Who? path to follow? A case study in business management

In and among the plethora of vendor sales pitches and hyperbole, legal teams grappling with their technology are feeling the pressure to innovate.

We needed a refresh. This is our experience and what we have learned.

In 2020, we successfully carried out an inter-organizational project to review our contract and business management.

Our goal was to improve operational efficiency, provide a better user experience for both the legal team and our business colleagues, improve organizational controls and reduce risk.

We were looking for ways to free up our lawyers’ time and allow them to focus on where they brought the most value.

We wanted to improve the way we provide our legal advice and assistance, to make complex things easier.

We also wanted to empower our colleagues to act faster, in line with our team vision. And we needed to mitigate risk by ensuring that critical content, such as contracts, was easy to locate and properly managed.

With these goals in mind, we developed a project plan and objectives, and first looked at our policies and processes.

Process and policies first

If it had only been about technology, our project would probably not have achieved the results we needed.

The team’s lawyers had been involved in similar projects elsewhere; they had learned that the best approach involves people, process and technology.

People are the key to the process, and automating a poor process rarely improves it. We already had a good working relationship with the company, so engaging them early in the discussion helped us understand their needs and pain points, and identify the changes that would have the most impact.

We mapped key organizational processes for supplier onboarding and contract management. This revealed opportunities to simplify and streamline what we were doing through workflow adjustments and policy changes.

We worked with key stakeholders including finance, purchasing and business colleagues to ensure alignment. Therefore, when changes were finally introduced, we already had membership.

Together, we redesigned our supplier onboarding and contract management processes, clarifying responsibilities and authorities, and creating a risk-based approach to reduce friction for low-risk transactions. We have created flowcharts and guidance to support the business.

We also overhauled our team’s processes for handling legal matters – from intake, assignment, collaboration and sharing, through to closure.

This confirmed that, in our current state of maturity, we were primarily hampered by a lack of proper tools and data. Without metrics, we couldn’t gauge effectiveness or easily demonstrate our value to the organization.

We knew policy and procedure changes would bring improvements, but we could use technology to make things faster and easier, to integrate and support processes, and to maintain an audit trail.

Adjusting the process first, before adding the technology, was essential to ensure that the selected technology was the most appropriate.

System selection – do we really need one tool to do it all?

“Business management” in the legal field is a broad concept, and there are a plethora of systems.

Many have features and functions we’d never use – another reason not to jump on tech.

Following a methodical approach, we established a list of clear requirements, with ‘musts’ and ‘nice to haves’, before examining the systems. We focused on automation, centralized content repository and usability.

As our organization evolved toward more agile ways of working, we too wanted to apply a similar approach: get the core system in place, demonstrate its value, and then look for further continuous, incremental improvements.

This approach allowed us to speed up the implementation and led us to select a more modular and extensible system.

Interoperability with existing systems was a key factor.

We have demonstrated several platforms; Since a migration to Microsoft 365 was part of the organization’s enterprise technology strategy, we ultimately selected a cost-effective 365-based solution that met all of our “must-have” requirements. We saw the opportunity to add value to what we already had.

Rather than putting content in another new repository, we could store all of our contracts and business files in the Microsoft cloud, alongside other business content; this would make it easier for our technology, security, and governance teams to manage, which has helped us gain buy-in from our stakeholders.

Implementation – a clear plan and the right resource

Because we started by updating policies and procedures, we had already completed a complete review and redesign of our workflow.

We had defined exactly what the current process was and understood where we wanted to go. We had created a solid set of requirements and were able to specify and identify what we wanted and needed from a solution.

We had dedicated legal resources on our team who were able to ensure greater focus and faster progress on system delivery without worrying about the day-to-day distractions of regular legal work.

Thanks to our previous efforts, this phase of the project took less than two months.

Working with our chosen vendor, we created a portal – a simple SharePoint site – to serve as the entry point for all corporate legal support requests as well as the location of current self-service capabilities and future.

We conducted extensive user acceptance testing throughout this phase. The testing team included both lawyers and professional users who helped us fine-tune the system.

We launched the new portal and system last year with a series of communication and training sessions tailored to business users and the legal team.

Results

In the short time since its launch, the portal and the new system have already revolutionized the interaction between the company and the legal team by:

  • digitize the process and capture crucial information
  • provide the company with visibility into the status of their case and useful notifications such as contract renewal dates, and
  • enabling reporting to senior management that is supported by easily accessible data

Around 40% of all contracts are now generated directly by business users through the self-service document automation feature, speeding up their transactions and freeing up the legal team to focus on other matters.

The system also allows contracts to be signed electronically by authorized signatories with automatic archiving, ensuring compliance with internal policies and record keeping.

For the legal team, the system is integrated with Outlook, allowing lawyers to easily manage their files, instructions, correspondence and documents, all from one place.

They can now share and collaborate on topics wherever they are, and work can be quickly reassigned when needed. Legal leads also have better oversight of team business, resource allocation, and capacity.

While we have already seen significant improvements in our interactions with the business and within our own team, we have also identified other areas for expansion in system usage.

Even though we had specific goals for this project, we really only saw it as our first big step.

We knew the self-service contract capability would be popular, but didn’t realize how popular – we now plan to automate more models, and the company is eager to have them.

In our own interest, we recognize the need to adjust the data we collect so that we can further refine and improve the management reports and MI dashboards we produce. We’re even exploring how we can further integrate it with other Which? systems.

Our plan remains to focus on continuous improvements, innovating to efficiently and effectively deliver what the organization needs.