Being an in-house lawyer in 2017 can be hard.
Whether it is the pile of 1,346 emails sitting in your inbox, relentless pressure from the business to take a ‘commercial’ view or fighting fires in the Courts, it is not a job for the faint hearted. And against a backdrop of cost pressure, regulatory change and increased automation, things are getting harder.
We have spent quite some time talking to our in-house legal customers at Juro about how they are making their organisations work smarter and more efficiently. Two key trends emerge. The first is the increasing use by legal teams of data (contract metadata, billing data etc) to enable better decision making and operational rigour. Much has been written on this blog and others about this important trend.
About the second trend, perhaps less has been written. Increasingly our customers are using design principles to create better working practices. This is about redesigning organisations, systems and processes and ultimately redefining what it means to be a modern in-house lawyer. There is a lot of academic literature on the subject coming out of the Stanford Design School and others but what we are really interested in is the real world use cases and where legal teams are actually doing something about it.
Here are three ways our in-house legal customers are using design principles to work smarter.
1. Start with the needs of your stakeholders
Human centric design is a set of principles we live and breathe at Juro, so it is always great when we see legal teams who follow this framework. It always start with the ‘customer’. The ‘customer’ could be a member of a sales or HR team, the board, an employee, a supplier or a customer. Often we find legal teams think of these stakeholders as ‘internal clients’. And by thinking about them first, we find our customers deliver better outcomes through their use of technology.
I’ll give you an example. Unbabel, a leading AI translation service, uses Juro for contract management. When we first engaged with them, their objectives were familiar: reduce risk, make contracts more efficient, extract data, repeat etc. But something about their approach surprised us. They told us, in addition to all these things, that they wanted to deliver the best possible experience for their customers and employees when agreeing legal contracts.
What did they mean? They identified that their key external stakeholders (namely, customers and employees) touched the contract process at the most important moment in their lifecycle. An employee deciding to join a company; a prospect becoming a customer. “Welcome to the company…now sign this 20 page pdf” would simply no longer do. They wanted Juro to deliver a solution that was not just useful but delightful. And they found that the details matter.
Take the design of their template: plain language, personalised with company branding, mobile responsive, structured according to a clear logic and optimised over time using negotiation data. Take the almost trivial example of an emoji filled, ‘human’ signing success message. On the surface of it an overly playful interruption to this serious legal process. And yet. When implemented, Unbabel started getting unsolicited feedback from their employees and customers about the positive role contracts played during their onboarding. In a hugely competitive market for new business and talent, these things count.
What was interesting for Unbabel from an operational perspective was because the HR team got this feedback from employees, HR was more likely to use Juro for employment documents. Because the HR team were more likely to use Juro, Legal got the benefit of better controlling the contracting process and lowering legal risk. Build virtuous cycles in this way through a focus on your stakeholders and everyone wins.
"An employee deciding to join a company; a prospect becoming a customer. “Welcome to the company…now sign this 20 page pdf” would simply no longer do"
2. You’re busy – find better ways to prioritise
We held a workshop with a customer recently (a legal counsel at a Fortune 500 business) and asked him how the legal team was managing contract management tasks. More often than not, we hear that in-house counsel are using email inboxes to build up lists of contract review requests and calendars for keeping track of key contract dates. But for this customer, we were taken aback to hear him say ‘we use a kanban board on Jira’.
What did he mean? Jira is the leading task management system for software engineering teams. It is used to facilitate ‘agile’ ways of working together. In short, you can create, assign, collaborate on and prioritise tasks (and implement ‘sprints’, if you are after another buzzword). We actually use it ourselves every day at Juro, and not just because we like four letter company names starting with “J”.
Jira was already being used by the commercial team of the business to track the progress of major contracts. When they needed a review from legal, they would simply assign the task to a legal team member and attach a draft Word doc. The team member would mark up the contract and post a message to say the review was complete and upload a redline. This meant no internal email tennis (keeping the internal client in their system of choice), clear prioritisation and effortless task management.
Managing a legal team through Jira is not really an intended use of the product but a very good ‘hack’ to improve workflow processes nevertheless. It has made the team a bit happier too, which in an age of employee churn cannot be a bad thing.
"Customers ask whether they should implement a tool like Slack to make email less painful. We think this is the wrong question. Instead ask: which communication method should we be using in which scenario?"
3. Communicate using the right channel
Some say that email, which for a good decade has been the communication tool of choice for lawyers, is dead. Platforms like Slack, which has seen exponential growth and counts 5 million daily active users, have the stated aim of eliminating internal email completely. We are not seeing our customers ditching email at any notable rate but we do often get asked by customers whether they should implement a tool like Slack to make email less painful.
We think this is the wrong question. A better question is ‘which communication method should we be using in which scenario?’ Face to face or video conferencing might be the best form of communication for disciplinary action, an internal wiki might be the best way to share legal know-how and email may be the best way to communicate with external counsel. You get the point.
One trend we have consistently seen, however, is a drive to integrate various communications tools. Mostly, this is to ensure a centralised record of legal comms and improve workflow – both admirable aims. At Juro, we integrate with Slack to highlight new comments or signatures on contracts. Why? Well, for legal teams using a shared #legal channel in Slack, it is useful to see a real time feed of activity coming in. We also integrate Juro with email. Why? Because most of our customers take external legal advice on contracts through email.
The smartest of our customers constantly ask themselves two key questions: ‘what is the problem we are trying to solve?’ and ‘how do the key stakeholders behave?’. Then they tailor the processes to the stakeholders, choose the right tool and iterate on their processes using KPIs and data. If you get it right you will build more harmonious relationships with the business and in turn hit your own objectives of greater operational efficiency and lower legal risk.
This article originally appeared in a thought leadership piece published by Artificial Lawyer.