Best-practice tips for embedding innovative technology in a global legal department

Many in-house legal teams would accept that innovative legal technology can transform the operation of in-house legal functions in their organization. It is a key driver for success, helping to produce improved outcomes, add value to the department, and provide competitive advantage. Further, with efficiency and effectiveness at the top of many priority lists, and flexible working arrangements being adopted across the profession, the need for legal departments to digitize and further embrace technology is only going to increase in the coming years.

A new report, “Digital General Counsel are Transforming the Corporate Legal Department,” in which Thomson Reuters brings together recent findings from a series of in-depth interviews conducted with legal department leaders, highlighted that a tech-enabled, data-driven legal operation requires a big-picture strategic plan and thoughtful implementation that brings together people, processes, and technology.

What can be challenging, though, is embedding new technology in your team’s existing processes and functions. During our recent UK webinar, “The Future Digital GC: Accelerating legal department of the future,” panelist Katie Selves, Group GC and Company Secretary, Gattaca, explained that the “key to successful legal technology implementation is getting the legal team on board: explaining why you need to transform a department, why you’re bringing in certain technology, what problems you’re helping to solve by bringing that technology tool in. The best system in the world will be useless if the people who are meant to be utilizing it don’t understand what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and don’t actually use it.”

When it comes to large, global organizations the implementation challenge can perhaps seem much greater. With global footprints, multi-jurisdictional nuances, and different languages, there are several additional issues to consider when outlining your technology transformation plans. Here we share five best-practice tips on implementing new technology in a global legal department.

Five tips to implement new technology

1. Align regional priorities

According to data from Acritas, legal departments in the U.S. spend around 61% of their budget on external counsel, compared to the European average of 47%. With the U.S. being home to some of the world's leading multinationals, there is huge demand for cross-border support, which explains why 73% of corporate legal departments have international needs, and almost one-fifth of external legal budgets is spent internationally. There are over-arching trends in the market that could shift priorities locally, like legal departments in regions where it is customary to rely on outside counsel for advice. These are more likely to prioritize tools to help control outside counsel spend, which may not be that important in locations where most of the work is taken in house.

2. Be aware of cultural nuances

Collaboration tools are becoming more and more common, as was pointed out during The Future Digital GC webinar. However, teamwork and information sharing work very differently in different countries and there is a strong cultural component behind it. These cultural differences may hinder in one region what was a successful rollout in another. Are users happy sharing work in progress versions of documents? Are users happy with their workload being monitored and published on a dashboard? Are users happy using chat functionalities instead of more formal emails to communicate?

3. Find the right champion

Very much in line with the above point, you would need someone not only with strong operational skills to roll out legal technology, but also someone with high cultural awareness that can manage change globally. A Harvard Business School article on cultural metacognition, which refers to a person's reflective thinking about his or her cultural assumptions, demonstrates that having increased cultural awareness has a strong effect on how effectively people collaborate across cultures. It also notes that cultural metacognition is not fixed, but rather it is a mental habit that can be learned over time and through different circumstances.

4. Understand language requirements

Certain regions are more comfortable than others operating in foreign languages. If you are thinking, for example, of rolling out a legal intake solution—in other words, an interface for your organization to submit requests following a structured, automated workflow to your legal department—then you need a solution in a language that the broader organization can understand and interact with. Understanding the language capabilities of the technology you are planning to roll out will help you choose the right one.

5. Work on your data-hosting strategy

Every technology vendor will take a different approach towards hosting data. Consequently, it is paramount to align vendor and customer data management strategy from the outset. Otherwise what was a successful local rollout cannot be replicated because of limitations in data hosting. For example, a division of your organization may be adamant that certain data is stored in private—not public—clouds or that data is stored within a specific region. With companies operating more and more as a single global entity, a multi-national lens to technology rollout helps remove future data hosting roadblocks

A successful technology implementation requires a lot of work, though the challenges—even for a large organization with a global reach—are certainly not prohibitive. Overcoming these obstacles will not only enrich your team but will transform your legal department and prepare it for the future.

To download your copy of Digital General Counsel are Transforming the Corporate Legal Department, click here.

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