Jane Clemetson, commercial legal director at Reach plc, has seen digital technology transform the media industry over her career at the top. But has it transformed their in-house legal teams?
My first job after graduation was working as a book editor for a legal publishing company. The books were printed using “hot metal” typesetting and the galley proofs came on long rolls of paper that we marked up with the traditional proofreading marks and symbols, so typesetters would know where to make changes.
Since then, the pace of tech-driven change in media companies has been extremely rapid. Media businesses have embraced the digital and online world but news publishers have found it increasingly hard to make journalism pay. Newspaper publishers still make most of their money from print newspapers - although all the publications have websites, some with digital subscription models or donation requests. Businesses have even started to digitize tax, and other important processes. Technology and the emergence of new online alternatives have affected the media industry in several ways.
"Challenges common with many other media businesses include budget restrictions and resource constraints, but one of the main issues I faced was that a contract archive didn't exist"
The legal perspective 👀
The challenges presented by digital transformation have affected the legal department as much as any other part of Reach. And these changes have been accelerated by COVID-19 and lockdown.
I have spent many years advising media clients on the changing landscape and legal environment. Initially, the most common concerns about what used to be known as 'new technology' were around:
- Safety - Clients were concerned with using technology that could malfunction and corrupt important documents. Similarly there was the risk of human error; how easy was it to recover files that were deleted by accident?
- Security - The risk of security breaches was a common concern; how secure was data from legal documents on collaborative platforms as opposed to saved on a personal desktop?
The intrinsic conservatism of many lawyers also meant that they weren’t at the cutting edge of digital innovation. Moving to the cloud caused more concern over risks relating to security and loss of control. However, there was only one direction of travel and no turning back.
Going in-house 💪
Trinity Mirror was formed following a merger in 2000 between Mirror Group Newspapers and regional newspaper group Trinity and the subsequent purchases of Local World and the Guardian’s regional titles. Historically, there have been challenges in integrating with these businesses, both operationally and culturally due to differences in technology, processes and mindsets. Reach has recently announced new plans for further transformation of the business.
Challenges common with many other media businesses include budget restrictions and resource constraints, but one of the main issues I faced on my arrival was that a contract archive didn't exist: contracts were stored across multiple systems, often attached to emails, or printed off and left in drawers - vulnerable to being binned when the contract owner left the business. This left us open to missing renewal or termination dates, and a massive time drain where the legal team had to locate signed copies.
Reach is geographically diverse with numerous regional titles and prior to lockdown I tried to visit other teams as often as possible. It was important that legal was accessible, understanding, and open to forming real relationships with other teams. I aimed to offer help to my colleagues wherever I could, enabling legal to be more proactive and to help colleagues anticipate, avoid and manage risk appropriately in a way that had the best impact on the business.
Implementing a tech solution 🔎
On one level, implementing sophisticated systems for contract and document management and contract automation is a no-brainer. However, it can be quite an investment and it took some time to persuade the leadership team at Reach that the value of this decision would be worth it.
Large businesses with well-established legal teams may be more comfortable with making substantial investments when they can identify cost savings and improvements in operational efficiency. So it may be the case that smaller legal departments just have to struggle on until legal tech becomes more widely adopted.
I looked for a solution that would provide Reach with a “single source of truth” for contracts. I also wanted a solution that would remind the contract owner and commercial legal department of any renewal dates coming up and enable legal to introduce a selection of “self-service” standard form contracts, such as NDAs and data processing agreements. This led us to Juro.
Having a standardized set of agreements that anyone can use would free legal's time for important projects that would deliver better solutions, outcomes and value. Legal would have more time to act as strategic advisers to the business and focus on higher value work and generally “do more with less”. The contract database, where we are in the process of uploading our many legacy contracts, is a great success.
Trying to empower colleagues outside of the legal function can be challenging. Teams should use the self-service contracts now available, but for some colleagues, having any sort of written contract is a new concept; for example, our picture desks have traditionally just phoned a photographer if they want someone to go and take some photos. Having something is writing is, therefore, a bold step forward for them, even if they only have to insert the photographer’s contact details as everything else is handled by the system. From the point of view of the business, the contracts enable it to track its rights and monetize the photographs via the syndication department.
Our learnings have been that you should take the easy wins first, find internal sponsors who are keen to be early adopters who “get it” and don’t give up. Juro could not have been more helpful but having a “success manager” has really made a huge difference.
"We aren’t the 'department that says no' and we want our colleagues to understand this so we can be seen as enablers and tech can make us more efficient and user-friendly"
A legal 'front door' 🚪
In due course, we hope to introduce a legal 'front door'; an online portal that will streamline business enablement and engagement, where business users can also access other legal tools and resources.
This will enable the business to engage quickly and easily with the legal department, while the legal function receives all the information and documentation it needs. Eventually we hope that business users will be able to track the status and outcome of their legal service requests through the platform.
The platform will also assist us by enabling analytics using data gathered through the legal front door in order to derive insight and spot trends across their organisation. We will be able to improve legal delivery, increase our responsiveness and reduce the time spent on lower-value tasks—freeing us up to focus on higher-value strategic initiatives.
We also hope that Juro will help to change how the business sees the commercial legal department. We aren’t the 'department that says no' and we want our colleagues to understand this so we can be seen as enablers and tech can make us more efficient and user-friendly.
Jane Clemetson is commercial legal director at Reach plc.