Four questions for the next steps on your legal tech roadmap

Katie Walter

Most companies frequently review their strategic plans and measure progress against them regularly. Leaders look to make sure their operational plans are lining up with their long-term vision for the company. A plan isn’t going to help a company grow if leaders build it and store it in a drawer.

The same should be true for department-level roadmaps — like your law department tech roadmap. As a law department leader, you likely have a vision of how you want to equip your team to help drive business. Does the plan reflect your current reality? Do you know which step you’re taking next?

How legal tech roadmaps are important

A legal technology roadmap is a plan that identifies the specifics on how technology can support the legal business strategy and priorities over time, typically a three-year look.

Law department leaders usually go through three steps to build this type of roadmap. First, they align their legal department goals to those of the business. Then, they create process maps to understand the current people, processes, and systems in place to do the work of the legal department. Finally, they plan for the implementation of new or enhanced solutions. They usually start by focusing on their highest priority responsibility and fill in the gaps in technology for those processes.

This roadmap helps leaders secure financial and technical support from the business, as you can demonstrate that new systems fit into a larger plan that aligns with business goals. 

Most law departments have such a plan. According to the 2019 Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC) Report, the top-performing legal departments have a strong focus on technology to improve transparency and data analytics, efficiency, quality and consistency of work, and speed of execution. Of the CLOC members surveyed, 72% reported having a technology roadmap.

According to the 2021 Thomson Reuters Legal Department Operations report, the two biggest trends among corporate legal departments were the continued growth in the volume of work — based on the number of legal matters that departments are facing — and departments’ continued embrace of technology to improve their work efficiency and save costs. One hundred percent of respondents reported their use of technology increasing or staying the same — no one expected to use technology less.

That means that law department leaders everywhere are looking at their technology roadmaps to measure progress and determine which solution to implement next.

Evaluating the next steps on your legal tech roadmap

If you did the foundational work of setting priorities and mapping processes, your initial roadmap was probably a strong plan for implementation of solutions over time. Six months or a year later, you’ve tackled the most urgent needs and implemented new tools and now you’re ready to put in requests for the next solution. Before you do, be sure to verify the conditions that were true for the initial roadmap are still true now. 

By asking these four questions, you can limit your department’s risk of ending up with the wrong solution at the wrong time.

  1. What has changed with the business? Be sure your priorities are still in line with the business needs. If business conditions have changed, your legal priorities are likely to shift as well. For instance, while you planned to implement contract management next, a legal department spend management system may have become more important.
  2. Did the last solution we implemented have any unanticipated benefits or drawbacks? Refresh your process maps to be sure the remaining requests are still necessary. Look at your newer solutions to see if they contain tools that address an issue farther down on your list. Integration and connectivity can significantly improve efficiency. 
  3. Has technology changed? If something new is available that could be a significant improvement over a previous solution, consider the possibility that your best next step is to replace that solution. Most legal departments are aiming to support business goals, reduce their costs, and increase their efficiency.
    By looking backwards at your roadmap periodically, you can see if a do-over in one area would move you farther ahead faster than a new solution in a less impactful process. Conversely, you may have projected specific purchases in your initial roadmap. Check to see if better solutions are now available. 
  4. What’s our capacity to take on new technology or change management initiatives over the next six to 12 months? Your team’s capacity can shift independently of business conditions or the efficiencies gained from earlier solutions. Personal leaves, higher-than-anticipated attrition, and hiring freezes can all limit your team’s capacity beyond your control.

Or, you may have greater capacity because of headcount or low attrition approval. Don’t assume your colleagues can absorb the same amount of change and improvement in the next six months as they did in the previous six months.

The work you did to develop your initial roadmap is still incredibly valuable. Periodically asking these four questions can help keep it fresh and relevant longer. You’ll stay in alignment with business goals and have an easier time with budget requests, confident that you’ll solve the right problem at the right time. 

Learn more in the Thomson Reuters white paper, How to develop a legal technology roadmap.