Recently, BCLP hosted an informative round table discussion with panellists Michael Mills and Richard Seabrook of Neota Logic alongside Catherine Bamford of BamLegal. Use cases, opportunities and best practices for enabling legal self-service in an enterprise environment were discussed with an audience of corporate legal and compliance professionals. Here are some of the most interesting takeaways:
Doing more with less
Increasing trends show that in-house legal departments are expected to deliver higher service levels to their organisations with greater response times, with fewer resources. To help balance these pressures, legal departments are exploring self-serve technologies for their business users’ legal queries and contracts.
Self-service tools, when used correctly, can help level the playing field by providing the business with a more efficient service at a lower cost. Anyone, regardless of their position in the business, should be able to complete the process using these tools.
Where to begin?
Before looking into the various self-service tools available, organisations should undergo a research phase into the frequency and type of questions they are being asked over time. Often, they will be surprised to learn that most questions they are asked will be the same. Albeit different variations of the same questions by product line but, essentially, needing the same answer. Once trends have been discovered it’s time to start thinking about where to implement these tools.
It’s important to note that not all legal tasks should be automated. There’s a ‘sweet spot’ for frequent and low-risk tasks. Legal departments should look through their portfolio to identify what these could be and how they can address these issues with self-service.
(Image: adapted from Lucy Bassli, InnoLegal)
As shown in the diagram, the ideal outcome is the high-frequency, low-risk legal tasks to be automated at the bottom. As the complexity and risk increases, so should the involvement of the in-house legal team and external sources, all being managed by the GC at the very top.
By applying this model, businesses don’t compromise on the quality of advice or outcome and the whole process becomes far more efficient and less risky for the legal department and their business.
How does it work?
Most self-service applications use rules to carry out tasks, often based on decision trees with flowcharts of questions. The answer determines which branch is followed until a conclusion is made.
Vendors will be led by the legal team on the flow of this decision tree. These tools are largely used for giving advice or drafting documents that enable the business to perform legal tasks themselves, in a structured way. The in-house legal team know when and how the business is using the application and can ensure they are proactively alerted to intervene by adding this to the workflow. For example, if different payment terms need to be negotiated in a contract.
One of the hidden benefits these tools actually give you is data into some powerful insights and trends that can help improve the whole business as a whole. For example, with an employment law self-service tool once you see how people are using it you might want to change the way you are educating employees.
Build or Buy?
Once the system is set up, with an intuitive UI, it should be straightforward for employees to use. That’s not to say that it doesn’t take time to configure. It will require a certain level of investment from your legal team in supplying their knowledge and understanding processes.
The length of time it takes to set up can vary depending on the scale of information and type of area you are looking to use it.
The advice from our panellists was to start small and ask your law firms for help. They will often be able to help you build these tools, especially around the area of compliance, where business meets legal. Select the law firm based on their expertise around the area you want to automate.
The important thing to note here is you’re not looking to turn lawyers into programmers but they can help you build an advice-based service that helps you remain compliant.
What are you losing?
There’s often concern that introducing automation platforms will hinder the training of the junior lawyer as many of the tasks they do in order to train for their role will become automated. Our panellists and audience suggested that not only would they be able to focus on higher value work, such as negotiation and more bespoke marking up, but train differently altogether.
Junior Lawyers can be trained by helping set up the self-service application, having a thorough understanding of the workflow and learning why asking certain questions is important.
Training Junior Lawyers on where you want the business to go instead of sticking to the way things have always been done can only be a good move.
This should satisfy the worries of most legal minds over self-service. There’s certainly plenty of opportunities to lawyer the ‘unlawyered’ and do more with less. The important thing to stress here is to start small – phase then improve and ensure you use flexible tools that will enable you to do so. Don’t forget, law firms are always there to help.