When I came to Volkswagen two years ago, I started auditing how we were handling cases and legal topics in our organisation, and I learned that in this field we were taking a bit of a classical approach. We didn’t really have a system in place that could embrace all of the legal queries, legal contracts, and everything else which comprised the work of the legal department. My impression is that while a lot of lawyers use new technologies and devices, we often do so in a way that replaces the old functionality without truly embracing the power of technology.
A one-stop shop
I proposed that we should implement a legal management system so that we would have all of the data – contracts, agreements and everything else you can imagine – connected to legal services and outcomes in a single system. Each employee in the company has access to the system and can submit legal queries. As an administrator of this system, I can delegate specific tasks to a lawyer in my team. But what is important is that the internal clients submit all the necessary data into the system so we don’t lose time calling each other or sending emails – everything is there in the system so we can render the legal advice. The same happens with the legal opinions, legal questions – internal clients can submit a query, and then I seek the right person in my team to respond. We have different response times based on the urgency of the query. You can access the system from any place – it’s online in the cloud, so my team can work from home or while travelling on business.
At the moment, the system is a database, but we are working with a legal tech start-up to test the addition of artificial intelligence solutions in a specific module that will create agreements for our internal clients. There will be no lawyer needed: you will just submit all the necessary data and the algorithm will prepare the agreement for you. We think this will streamline the process.
Our system gives an opportunity to benchmark the work of my lawyers – how much time they need to respond, and how many queries they receive – you can extract this data from the system. I even have statistics. It helps to have an overview of the workload of the lawyers, so I can see how many cases they are dealing with and their response times. It also gives me a nice view of what issues are particularly complicated, and which we find time-consuming.
The lawyers in my team are very supportive of the system. Even those with less of a technical acumen are gradually adapting to this technical revolution, not to mention those who grew up in the digital age who adapt on the spot.
The costs of changing the paradigm
The challenge was to get the specific budget for the implementation. Convincing the management board was actually the first milestone for me – just to get the money and to convince the decision-makers that this was something we should do – because for them it’s also a change in the paradigm. We are quite a big organisation, with lots of departments and lots of different systems, and we wanted our system to be connected directly to our finance system so we could also track some standings and combine agreements with the invoices. The whole phase of implementation was quite troublesome, and it required cooperation with external IT advisers and our internal IT department, and a whole testing phase. We also had to provide training for the employees outside of legal, because previously it was easy for them – they were just grabbing a phone and calling a particular lawyer. Now they had to do it online without any support. So the beginnings were not easy, but now everyone has gotten used to it.
When thinking about technology, I tend to look for stuff from outside my company, to the people working in legal tech. I also try to be active in the legal tech space in Poland, and am vice chairman of the German-Polish Chamber of Commerce Legal Tech Commission. We meet every two or three months to discuss what’s going on in the legal market, and it’s very important for me to exchange opinions with my peers from other big corporations in Poland about how they use legal technologies to tackle problems, and what solutions they are using.
Very often, if I’m writing a bid for legal services and want to cooperate with external counsel, I ask them if they are using any technological tools that can support me, or whether their legal advice can be rendered in a better structured way, or if there is the possibility that they will provide me with the necessary data direct into my system. For me, if a law firm could show that they have some legal tech solutions supporting their services, that would be an advantage.
I know that the big names are working on new technology, but my experience is that although it is cascading from the headquarters, there is not that much success in this field yet. I know that there are some Magic Circle firms that are even giving free office space for start-ups, and are creating and cooperating very closely. I think that this is happening in the Polish market, but it’s still not very common. It is a hot topic, everyone is talking about it, but then when you ask about the implementation, or what kind of tools people are using, it’s still at the early stage.
I believe that within the next two or three years we will see more technological disruption happening: more companies offering those services and more in-house counsel looking for those services on the market. It is growing and it will change the legal landscape. To be successful in the market, you have to be an early adopter, you have to be at the forefront, because otherwise you are just a follower.
We talk about external lawyers always being part of the project team. A very good example is due diligence when you are buying a property or making an acquisition. Now there are really good legal tech tools in place, which can analyse a lot of documents so that the lawyers can focus on giving more client-oriented advice. They can be closer to the client, and closer to their businesses rather than just sitting and analysing papers and, for me, that’s the biggest positive aspect of technological evolution and disruption.
Balancing the personal with the efficient
Some lawyers in my field have this feeling that we are losing the personal touch with our clients, and that we are just putting systems and technology in place. I think if you are working for a law firm, then that’s the most important thing – if I like a particular lawyer, I will work with them regardless of which firm they are working with because I know them, I know they’re a good professional and very responsive. But lawyers need to wear many hats – they need to be lawyers, they need to be project managers, very often they need to be psychologists and mediators, and this is the value that they add to the business. So if they can leave some of their work to algorithms and deal with the client instead – understand their business and their challenges – then that’s important, I think, from my perspective as GC.
In corporate legal departments, I think that technology can create an additional layer between the lawyer and the internal client. But I think our role is a little bit different: we are not looking for the client, clients are looking for us; we always have sufficient jobs to do. So from this perspective, I think it can optimise our work because then the internal client will think: ‘Do I really need to ask this question, maybe I can find it somewhere else, maybe they have a directory of frequently-asked-questions, maybe there are some common agreements which I can use and download from the system without contacting the lawyer.’ It’s easy to just take the phone and call a lawyer, but if you have to put some data in the system and think about it, then you might think, ‘Maybe it’s not a really big issue for me or maybe I don’t really need the legal support.’ In short, in internal legal departments, technology can help us to focus on where the real problems are, and devote our time to the legal issues which are really essential or which add value to the company.