An open letter to lawyers, from technology
Dear in-house lawyers,
Technology and lawyers - we don’t seem to click. In fact, we’re a classic case of opposites who attract, and who also drive each other crazy. We need to work on our relationship, which is why I’m penning this letter. I want to tell you how I’m feeling, and I hope that somehow, together, we can figure out how to change things for the better.
However, before we can move forward constructively, there’s something we need to address. I’ve been ingesting articles written by your “thought leaders” and it makes for disturbing reading. It seems we’re being pitted against each other. Apparently, some people are trying to make us enemies. You’re being told I’m coming for your job, that you’re replaceable. It’s not true. Our relationship isn’t about expendability, it’s about synergy.
I’m good at helping with the things that should be easy and automatic. If it’s a predictable process, I can help. If you want to gather and structure vast quantities of information, pick me. If you need to search through or understand that information, I’m here for you 24-7-365. Sure, you can do some of this stuff without me - but it won’t be easy - and I gather you don’t like doing it anyway.
You, on the other hand, can do things I’ll never be able to do. What you have and are good at are the things people value most of all. Emotions. Instinct. Empathy. Talent. Compassion. Creativity. You can take different ideas and combine them to create completely new ideas. You can strategize. You’re exceptionally good at helping people.
But doing all of this takes time - the most precious resource known to your kind. It seems odd to me that you’re so willing to waste it. The data tells me you’re busy and getting busier. This means more time wasted doing the things you have to do and having less time to do the things you want to do. What you’re doing doesn’t scale. Without wishing to brag, you need my help.
Rather than continuing with our dysfunctional relationship, I suggest we call a truce. Let's find time for each other. And who knows, if we do this right, maybe one day we will learn to love each other.
I hear you say that technology is the future of the in-house legal team. You talk about integrating digital tools, with modern ways of working, and how this will allow you to make data-informed decisions, collaborate better as a team, evidence the value of legal to the business, and be more efficient and more accurate in the legal work that you do. You’re saying all the right things but I’m not sure you mean them. I get the feeling you’re scared of me.
The first step should be about us making time to work together. I know how busy you are - your workload is not for the fainthearted - but any successful relationship requires time and effort from both parties. That is what I am asking from you.
Implementing new technology isn’t easy because it requires learning new skills, adapting to new ways of working, and navigating new systems. Essentially, it’s about embracing change. Change is the pathway to improvement and if you want to enjoy the advantages that technology can provide, our relationship must change, step up a gear. We need to go from casual dating to being fully committed to one another. Trust me, I’ll make it worth your while ;-).
Yet deciding to do things differently isn’t going to be enough... Successful change requires ongoing management, as with any successful relationship. Successful change is established by taking a long, hard look at your goals. What do you want? What can we achieve? How do we get there?
I’ve got a few suggestions to help improve our relationship:
- Firstly, we need a solid foundation to build upon. Get your ‘system of record’ in place. You call it Matter Management. Use it to capture as much data about what you and your human colleagues are doing. That will change the way you and I talk forever, for the better. Data is my love language. We can use it to track our progress and make improvements over time. It’ll be challenging to change, but the most important one.
- Understand your “why”. Use the data and your knowledge and experience to identify your most pressing needs. Who is putting you under the most pressure? Why are they so stressed? What are they trying to achieve? Keep asking questions until you're certain you understand their problems as deeply as you understand your own. Then come back and talk to me and together we can figure out how to make their legal problems go away as simply as possible. Simple is good. For example, I could automate a 16-step process and give you back hours every week. Or even better, the process may force us to realise this process is silly or redundant; let's just not do it anymore.
- We also need time to reflect and take stock, and we need to tell our story to make us accountable to ourselves and others. We need to think about the stories we want to tell and use them as the basis for the reporting and analysis I can do for you, which ultimately makes you look better to your organisation. Go us.
- Always be selling. Sell the benefits that I can bring to the legal team and to the wider business. Remind yourself of your key objectives and you will reap the rewards of investing in change. Change management is benefits led.
- Keep it consistent. Try to find commonalities across your different types of work. Templates allow for consistent processes across the team. From an insights’ perspective, consistent data structure allows for apples versus apples comparison.
- Keep the set-up simple initially, and start using me - properly, with intent and discipline - and once you have identified what the predictable benefits will be. The sooner you start, the sooner you get real feedback from both the legal team and the wider business. The pain points of your current approach will continue to grow if you are waiting for the right moment because that moment may never come, similar to waiting for inspiration to strike - when lighting strikes twice, am I right?
- Just do it. Take the leap. Have faith that things between you and I will work out for the best. It may not be love at first sight, and there will be bumps along the way, but you and I are meant for each other.
So, what do you say? Shall we do it? I’m ready when you are. I’m waiting for you to give me a chance. I promise that one day you’ll look back and wonder how you ever thought it would be possible to go through life without me.
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