Most of our software is built in-house and customised for the legal team’s own use. Using home-grown software has two main advantages. It is obviously much cheaper, and developing our own in-house software means that we can hedge on business costs as opposed to getting them signed off for external technology.
Perhaps a bigger advantage is that internally developed technology can be customised to match systems we are already familiar with. That will ensure other business units can seamlessly work with the platform. Working with customised software is much more intuitive and user-friendly. When you take on technology from external sources there is always going to be a process of learning and testing.
Working with external providers also means the legal team loses some degree of control over the software. For example, a significant provider of due diligence software once decided to shut down its operations in Singapore. We lost access to the whole system and had to suddenly find an alternative provider. This was a major exercise, and it meant we had to get used to the intricacies of a new system at short notice. That is the disadvantage of external providers. You simply cannot pre-empt or control what they are going to do, and even things like maintenance or updates are out of your control.
In a previous role I worked at a public body in Singapore that concerned itself with science and technology, including in AI and other blue-sky technologies. Protecting intellectual property was a huge aspect of that work, and it has taught me that IP is critically important when it comes to developing legal tech. I believe that, especially for bigger companies, it is always good to own the IP on anything you use internally.
However, there are areas of technology where we cannot build our own systems. As you would expect, McDonald’s has a long list of compliance processes to go through. This process involves many people across a number of different teams. It must also synchronise with the compliance checks across the company, so for this type of exercise we are following the policies and systems of the global business.
For pretty much anything else we use our own technology. We have built a document tracking system that checks all our contracts for things like date of expiry and gives us a prompt so we understand where in the contract cycle a document sits. It is also useful in that it tells us which counterparties have we given any limitation or liabilities to.
For the most part, our forms tend to be pretty standard, so while the back end will be specific to each vendor that we are dealing with, the main boilerplates are very consistent. That means we can use software that focuses on tracking documents and sending us reminders. Some of my peers at other organisations are starting to use AI for more cookie cutter stuff such as NDAs, but for us it is still all done by the internal legal team, including paralegals.
Our process for implementing new technology starts with recognising the need for a particular piece of software. Whether that software is going to track contracts, bring in GDPR compliance or handle more complicated work, you need to identify the need within the organisation first of all. We then look at how this can be introduced in a useful and user-friendly manner, drawing up a customisation and implementation plan to help us understand what the software should look like. This latter stage will almost always involve conversations with the IT department.
This has served us well so far, but inevitably we will reach a point where our tech needs outstrip our capacity to produce solutions internally. For example, it will become increasingly important to have software that can supervise and track user data and user rights. These days, everyone wants to know what their data is being used for and to have the right to choose what parts of their data is logged. Having software to keep track of this helps to share that obligation or responsibility with the consumer.