The Risks of Thinking Too Small When Adopting Legal Tech

We recently sat down with a prospective customer who was describing the lay of the legal technology landscape within their organisation.

Over the course of a few years, the team had incorporated a myriad of different systems and problem-specific tools to solve a variety of challenges. They described bespoke workflow systems, tools for legal intake, stand alone digital signature technology, plus much more. Suffice to say they weren’t happy with how it had all panned out; their systems were complex, no one was using them and the work continued to pile up.

This situation is something we encounter often when working with legal functions around the world. With this in mind, here are our key insights into the risks of adopting a series of smaller, cheaper, use-specific tools versus partnering with a comprehensive solution that scales and evolves with you as you grow.

The 5 keys risks of ‘thinking too small’ when adopting Legal Technology

1) Integration gets harder over time

We see teams in all departments (not just Legal) purchasing smaller, more nimble tools to solve specific challenges. For example, Business X might identify that they can’t keep track of their documents once executed, so a quick and easy document storage system is implemented. While this approach might seem simpler at the time, the problem is that inevitably your capabilities and requirements will evolve, and when that happens, integrating additional systems and getting them to speak the same language can be a major headache. It’s like building a series of train stations without tracks running between them.

Why this matters: It’s essential that you’re working within a technology ecosystem that makes your job easier, not harder. If you’re needing to work as hard on integrating your systems as you are on learning how to use them and extract meaningful value, you’re in trouble.

2) Poor user adoption

It’s hard enough rolling out a successful user adoption program for one piece of technology, so if you’re rolling out a multitude of tools over a long period you’ll start seeing signs of ‘tech fatigue’. Users will quickly start dropping off and reverting back to old ways of doing things. Implementing one system means that users go through a single onboarding process, establish positive habits and start gaining the expected value from the platform.

Why this matters: You’re implementing technology to support you and your team to deliver better outcomes for your business. The harder you make it for your team to engage, form good habits and extract the right value, the greater your chance of failure.

3) Mounting costs

It’s easier to get approval for cheaper tech projects - we get it. The smaller the price tag, the less likely you are to be tapped on the shoulder by Procurement or have to run a proposal past your CEO.

While it might seem easier at the time, this approach can come back to bite you when you end up needing to scale or solve new problems down the line. If you outgrow your existing tools then it’s either back to the drawing board to find a new solution, or the addition of whole new piece to your puzzle. In either of these cases you will inevitably end up spending more.

Why this matters: Your CEO is only going to give you so much budget before expecting to see tangible results. How many documents you've stored this month or how many contracts you’ve signed electronically isn’t going to cut the mustard.

The results that will move the needle:

  • The total cost you’ve saved the business through time efficiencies
  • Fresh insights, like the most commonly-requested deal terms for your sales agreements to inform your pricing strategy
  • The amount of time made available for high risk, strategic work

4) It’s just not scalable

This is a big one. Can the solution you’ve embedded scale with you as you add more lawyers, expand into new regions or face new challenges? If you do grow, will the single tool or ecosystem be able to scale with you? Are there costly hurdles that you'll encounter for outgrowing existing service plans? Will your systems be capable of expanding at the same rate? These are the hidden restrictions that you may face unless you implement a tool that can scale with you to support your team as you grow.

Why this matters: Not being clear on scaling can be a huge trap. Each unique piece of technology will have its own framework around scaling and adding new features or seats. The problem is, no two frameworks will ever follow quite the same path. Spend the time establishing your strategy, define your roadmap and find a solution that you know will give you the flexibility you need when the time comes.

5) Data

The final challenge may be the biggest. Data isn’t just a buzz word… it’s real, it’s here and you need to get onboard. For the first time, in-house legal teams have the ability to capture rich data on their function, helping them understand their performance and impact on the business. We’re not talking about time tracking, we’re talking about data on the types of contracts being executed, the resources used to execute contracts, the values and common themes seen in requests from the business and much more. Legal now has the power to articulate and visualise its value in a way that the rest of the business understands… the problem is, if you’re using a bunch of tools that sit in isolation, stitching that data together to tell the full story is next to impossible, and a major missed opportunity.

Why this matters: Data will become the single most important element to inform your future legal transformation strategy, your business case for additional headcount, as well as plenty of decisions outside of the legal function. This is a new world for Legal and finally gives General Counsel a seat at the boardroom table.

In the end

As we see time and time again, the short term success associated with implementing cheaper, use-specific tools inevitably gets eaten up by the pain of upgrading to a system that can support your team’s long term growth. The benefit Legal has in being last to the technology transformation party is that you can learn from the mistakes of your peers and think longer term, getting it right and achieving sustainable success.

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