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The benefits of getting your business users to self-serve

If you’re a business user, you probably don’t think much of sending your in-house counsel an email with a request for help. If you’re an in-house lawyer, chances are your inbox is overflowing with requests, and emailing back and forth to gather all the information you need to get the stick into gear drives you up the wall. Intake systems are the solution to every in-house lawyer's headache as they create an efficient, straightforward triaging process that cuts out some serious admin time. However, as with any new technology, there are skeptics. Which is why we want to talk about the benefits of adopting an intake process for anyone who is still on the fence. 

Ultimately, intake improves legal processes and creates a lean process which is capturing valuable commercial data. While legal is often perceived as a cost center, this data is part of what demonstrates the value, or ROI, of legal.

The most immediate benefit of the intake process that an in-house team will notice is the reduction in admin time. Typically, a lawyer goes back and forth via email with a business user, determining what their specific legal request is and what information they need. Intake systems require the user to provide all of this information at step one, which means they can get straight to the matter at hand and skip all the unnecessary admin thereby speeding up the overall response time of legal for the organization. It also allows the legal team to focus on the high-value and strategic work quickly.

Another invaluable benefit of an intake system is data and its conversion into metrics, providing insight into the legal team's operations and the common legal themes that wider business faces. 

Data is an extremely undervalued commodity in legal departments. In fact, they traditionally incinerate all the valuable data and insights they generate. This erasure of data stems from record retention rules that are drummed into private practice lawyers, or a deeply rooted belief that every legal matter is fundamentally different and impossible to categorize. We have found that legal departments that commit to structuring matter and contract data undeniably derive value from that data, which empowers them to enhance their delivery to the business. 

Metrics generated from intake clearly show where legal requests commonly arise from within the organization, which area of the law they relate to, who is working on it, and what the outcome or advice given was. This data also provides the insights required to enable your clients to self-serve. 

If you can identify high-frequency, low-value work coming to legal, you can use that information to build playbooks or guides for your clients, or even set them up to generate straightforward contracts or documents. You can make proactive decisions about how to enable colleagues to self-serve, saving them time, so they won’t always have to wait for a lawyer’s response. 

When collecting structured data, you will see the trajectory of legal work in the business's pipeline. Hiring decisions should be led by the information gleaned from these metrics. Having visibility of where time and resources have been and are predicted to be split between different practice areas enables strategic hiring decisions. 

Given these benefits, why isn’t intake more widely used? It’s been our experience that In-house counsel is concerned that moving to an intake system will damage the relationship between legal and the business as users will not adapt to the change. While this fear is understandable, it can be overcome by adopting some basic change management principles. We have found that the most effective change strategies involve great communication: explain to your people why the change is happening and how it will benefit the business in the long run.

I’ve seen two different approaches taken to encouraging intake adoption, which I call the carrot or stick approach. With the stick approach, legal tells the business that requests for legal services must come via an intake process to guarantee that the legal request will be reviewed.

The carrot approach, on the other hand, is when legal encourages the business to follow the new process for their own benefit. One example of a benefit is introducing Service Level Agreements (SLAs). When you’ve been tracking data from requests coming into legal, you will be able to give guides about response times based on experience instead of gut feel. Another example is simple document generation or starting a contract request workflow instead of having to speak to a lawyer every time to request a simple document like an NDA or an Employment Offer.

An intake process should be designed specifically to a business's needs - some people do this via an intranet, others acquire dedicated tools - the purpose is to route legal requests to a queue which the entire or designated members of the legal team can see. Requests are then filed much more efficiently and delegated immediately to the right lawyer for the job.

As with any new technology or process, intake is viewed cautiously because so many clients have become comfortable thinking “I'll just send an email to legal and let them work it out”. Yet, I urge you to consider the benefits. I believe that if you implement an intake process into your business you will see that it creates more efficient, accurate, and data-driven legal teams.

If you are hesitant to adopt a full ticketing system, consider starting with pre-requirements for engaging legal. Whether you go all in or evolve over time, make sure you note and communicate your wins so you can evaluate the success of the change.

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