A practical look at the Legal department’s favourite legal tech applications
It’s no secret that legal departments are under ever-increasing pressure to do more with less. Higher workloads and smaller budgets are forcing in-house lawyers to come up with innovative ways to work more efficiently. Many in-house legal teams therefore turn to legal technology solutions to cope with the increased demands.
The 2021 Future-Ready Lawyer Survey by Wolters Kluwer confirms as much, with 84% of respondents stating that they see the greatest change in the next three years being the increased use of technology to improve productivity. The Survey also states that the top two technologies in-house lawyers (plan to) invest in are (1) collaboration tools for document drafting and (2) document automation.
So what do these technologies look like in practice? Let’s take a look at some concrete solutions.
A clause library as a "shared brain" for the legal department
Let’s face it: every in-house counsel is an island.
When drafting tailored agreements, in-house counsels fall back on the precedents and clauses they are comfortable with, typically the ones they drafted themselves, even if their colleagues have used other material before that may be more suitable to whatever situation they are confronted with. The problem is that they do not know that material exists, since many in-house legal departments do not have an established process or tool for sharing knowledge.
While “flying solo” may be the default drafting style for most in-house counsels, the approach inevitably and regularly breaks down. The lawyer’s body of knowledge/experience may not be sufficiently large to accommodate every legal or commercial nuance, forcing them to start reinventing the wheel. Furthermore, if that lawyer leaves, all their knowledge leaves with them.
A structured clause library available to the entire in-house legal team is the prime antidote against this isolation of knowledge, and a great application of technology to improve collaboration on the document drafting front.
A clause library is essentially a repository filled with useful clauses to which in-house counsels can make contributions and where they can benefit from the contributions of their colleagues. An ideal clause library makes it easy for lawyers to find material they may otherwise not be accustomed with, by letting them search on the basis of keywords, an orderly folder structure, or different kinds of “metadata”, descriptions or comments assigned to individual clauses.
While the notion of Legal Tech may conjure up images of complex and expensive software packages, the good news is that clause libraries can be constructed using software every legal department already has, like MS Word, Google Sheets, SharePoint, etc. Don’t believe it? Check out the Ultimate Guide to Clause Libraries to learn all the tips and tricks to build a clause library for you and your team.
Document automation – the in-house counsel as a template architect
Templates present a tricky balancing act.
Include too little options (e.g. an optional paragraph or sentence, a fall-back clause, some guidance on how to comply with legal or company policy, etc.) and it risks becoming a "fill in the blanks" document that feels below your legal dignity. The rest of the legal world is rarely so cut-and-dry, and will require a lot of manual drafting, reviewing, and redrafting. Include too many of these options, however, and the result will be a cacophony of comments, highlights, and drafting notes that nobody will have the courage to tackle.
Even if you strike the right balance, it may still all be for nothing when users store copies of a template document on their hard drive and never take a second glance at the internal work platform where you published it – thereby missing crucial updates – or when users do not stick to the policy guidelines included in the template. After all, even the most sternly worded comments can be ignored.
Document automation as a technology presents an interesting way to not only strike this balance, but to transform the work of the in-house counsel altogether. It allows legal teams to automate templates, so that they can draft documents by simply filling out a list of questions (click here for an example). These questions can pertain to basic variable information like a party’s name and address, but really add value in relation to different legal or commercial positions the template author wants to offer the template user (e.g.: language of the document, country-specific paragraphs, signature policy, optional clauses and the conditions under which they are activated, etc.).
The ramifications are larger than just allowing lawyers to draft better documents faster. Among legal teams that have successfully implemented document automation technology, we are seeing an ever-increasing trend towards outsourcing document creation through self-service. In this scenario, the legal team no longer drafts the (first draft of) a document, but creates a central platform for the business units to do it themselves. This causes an entire paradigm shift where the legal department no longer churns out documents but acts as the architect for the template, offering the right legal and commercial options where possible and enforcing them where necessary. The documents that are produced that way are 100% guaranteed to be legally sound and based on the most up to date version of a template, saving even more time by completely obviating the need for review.
Where to get started
Based on the above, it is easy to see why collaboration tools and document automation were voted the most popular legal technology application for in-house lawyers. If your team counts itself among those legal teams wishing to do document drafting in a way that emphasises supporting colleagues and being supported in turn, then know that you can get started right now.
We already alluded to the Ultimate Guide on Clause Libraries above that contains tips and tricks on how to start building a shared brain for your legal department using tool you already have lying around. Furthermore, you may wish to explore tools like ClauseBuddy, which are free for individual users and allow you to both create structured clause libraries and to start automating template documents from the comfort of your trusty MS Word application!
Co-Founder at ClauseBase
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