9 ways small business lawyers use legal technology

As the pandemic hit, general counsel (GC) — like everyone else — were forced to adopt remote and hybrid work models. If you noticed your workload surging, you’re not alone: according to the 2021 State of Corporate Law Departments report, 58% of corporate law departments experienced a growth in work as they helped senior leaders and customers navigate the crisis. At the same time, 29% experienced budget cuts, meaning they had fewer opportunities for outsourcing work or paying for external resources.

If you’re GC at a growing business or startup, you have faced the same challenges as your peers at larger companies, but typically with fewer resources. Unless you have a large budget for outside counsel, one of your best strategies is to harness legal technology. Not only does legal technology support remote work, it also gives you access to hundreds of timesaving tools. You may gain data-based insights that solidify your position as a strategic advisor to your business.

Across all company sizes and types, GC and their teams are increasing their use of technology. In fact, 30% of corporate law departments reported increasing their spend on technology in 2021 and 44% say they’re making better use of the tools they already have.

In short, legal departments that had already adopted legal technology when the pandemic began had a head start on navigating business volatility, freeing up time to serve as strategic advisors to their business.

Nine ways legal technology can help differentiate your legal department

1. Be ready for anything. Recent events have proven that organizations must be ready to work productively through anything and everything, keeping core functions humming. In addition, analysts and corporate leaders say hybrid work is the new norm. Legal technology helps you support hybrid work models, improving your ability to provide legal support at all times, while providing your team with much-needed flexibility.

2. Understand emerging risks. COVID-19 has created new issues, such as disputes related to the pandemic and fast-changing regulations that can be challenging to interpret. The best legal technology solutions, such as Thomson Reuters® Practical Law, provide practice notes which can save you hours of research. Practice notes are maintained resources that provide clear and up-to-date explanations of law and practice. The notes are written by legal experts who consult primary sources, practitioners, and leading texts, distilling the principles to allow you to advise with confidence.

3. Tap expertise on new topics. If you have expanded into new business areas, you could search for information online — or simply download a toolkit that’s developed by lawyers, for lawyers. Legal toolkits help you get up to speed rapidly on varied topics, which can reduce or eliminate the need for outside counsel.

4. Enhance communications with key stakeholders. Remote work has made it more difficult for legal teams to deal with complex issues. The right legal technology can provide you with resources such as PowerPoint presentations that help you educate your stakeholders on vital legal issues that affect your company.

5. Provide the business with metrics. There’s no better way to defend budgets under siege than to show compelling results. You can use legal technology such as Thomson Reuters® Legal Tracker to provide granular insights on performance, costs, and budget for oversight and awareness of your legal spend.

“Data can also help you compel headcount at the right time and generally get the resources you need when you’re up for fiscal year planning,” says Chris Young, general counsel of Ironclad Inc. “Until you bring in data, if you are in the business of risk management, it is challenging to justify the resources you need to run an efficient and effective legal department.”

6. Streamline routine tasks. Legal technology solutions can automate and simplify many GC routine tasks. For example, Legal Tracker automates e-billing and contract management, Thomson Reuters® Westlaw allows you to complete legal research quickly and accurately, and Thomson Reuters® HighQ can help you manage legal contracts, documents, and workflows.

For timesaving resources tailored specifically for GCs at startups and small businesses, a comprehensive collection such as Practical Law can bring you up to speed quickly, even in matters with which you’re unfamiliar.  

7. Focus your time on the work that matters most. You probably want to focus more of your time on interpreting and communicating law than on routine matters. But limited resources often prevent you from meeting this goal. When you harness legal research and technology to streamline routine tasks, you can have additional time to broaden your skillset, spend more time with clients, and offer the expertise that positions you as a trusted advisor. Faster access to key resources and optimized processes also helps you and your team avoid burnout.

8. Attract and retain talent. Legal work is demanding, no matter where you work. The pivot to remote work has caused top talent to reevaluate their goals, including the need for greater work-life balance. A recent report from Acritas, a Thomson Reuters company, found that almost 80% of lawyers want to maintain the changes they’ve experienced during remote work and 20% said they would leave their current job if it won’t accommodate their needs for increased flexibility. Because it supports hybrid work models, legal technology can provide your team with the flexibility the workforce of the future requires.

9. Optimize your legal department for continued growth. Legal departments want to evolve from relying on chaotic and reactive processes to becoming proactive, optimized, and ultimately, predictive. When you use the right legal technology, you create a solid foundation for legal support, with the ability to add new services as needed. For example, while you may not need contract AI today, you might want to tap advanced capabilities like this in the future as you expand.

Whether you use it for standardized templates, legal research, workflow technology, or data metrics, the right legal technology can bridge the chasm between your growing workload and your shrinking budget. It also frees you up to become the strategic legal partner you went to law school to become.


Need help evaluating legal technology for your growing business?

Check out Practical Law for Startups and Small Businesses.