In-house

Which? way to go? A matter management case study

This case study by Ben Weinberger and Mehraah Morgan at Which? details the workings behind a large-scale project which will provide a working example for all in-house lawyers looking to make changes in their workplace.

In and among the plethora of sales pitches and vendor hyperbole, legal teams struggling with their technology are feeling the pressure to innovate.

We needed a refresh. This is our experience and what we’ve learned.

In 2020, we led a successful cross-organisational project to review our contract and matter management.

Our aim was to improve operational efficiency, to deliver a better user experience for both the legal team and our business colleagues, and to improve organisational controls and reduce risks.

We were looking for ways to free up our lawyers’ time and enable them to focus where they added the most value.

We were keen to improve the way we delivered our legal advice and support, to make the complex simple.

We also wanted to empower our colleagues to do more quickly, in line with our team vision. And we needed to mitigate risks by ensuring critical content, such as contracts, were easy to locate and properly managed.

With these goals in mind, we developed a project plan and objectives, and turned first to our policies and processes.

Process and policies first

Had it only been about the technology, our project probably wouldn’t have achieved the results we needed.

Lawyers in the team had been through similar projects elsewhere; they had learned that the best approach involves people, process, and technology.

People are key to the process, and automating a poor process rarely improves it. We already had good working relationships with the business, so engaging them early in the discussion helped us understand their needs and pain points, and identify which changes would have the most impact.

We mapped out key organisational processes for onboarding suppliers and managing contracts. This revealed opportunities to simplify and streamline what we were doing through workflow adjustments and policy changes.

We worked with key stakeholders, including finance, procurement, and commercial colleagues, to ensure alignment. As a result, when changes were eventually introduced, we already had buy-in.

Together, we redesigned our supplier onboarding and contract management processes, clarifying responsibilities and authorities, and creating a risk-based approach to reduce friction for low-risk deals. We created flowcharts and guidance to support the business.

We also reviewed our team processes for managing legal matters – from intake, allocation, collaboration, and sharing, right through to closing.

This confirmed that, in our then-current state of maturity, we were primarily hindered by a lack of appropriate tools and data. Without metrics, we couldn’t gauge efficiency or easily demonstrate our value to the organisation.

We knew that policy and procedure changes would achieve improvements, but that we could use technology to make things quicker and easier, to embed and support the processes, and to maintain an audit trail.

Adjusting process first, before adding technology, was vital to ensure the technology selected was the most appropriate.

System selection – do we really need one tool to do it all?

“Matter management” in legal is a broad concept, and a plethora of systems exist.

Many have features and functions that we’d never use – another reason not to leap to technology.

Following a methodical approach, we established a clear requirements list, with ‘must haves’ and ‘nice to haves’, before looking at systems. We focused on automation, centralised content repository, and usability.

As our organisation has been moving to more agile ways of working, we too were keen to apply a similar approach – get the core system in place, demonstrate its value, then look for further, continuous, incremental improvements.

This approach helped us accelerate implementation and led us to select a more modular system with the ability to be extended.

Interoperability with existing systems was a core factor.

We demoed multiple platforms; as a migration to Microsoft 365 was part of the organisation’s enterprise technology strategy, we eventually selected a cost-effective solution built on 365 which met all our ‘must have’ requirements. We saw the opportunity to add value to what we already owned.

Rather than place content in yet another new repository, we could store all our contracts and matter files in the Microsoft cloud, alongside other business content; this would simplify its management by our technology, security, and governance teams, which helped us achieve buy-in from our stakeholders.

Implementation – a clear plan and the right resource

Because we started by updating policies and procedures, we had already completed a full review and redesign of our workflow.

We had mapped out exactly what the current process was and understood where we wanted to go. We had created a robust set of requirements and were able to specify and identify what we wanted and needed from a solution.

We had dedicated legal ops resource within our team who were able to ensure more focus and faster progress on system delivery without worrying about the daily distractions of business-as-usual legal work.

Thanks to our previous efforts, this phase of the project took less than a couple of months.

Working with our chosen vendor, we created a portal – a simple SharePoint site – to serve as the entry point for all requests for legal support from the business as well as the location for current and future self-serve capabilities.

We carried out extensive user acceptance testing throughout this phase. The team of testers included both lawyers and business users who helped us to refine the system.

We launched the new portal and system last year with a series of communications and training sessions tailored for business users and the legal team.

Results

In the short time since launch, the portal and new system have already revolutionised the interaction between the business and the legal team by:

  • digitising the process and capturing crucial information
  • providing the business with visibility of their matter status and useful notifications such as contract renewal dates, and
  • enabling reporting to senior management that is supported by easily accessible data

Approximately 40% of all contracts are now generated directly by business users via the self-serve document automation feature, expediting their deals and freeing-up the legal team to focus on other matters.

The system also enables contracts to be signed electronically by authorised signatories with automatic filing, ensuring compliance with internal policies and record keeping.

For the legal team, the system is integrated into Outlook, enabling lawyers to easily manage their matters, instructions, correspondence, and documents, all from one place.

They can now share and collaborate on matters regardless of where they are, and work can be quickly re-allocated when needed. Legal managers also have better oversight of the team’s matters, resource allocation, and capacity.

Whilst we already have seen significant improvements in our interactions with the business and across our own team, we also have identified further areas for expansion of the system’s use.

Much as we had specific goals for this project, we really only thought of it as our first big step.

We knew the self-serve contract capability would prove popular, but we didn’t realise how popular – we now plan to automate more templates, and the business is anxious to have them.

For our own benefit, we recognise the need to adjust the data we’re collecting so that we can further refine and improve the management reports and MI dashboards we produce. We’re even exploring how we can integrate it further with other Which? systems.

Our plan remains to focus on continuous improvements, innovating to efficiently and effectively deliver what the organisation needs.

Maximise your Law Society membership with My LS