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Law Department Technology & Laser Eye Surgery

 
I have been thinking about the relative low penetration of the more sophisticated Technology offerings in Law Departments, and especially Law Departments outside of the US. I found an interesting parallel with Laser eye surgery: it is proven to work, it is painless, it is not expensive and safe. Well then: why is Laser eye surgery still relatively rare?
 
In keeping with the ophthalmological analogy, I have chartered the progression of technology, systems and processes of Law Departments in 4 steps: from bruises and bumps to Laser surgery.
 
 
Step 1: Bruises and bumps
 
Many legal departments, just like many people, do not even realise they have poor or limited eyesight.
"Those signs on the motorway have always been too small". "My eyes have always been hurting when I stare at my computer screen for more than an hour". "I am just clumsy and not too good with my hands". "I just can play tennis, I have poor coordination".
There are many symptoms that you should have your eyes checked. There are also a lot of reasons why people don't do it. None are good.
 
Same applies for Legal departments.
"We have always done it that way". "We can never complete these documents in the timeframe the business expects". "We need 5 days to review an agreement and the Business is OK with it" etc.
This is typical and completely understandable: it is the way things have always been done and both the Business and Legal are unaware that things could be handled a lot more effectively.
 
But it's painful, people realise it. Hopefully, nothing major happens but in some cases, things really fall apart. Deals do not get completed, risks are not defined, captured, managed, mitigated. A major case is lost and the company starts hurting. There has to be a better way.
 
Then you start looking around, speak to peers, go to conferences, maybe join a few Webinars. You start noticing people wearing glasses, You start wondering what these strange appendages are for and start wondering if they would also save you a few bruises on your shin. 
 
Reading glasses and leagl technology
 
Step 2: Reading glasses
 
Reading glasses have been around for centuries. Sure, they have progressed. Now a lot more solid (some unbreakable), most are antiglare, bifocal, some even tint to protect you from the sun's glare. There also come in various shapes and style, and in a huge range of prices. You can even pick some for a few Pounds or Dollars (or Euros) at your local supermarket without having visited a eye doctor (if that's what you want to do).
In our analogy, glasses are processes and "base technology". They allow you to functions and could even save your shins from bruising.
In the Legal technology space, I would classify the "Microsoft" world as reading glasses for legal departments.
- a "shared drive" to store all of the departments documents
- Excel spread sheets to manage Risks
- SharePoint as a repository and Knowledge Management system.
- Outlook for issuing Legal Holds
 
Another category would be "Corporate" tools that are either forced upon the legal department or that you decide to implement (it has to be better than nothing). This would for example be using SAP to track your legal cases or using the company's "E-billing platform": not ideal but at least you are not losing invoices anymore.
 
These are all tremendously improved ways to operate than "flying blind" with no system or processes at all. But they are sometimes unwieldy and still limit your movement. Still hard to play tennis with them. After a while, you realise the limitations of the reading glasses and look at alternative.
 
Need laser eye surgery?
 
Step 3: Contact lenses
 
You tried playing football (soccer) with glasses and it wasn't too great...You have lost yours glasses a few times and keeping a spare pair in each room is starting to not make sense anymore.
 
You are now ready for contact lenses.They require a bit more preparation, organisation and work, but they give you full freedom and control.
In our analogy, contact lenses are dedicated Legal Management systems and solutions, coupled with well defined processes.
 
Sure, sometimes you lose a contact lens and it's a bit of a panic for a few minutes while looking after the elusive lost contact lens but 99.99% of the time, it is great.
 
Contact lenses need to be tailored to your specific vision and they require you to have a process in place. Whether you change them daily or monthly, you need some "maintenance", some support and looking after. But they are great and you can now play tennis without any hitch.
 
Upgrading to contact lenses is similar to replacing a shared drive by a proper Document Management System. Replacing SharePoint with a Legal Collaboration platform.
Sure, some people are perfectly happy with glasses it does not limit their movements and do not need to "upgrade" to contact lenses. Similarly, there are cases when contact lenses are not the best solution and the continued use of reading glasses is appropriate.
 
 
Step 4: Laser eye surgery
 
You love the fact of not having to wear glasses but don't like the way contact lenses sometimes fall off or irritate your eyes after a while. You want a permanent solution to fixing your eye-sight. You are now ready for Laser eye surgery.
 
This is serious. You cannot do it yourself, you cannot just tweak something used by another department to be used by the legal team.
You consider all options, speak to specialists, consider costs, risks, side effects and expected benefits. Should we do both eyes at the same time (should we roll-out globally) or not? Should we start with the right eye or the left eye (should we start with Matter Management or Risk Management)? Should we have surgery in stages?
 
Same with the "Entreprise Legal Management" systems. They require proper consideration, change management, defining and implementing processes that enable the tools to work effectively but they give you the power, visibility into Legal work that you never and until now.
These are systems such as Matter Management, Spend Management, Collaboration, Knowledge Management, Risk Management, Compliance, eDiscovery etc. Systems dedeciated to Legal Departments. Systems and tools that allow in-house Law Departments to be in control, accountable and work more efficiently. 
 
Implementing these systems in a successful way requires experience of a trained surgeon (experts & consultants), effort, planning and of course, consideration as to whether this is the appropriate course of action.
 
It is also more of a permanent solution. Implementing Entreprise Legal Management solutions in a meaningful way require a complete rethinking of processes and functions. it means re-learning to do things or learning to do things for the 1st time, things you had heard about but never expected to be able to do: water-skiing or pro-active Risk management for example.
 
 
Conclusion: increased maturity and options
 
So why are not all legal departments using dedicated Enterprise Legal Management Solutions?
 
Part of the answer can be provided through the laser eye surgery analogy: some legal departments (usually the smaller ones) have processes, control and systems in place that might not be sophisticated but it works for them. Reading glasses (basic systems) feel comfortable and they work.
 
Others go through the maturity & learning curve and upgrade from reading glasses to contact lenses to surgery as they exploit benefits of each stage and understand the benefits gained by a more sophisticated approach.
 
In parallel to this natural "maturity curve" leaning on the demand side, the supply side is also becoming increasingly palatable. Just like the risks and costs associated with eye surgery are decreasing, so does the risks and costs associated with Enterprise Legal Management systems.
They are not reserved for very large departments anymore, they do not all cost USD500,000 to implement and require an army to run & support. 
 
The Legal industry is not how for leaps of faith or innovation but I strongly believe that the combination of the emergence of a savvy Legal Operations community and the increased choice and maturity of the Supply, with new, nimble vendors as well as established ones in a potent one.
 
My prediction is that by 2016 even "solo-GCs" will be able to run a Legal department System platform in the cloud, just like a solo private practitioner can have dedicated systems in the cloud today.
 
 
 

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