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What is Legal Technology?

By Sam Burrett,

08 September 2020

What is legal technology

A quick guide to in-house Legal tech in 2020

Introduction

Legal technology is more important to Lawyers than ever.

Legal teams want to upgrade their technology so they can meet the increasing demands of clients and adapt to the post-COVID operating environment.

But the Legal technology landscape is complex and constantly changing; it’s hard to tell who does what. New platforms are emerging, and existing software is continuing to improve.

This creates a big problem.

Lawyers now understand the importance of Legal technology, but the landscape is convoluted to the point of inaccessibility.

This article is a simple guide to Legal tech for Lawyers and Legal teams. It presents a framework for thinking about different types of technology and outlines three of the key areas you should know about.

What is Legal technology?

Legal Automation SoftwareLegal technology is software that helps Lawyers improve processes, increase efficiency, and deliver better outcomes for their clients.

Various forms of Legal tech have been around for years. For example, Legal teams have used electronic record keeping and basic contract storage solutions for over a decade.

But there have been rapid developments in Legal tech over the last 5 years. In 2017, LawGeex estimated $233 million in investments in LegalTech companies. In 2019, that figure had skyrocketed to $1bn.

This investment has resulted in a significant increase in the capability of the offerings. Now, Legal technology covers a range of areas, including:

Legal-specific technology is increasingly sophisticated. As such, it is far less common for IT Teams to modify (Frankenstein) their existing software than it may have been once upon a time.

Instead, Lawyers increasingly choose specialists in the categories above to solve specific problems.

Is Zoom Legal technology?

There are numerous software applications that aren’t Lawyer-specific, but are nonetheless frequently used by Lawyers. These include:

While all these tools are helpful, they’re not custom built for Legal teams or aimed at solving the issues that arise within a Legal function. As a result, they don’t fall into the ‘Legal technology’ definition of this article.

What is Legal technology used for?

Legal technology is used to improve efficiencies in a Legal function.

There are numerous steps involved with every Legal matter, whether it is a contract, advice, or a dispute. Generally, a Legal matter will look something like this:

  1. Notification of client problem
  2. Collect the facts
  3. Triage to the appropriate Lawyer
  4. Apply risk analysis
  5. Draft contract/provide advice
  6. Negotiate/collaborate
  7. Execute/approve
  8. Store and report
  9. Retrieve and analyse

Inefficiencies can arise at each step.

For example, the early stages of Legal matters can be repetitive and inefficient for three reasons:

  1. The client might notify the Legal team of a problem at the last minute, requiring the Legal team to put aside other important Legal work.
  2. The process of collecting facts may involve numerous emails and phone calls, and after all the ping-pong, the Lawyers might only have a small fraction of the information required to provide advice.
  3. The Lawyer who is briefed about the problem might not have subject-matter expertise, meaning they will then need to track down the appropriate Lawyer in the team, confirm their competency in the relevant area, and hand over all the information collected.

Legal technology can help reduce waste and repetition across the entire lifecycle of a Legal matter.

In the example above, automation and matter management would be particularly relevant:

The three key areas of Legal tech you should know about

There’s a lot to learn about Legal technology. If you had to pick three, Automation, Matter Management and Contract Management are making the biggest impact on Legal functions in 2020.

1. Legal Automation

The robots aren’t coming for your job (yet). However, automation is a crucial tool for Legal leaders who are looking to streamline their processes, empower business users and free their Lawyers from mundane, repetitive work.

Defined simply, automation involves standardising and then computerising routine tasks and processes.

The aim is to help Lawyers focus on high-value Legal matters, rather than routine, mundane, repetitive work.

According to a 2016 survey of Lawyers and paralegals in the US, around 22% of Lawyers’ workloads and 35% of paralegals’ workloads can be automated. Though we’re yet to see automation at this scale, significant developments are being made each year.

Some examples of automation in Legal technology include:

Automation is a powerful tool that is reshaping many industries. Legal functions that use automation to streamline Legal tasks and create better processes can optimise their workload and spend less time on work that doesn't require expertise.

2. Matter Management

Matter management involves managing all activities involved with corporate Legal practice. It is the core element of running an efficient Legal practice.

Until recently, GC’s haven’t had adequate tools to create and manage new Legal tasks, keep track of their work, collaborate with their team and communicate with business users.

Matter management software helps Lawyers manage Legal workflows and collaborate on matters more efficiently. The best matter management software helps Lawyers to:

Most in-house Lawyers now understand the importance of matter management.

Those who have crossed over from private practice are acutely aware of the discrepancy between matter management in Law Firms and matter management in corporate Legal functions.

General Counsel deserve equal opportunity to manage their function, but have been disadvantaged for decades. Now is the time to implement matter management to bring your function into line with business expectations.

3. Contract Management

Contract management is the digital equivalent of a filing cabinet. It includes software that assists with contract creation, execution, storage and analysis.

Gartner estimates that up to 27% of an in-house Lawyer’s time is spent finding and retrieving information. Contract management systems (CMS) can help Legal teams reduce that time so that Lawyers can find what they need quickly and assist the business in executing key contracts.

However, not all CMS are created equal. Many are labor intensive, meaning Lawyers must manually upload and store contracts and attachments; sift through complex ‘file numbers’ to find the right contract; or routinely retrieve contracts to check key dates and events. This is a grossly inefficient use of the expertise of a senior in-house Lawyer.

Luckily, the best contract management software solutions in 2020 are powerful, end-to-end solutions that are purpose-built for Legal functions. These platforms allow General Counsel to:

Contract management is an essential feature of the modern Legal function because it helps mitigate risk, assists the business in executing key contracts and saves Lawyers from spending precious time searching for critical documents.

Conclusion:

Legal technology is no silver bullet, but it is an increasingly integral part of modern corporate Legal functions.

For a clear guide to evaluating Legal technology, check out our Legal Technology Shopping List here.

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