For the past decade we have heard that LegalTech will reshape - or more sensationally revolutionise - the way legal services are procured, priced, executed and evaluated by corporate and institutional clients. However, it is only now that this is happening at inhouse legal teams who are systematically implementing legal operations technology. The transformation usually starts with e-billing and quickly progresses to competitive procurement, collaborative workspaces for larger transactions, workflow and document automation, contract and project management. Forward-thinking law firms and legal companies have committing to service these corporate clients and are thus gaining market share. What do I need to do as a manager, law firm partner, inhouse lawyer to succeed in this ‘new world’?
A few weeks ago, I travelled to Brazil to see one of a dozen major global LegalTech software and service providers who are developing the new legal operations fabric. I was surprised to learn that the majority of large corporations in Latin America have already adopted some or all of the platform to manage their legal operations.
As a minimum, these inhouse legal departments have implemented a country specific version of e-billing to stay on top of their external legal spend. The ‘do more with less’ mantra and legal risk management in uncertain times are the key drivers for this. Many corporate legal teams have also implemented the provider’s sophisticated workflow technology to ensure that their most frequent types of litigations were complying with their countries complex rules and regulations. This often included the automation of all relevant documents and the online collaboration with external counsel and institutions to settle these documents in the most efficient way.
As these corporate legal departments extend the use of enterprise management platforms, some have reached a point where all types of legal work are handled digitally. This in turn puts pressure on law firms and other legal services firms to comply with the processes and use the platform. Those who resist risk losing parts or all of a client’s work to others who can operate in the new world. As this happens, the data available to inhouse legal becomes ever richer. In addition, the platform provider can deliver to its clients valuable additional services that provide suitably anonymised comparative data.
Many Latin American countries have arcane legal systems with complex and very prescriptive procedures. These are no longer manageable and affordable without significant automation and rationalisation. In many ways this is a harbinger of what is now occurring elsewhere.
For several years we have wondered if and when enterprise legal services will be digitised. In my view, the scenario seen in Brazil can easily become the blue print of how this will happen elsewhere.
Law firms and inhouse legal teams will therefore need to quickly absorb the mechanics and skills involved in thriving in a digitalised world. Fortunately, there are many ways to master this challenge, e.g. learn from peers, seek the help of experts, engage with a new generation of lawyers and legal engineers and technologists, attend training, and start making small, fast and meaningful steps that follow a pre-agreed strategy for your organisation.
The digitisation of enterprise legal services may look a bit scary at first. However, I am very confident that once they understand better what is involved, many law firms and most inhouse legal teams will engage with the new environment and thrive.
This blog was originally published on 7 August 2019 in Vista, the online magazine of the Executive School, University of St.Gallen, Switzerland.