests legal ops teams consult stakeholders throughout the process to avoid delivering a solution that doesn’t meet end users’ needs.
“As you look for types of transformational activities or process improvements, look at your end-user…and bring them along in the journey,” Kumar says. “You need to understand what their pain points are and what you’re trying to solve for.”
Another strength of legal ops teams is that they’re well-versed in tech evaluation and process improvement, both of which are important for digitizing contract management. They understand the value of an integrated platform, from centralized systems to integrating with other enterprise solutions.
Contracts impact stakeholders across the organization, from legal to sales to finance. Panel members agreed that it’s important to take initiative and not to wait for a business-critical event like a missing contract to start thinking about this technology.
“Everybody should own [this] and be at the table,” says Johnson-Swagel. “CLM is sort of the watering hole where all of the animals of the savanna come together to drink. It’s a peaceful place where we all make business efficiencies and magic happen together in the kingdom.”