We started using special legal software about five years ago. We work completely paperless and our system is based on open tech – it’s integrated into Microsoft Outlook and is basically a legal case management system.
We have increased the number of lawyers, especially younger lawyers, because we don’t need PAs anymore as a result of our completely digital workload process.
We also use contract creation software. We have about 30 templates we are using, which are compiled from boilerplate, so we only have to change the individual boilerplate and not the complete contract, which gives us standardisation.
We use this software for more complex contracts as well – things like distribution and licensing agreements. The next step will be self-service contracts for simpler contracts, giving leads back to operations, like C2C agreements, which can then be done by a self-service team rather than the legal team. So, for example, if there’s a specific clause that should be used, we are only informed that this clause should be used and we don’t need to see the complete contract anymore.
We’re using software for legal spend, and a software tool for speech recognition – Dragon Naturally Speaking. And we are now working with our next step on workflow tools – we have just recently introduced SharePoint, so we are still assessing whether we are going to use SharePoint Flows, or another tool used in our company’s legal system, which is business project management software.
What we see is that there is a trend towards digitalisation and these things are done by automatic workflows. I hope that email correspondence will be replaced with things like assignments, so it’s no longer unilateral but bilateral that you agree what you should work on.
Keeping the team agile
We have just changed from a departmental structure to a new task-based team structure. In my department, I used to have a compliance department, a patent department and a legal department. I just scrapped the departmental structure and organised into teams.
The new structure gives team members more flexibility, and we are using new agile working methods such as Scrum. It gives more freedoms to the individual, and more responsibility as well. It goes away from the typical hierarchical structure to more self-organised working. It’s not enough to change the work or the way you use digital, you probably also need to change your departmental structure to agile methods because new IT is basically about agile.
In terms of team structure, we have a lean manager here in our legal department and I also want to create a digital legal officer. The legal profession is about five years behind usual business standards – we are not used to processes and other things that are common practice in other departments. In order to be on the same level, we need to advance in legal services. The typical handmade agreement would still be relevant, but the new role of the lawyer is more likely a legal process designer to some extent. The normal functions like fire fighting, corporate governance and compliance will still be in existence, but I would estimate that the typical contract work is going to reduce over the next five years, and be replaced by digital data processes including bots asking and answering questions – because there are already those tools available. This can be – at least for some legal work – disruptive change, and that’s why we concentrate on this: to be competitive in the future. We want to provide services that are still asked for by the company. But this will create and maintain jobs, and may even create future jobs, because it’s not just legal advising anymore – we are part of the process and the value chain.
A digital legal officer probably will not code or programme like an IT programmer, but they will compile software tools with intelligent applications. There are already tools available on the market that allow, on a high level, programming – this can be done by the individual, taking it from IT, which is too slow. We need incremental changes, not wholesale changes every three years or so.
We need to have lawyers who have some affinity to IT to specialise also in IT processes, so some of my lawyers need to be able to at least configure software if not even programme software. I personally can programme – I have learned it. To find lawyers who have affinity to IT is not easy, but we are looking for these skills nowadays when we are hiring lawyers.
Technology that works for us
I’ve been doing this for almost 30 years. When I started, computers had just started and all of the work was paper-based. The communication channels were yellow post, the telephone and maybe some rudimentary email function. Then, things evolved to the point that even a lawyer was the slave of the computer. And what I see coming, and I hope to be coming, is that computers will work for us and not us working for the computers anymore. I hate to see people sitting before a desktop all day and using email chat as the only source of communication. This is not effective, it is not efficient and it needs to change.
The challenge of employing technology is internationalisation. I have 27 legal departments worldwide, and to introduce such tools into smaller legal departments is a challenge. Is the internet speedy enough to train people to adapt technology to local needs, for example? There are legal challenges like attorney client privilege, e-discovery and, of course, EU data privacy.
The main future technology trend, I would think, should be smart contracts. Intelligent, smart contract creation and tools that help us for that purpose, in order to get rid of this standard work.
Another is effective communication. Even Skype for Business and other tools do not really replace personal communication. Often internet bandwidth is not good enough, the quality of the picture is not good enough, so there’s quite a lot which needs to develop in order to replace personal communication and save travel time.
That’s a learning curve in and of itself: replacing personal meetings with virtual meetings. It’s easy to say, but difficult to do. I just tried to have a conference of my main lawyers worldwide, through time zone differences of 12 hours, with five continents and 12 participants. It was almost impossible to have a discussion.
The third one is knowledge management – I think knowledge management, with AI and so on, will change. Typical features in a search function will be replaced – ten years ago, you were looking into books, now the first way to look is to search Google – but this will be more intelligent.
Asking the right questions
In terms of technological innovation, I don’t see the support from the law firms. Everything they offer is to increase their business and not to increase mine. That’s not enough anymore – they need to make my work easier, and not the other way around. This is a typical situation: I have an M&A deal and I am asked to use the law firm’s data room, and adapt to their way of thinking. They are still exchanging emails. So with everything I do, I have to adapt to their system. I am not interested anymore. It’s time consuming. As with many other service providers, they should look at how they give me added value with their offerings – seeing what I need and trying to offer a tailor-made solution for my purpose. They never even ask the question.