Updated: Apr 4, 2020
Ask any lawyer who has practised for 20 years or more what has fundamentally changed in the delivery of legal services since they were a trainee and they will likely tell you very little. Of course, there has been the advent of email, which has increased the volume and speed of work, but the basic relationship between lawyer and client, the way in which work is instructed, carried out and charged for, and the role of the in-house lawyer, has remained consistent.
However, the explosion of legal technologies and the growing role of alternative legal services providers (ALSPs) is changing the way that legal services are delivered, which has particular benefits for in-house teams. Recent research by Konexo, Eversheds Sutherland’s newly re-branded alternative legal and compliance service provider, found that 63% of in-house teams are facing increased overall pressure, compared to 12 months ago, and 62% are experiencing greater pressure to reduce operational costs than 12 months ago. This is the classic conundrum of needing to do more with less.
The expanding role of the in-house legal team
At the same time, the role of the in-house team is growing. They are increasingly seen as a strategic business partner with a key role to play in problem solving, decision making and advising the business on areas beyond the scope of what is traditionally thought of as “legal” work. 55% of survey respondents reported that their team is playing a more strategic advisory role in their organisation than 12 months ago.
This presents a huge opportunity but also a challenge for the in-house team. They need to manage this expanded role alongside continuing to deliver excellent legal service, and ensuring lawyers have the necessary skills and expertise to fulfill the new role. Added to this is an increasingly complex regulatory regime, a focus on the effective management of legal risk, and a growth in the volume and complexity of work.
How legal technology can help
Against this backdrop, it is no wonder that optimism exists about legal technology and the opportunities it presents. Nearly two-thirds of survey respondents agreed that legal technology can increase operational efficiency and 96% agreed that the growth of legal technology will improve the legal team’s working environment. Currently, the most common uses of technology by in-house teams are centralised solutions, such as:
- Document and email management tools - Knowledge management tools - Legal intranet pages
Some legal teams are investing in collaboration tools that allow their lawyers to work together on common projects, regardless of physical location, and others are acquiring compliance trackers and document automation tools. The most innovative and forward-thinking teams are implementing self-service solutions for the business, and using management information (MI) and real-time data to make dynamic decisions and drive continuous improvement. They are also looking at opportunities for automation, including artificial intelligence (AI) and robotic process automation (RPA).
As a consequence of these developments, there is a need for new IT skills in the legal team, not only from IT professionals, but from the lawyers themselves. 42% of respondents indicated that they are up-skilling their teams on relevant technology-focused solutions, while 29% said they are actively employing in-house legal technology experts.
Understanding the legal context
The key to understanding this market change is to realise that in-house legal teams are not just looking for a technological solution. Instead they require a more holistic approach that combines an understanding of both the legal context and the available technological solutions. Taking the wrong approach is not only a waste of time and resources but has the potential to do a great deal of damage to Legal’s reputation within the business. As one senior in-house lawyer who we interviewed as part of our research observed:
“I started in legal practice around five years after the word processing revolution, but the introduction of desktop computers led to the production of 70-page documents instead of 20-page documents that were of no better quality or litigated any less. People did not start to go home from their working day earlier or do more interesting work.”
Building new relationships
Looking strategically at what can be achieved for the business should go beyond incentives to cut costs or deliver quantity over quality. Historically, ALSPs have often been engaged for cost savings but they are increasingly servicing a more diverse range of client needs. This includes harnessing expertise that may be lacking in-house, as well as employing new technology platforms that enable in-house teams to use their existing resources more efficiently and strategically.
In the future, it is possible that the traditional relationship between the in-house team and its law firm will simply become the centrepiece of a more diverse, data-driven marketplace in which new services emerge that complement, rather than replace or compete with, the traditional model. This new landscape will include not only the growth of contractors and legal managed services, but also “virtual” law firms, AI and self-service models. This change is neatly summed up by the General Counsel of a major sports brand, who told us:
“In five years’ time, I would like us to have a team of strategic thinkers, who are very good at working with internal business partners and adding value. Ideally, they have more time to do so because we have taken the burden out of currently long-winded processes or administrative tasks.”
This article was first seen in Thompson Reuters.