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Corporate Legal

Driving change and becoming a data-informed legal team

· 5 minute read

· 5 minute read

Experts explore successful technology rollouts to the legal team

Corporate legal departments are keen to use technology to elevate their decision-making and streamline their operations. Thomson Reuters recently hosted a panel of experts in law department operations and technology to discuss the importance of making data-informed decisions and some of the elements of successful technology implementation. The panel was moderated by John Han and Stephanie Costello of Thomson Reuters. Their guests included: 

  • Ellen Nendorf, Founder, LPM Executive 
  • Brendan O’Reilly, Associate General Counsel, WellSpan Health 
  • William Sullivan, Senior Legal Operations Analyst, ORACLE 

The value of a data-informed legal team

Sullivan and O’Reilly have led implementations of Thomson Reuters products like Legal Tracker and HighQ within their businesses. Nendorf, Han, and Costello all help legal departments implement software. They all agree that access to data is a significant motivation to embrace new technologies.  

O’Reilly said his department had a directive to control the budget. To do that, they needed to use data better to make more informed decisions about outside counsel spend. 

“There was a lot of data we weren’t gathering and didn’t have any transparency on it,” O’Reilly said. “Other departments in our company already using data, and we wanted to be able to bring the same value.” The legal team used technology to illustrate their contributions and show the rest of the organization what they were working on.  

Sullivan said his team had an inefficient billing system and needed one that could handle more data. They are now able to efficiently and accurately report on savings and manage rates better. “We can get that data out there and analyze it and use it going forward with leverage for future engagements with firms.” 

Change management in technology rollouts

Nendorf noted that it is important to have an executive sponsor who understands the impact a tool that supports data-informed work can have. The executive sponsor can sell people on the value of the change, especially when the rollout gets tricky or people feel frustrated.  

Sullivan experienced this as well. “We had to convince the attorneys and management that our rollout was a good thing,” he said. “It took a lot of convincing, talking and handholding to get that done.”  

The panel provided a few other ideas for ensuring a successful rollout. These include the following:  

  • Remember that these tools streamline a significant workload, O’Reilly said. When you talk to attorneys about a new system, be sure to emphasize how it will make their life easier. 
  • Nendof said that whoever is leading the project needs to understand why the change is happening and confidently explain it to users and persuade department leaders to support the change. 
  • You can put “hard stops” in place to force some level of adoption, Nendorf says. For instance, at a certain point you’ll pay only invoices submitted through the new tool.  
  • O’Reilly suggests making training and documentation easy to find. The training wiki in HighQ helps make materials accessible.  

“Attorneys don’t like change with their technology,” Sullivan said. Still, he was able to win them over with a lot of handholding and training. “You have to be confident in what you’re doing and what your end result will be.” 

Technology roadmaps for legal departments

The panel also addressed the endless possibilities that come with new systems. “There’s so much you can do with these solutions,” Nendorf said. “It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the possible future ways you can use the tool, based on what it can do and what you see other departments doing.  Give yourself the grace to start small. It’s so boring, but you have to start at the beginning — collecting the data cleanly and methodically — before you can do the big things.” 

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How to develop a legal technology roadmap

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These first steps are often connected to an urgent need in the business. “Usually there is something that makes someone want to spend money,” Nendorf said. “For instance, the Covid pandemic created a lot of interest in contract management because people realized that was a weak point.”  So, start with the most urgent need and build from there. 

“Technology is always changing,” Han said, “Which is why the legal department has to be agile and ready to change. There is no perfect system, so you have to build in flexibility.” 

And if you have a roadmap, even a simple and flexible one, you have a built-in answer when people suggest enhancements. O’Reilly simply responds, “Yes, we’re going to do that, it’s on the roadmap. We aren’t doing it now, but we’re going to get there.” 

Leading the organization “down the path to Oz”

While all the panelists have seen varied entry points into systems that support data-driven work, they consistently pointed to one key factor in their success. They know why they are making a certain change, and they repeat their “why” every chance they get.  

As these experts have all seen, becoming a data-informed legal team is well within reach. As Nendorf noted, “It does take time to do it well. Remember your why, then go from A to B, check and recheck, then go from B to C. There’s no end, it’s exciting because you can keep changing and growing. You can be the champion that’s leading your team down the path to Oz.” 

Nendorf, O’Reilly, Sullivan, Costello, and Han provided more useful suggestions for data-driven success in the webinar Driving change and becoming a data-informed legal team 


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