While problems facing attorneys at both large and small law firms seem to get all the headlines, in-house attorneys are also facing new and growing challenges. Corporate counsel are under pressure to reduce their spending on outside counsel—or at least make spending more predictable. In addition, we are constantly bombarded by various stakeholders and departments with urgent requests—by sales to review a new customer contract, by accounting to approve an agreement with a new vendor, or by business development on language for a new partnership. With all these fires to put out, it is difficult for corporate counsel to find the time or resources we need to be proactive rather than reactive, or to implement strategic initiatives designed to lower risk or create value for their companies over the long term.
It is no wonder then that when technology companies come knocking at a corporate counsel’s door, they are often welcomed with open arms. These companies promise to help reduce or at least better manage the spend on outside counsel, streamline document review, or empower corporate counsel to implement the strategic projects they have been dreaming of. However, sometimes the outcomes of implementing “cutting edge” technology are often less than anticipated—if they materialize at all. The corporate counsel blames the technology vendor for overpromising and under delivering, while the technology vendor believes that the problem is not with the technology, but with in-house counsels’ inability to use it properly due to their resistance to change.
As Associate General Counsel at iManage, a leading legal technology company, I am in the unique position of being able to view both sides of this issue and can provide other corporate counsel with insights on how to ensure they use technology to their advantage. Based on my experience, I’m offering corporate counsel three tips on how to maximize the value of their technology investments, so that these investments actually help them minimize risk, reduce costs, increase productivity, and deliver on the agility they need to create new value for their companies.
1. Be proactive with security.
As the department responsible for maintaining the company’s most sensitive material, including confidential contracts and other documents that need to be collaborated on with both internal clients and outside counsel, corporate counsel need to be especially vigilant in making sure they are using technologies that keep this material secure.
Security is only as strong as an organization’s weakest link. In-house counsel should not be that weak link. Corporate counsel should be diligent in its risk assessment, including systematic examination of all the possible avenues for the loss of sensitive data. This requires a proactive, layered approach to security, using a variety of digital technologies to create multiple defenses in addition to a strong security perimeter. The best defenses should include technologies that allow corporate counsel to share materials only on a “need-to-know” basis, enabling them to govern what happens to sensitive material, helping prevent data loss or inappropriate sharing. In addition, these defenses should include technologies that can monitor for unusual activity that indicates a possible attack by either external and internal threat actors. Finally, they should ensure these defenses secure all types of sensitive information – not just documents, but emails as well.
2. Look for technology platforms, not point solutions.
Today, many legal departments’ IT environments still reflect the early days of enterprise software, when a myriad of best-of-breed software applications were deployed, and, when necessary, stitched together using complex integrations. As a result, users are still faced with a disjointed experience, having to move frequently between different applications to get work done every day.
Upgrading all this software on an ongoing basis is difficult, expensive and time-consuming—yet failure to do so can result in software that does not address today’s requirements for scale, security, and ease of use.
However, as the software industry has matured, strategic software platforms that span what traditionally would have been multiple applications—like Microsoft Office—have arisen. In addition to offering users a consistent experience, these platforms feature tightly integrated functionality that improves productivity. IT staff can upgrade these platforms easily and frequently, reducing maintenance costs while also ensuring that these platforms keep pace with technological innovations. These productivity, ease-of-use, and cost advantages are why corporate counsel seeking to maximize the value of their technology investments should try to standardize on a select number of broad technology platforms, rather than a multitude of point solutions.
3. Focus on digital transformation.
When it comes to investing in technology, perhaps the greatest misperception corporate counsel make is thinking that digital technology alone will be all they need to help cut costs, lower risk, or improve productivity.
To truly realize these benefits, corporate counsel need to accept technology and allow it to change the way they work. This digital transformation is a process that is likely to require changes to not only your legal department’s operations but to your culture.
While technology is the enabler, digital transformation is ultimately about using digital technologies to operate differently, so the legal department can be smarter, more efficient and agile. This means changing individual mindsets, processes, and interactions, and building a culture that fosters change on a continuous basis.
If corporate counsel can implement these three tips—take a proactive approach to security, invest in strategic software platforms that deliver a consistent experience, and focus on digital transformation—they are likely to find their technology investments are finally enabling them to reduce risk and costs, as well as improve department productivity and agility, freeing them to focus more on strategic projects that improve business outcomes for their companies.