Software solutions for in-house legal teams

Sam Greatorex shares his experience of finding software solutions to help his team deal with key pressures.

First, a confession: I have only recently joined the in-house profession following a long time working in the technologically supportive environment of a large international private practice firm.

I had the luxury of a dedicated IT team supporting the fee earners. I witnessed huge investment in sophisticated automation tools, ERP systems, process mapping and document management systems. Notwithstanding this significant investment and support, it was commonplace for fee earners (including me) to complain about ‘IT’ - why were the systems and software not better or more accurate or a bit more user friendly? When I look back, the phrase ‘I didn’t know I was born’ comes to mind.

Things are different in-house

Since making the move in-house, I have come to fully appreciate not just the breadth and volume of demands on in-house legal teams, but also the reality that we are not a core consideration when the business procures technology. This is understandable. The demands of a legal team are unique and our technology needs are not the same as the more general technology and software, which is the mainstay of the business.

While the needs of the in-house legal team may not be core to the IT procurement strategy of the business, we should not underestimate the potential benefit that technology can have on our ability to deliver against strategy, regulatory demands and the business’ objectives.

In-house teams should also not assume that not being core to IT procurement means that IT is not available. My experience is simply that it means that you need to be more active in investigating what is available, its benefits, and making the business case for its trial or adoption.

Yes, this does mean more of your time and effort, but if enough ‘bandwidth’ is made to investigate and procure technology it can have great long term benefits. By driving your own procurement it also means that you have the opportunity to be ‘hands on’ in testing and investigating the solution, rather than simply being delivered one chosen by someone who may not understand what is really important. Ultimately, if it doesn’t work, you only have yourself to blame.

Dealing with key pressures

Increasingly, in-house legal teams are faced with four key pressures:

  • how to do more with less (or for less);
  • how to do what they do more quickly;
  • how to manage risk more effectively; and
  • how to better record and demonstrate value.

The following are five examples of technology and software which I have found helped our team to meet these pressures.

1. E-manuscript

The ability to ‘write’ directly onto a digital document provides the ability to mark-up and quickly share with either other members of the team or word processing support (if you are lucky enough to have such a thing). It also allows manuscript notes to be stored in central data banks. E-manuscript probably means investment in a tablet and appropriate software. Some tablets come with this type of application and if you do not get on with those, there are low cost alternatives. A good stylus is required and I have found that experimenting with a number may be necessary. Sadly, I have found that the handwriting to text translation software is not yet able to deal with my spider scrawl.

2. Digital dictation

Whilst my experience of digital dictation software in the past has been mixed, it is a technology that is approaching maturity. I doubt it will ever match the skills of an experienced human translator, but where time is invested in ‘training the resource’ (and yourself) it can deliver a high level of accuracy and speed.

3. Time recording

Increasingly there is a need to more accurately record work carried out on a matter or for a part of the business. This is especially important where costs are recharged. Low cost cloud- based time recording applications can provide a very effective solution by automatically aggregating data and giving great insight into team performance. However, care must be taken when using a cloud solution to ensure robust confidentiality and data security practices.

4. Document management

Smart document management can make a real difference to the ability to access existing resources. Most businesses are now able to set up and use remote document management so that resources are available outside of the office via the internet.

5. Process automation

This is an area that can be transformational where multiple repeat work requests are received. Some commonly used word processing software has the ability to set up structures allowing auto population of multiple documents. These are a bit ‘clunky’ but can save hours of time.

While technology can often feel like a confusing distraction from the day job, if it works well it can make a great difference and contribute significantly to a successful in-house legal team.

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