Legal Teams Use Pandemic Data to Explore Technology to Better Serve Clients

By Marc Jenkins

In 1665, a deadly infectious disease was raging through Britain. “Social distancing” edicts suspended trade between London and other towns, shut down the Scottish border, and closed colleges throughout the country, sending students home for an indefinite period. In a matter of 18 months, the disastrous Great Plague killed 100,000 people, nearly one fourth of the population of London.

During that same time, a 24-year old student from Cambridge University—unshackled by curriculum constraints, professorial whims, and the previous distractions of daily life—dove head-first into discovery and his imagination flourished.

When his intellectual curiosity journey was complete, young Isaac Newton discovered differential and integral calculus, formulated a theory of gravity, and investigated the properties of light through experimentation with optics and prisms, thus laying the foundation for his future career and some of the greatest scientific breakthroughs in the history of mankind.

Fast forward more than 350 years and here we are, in the middle of another plague: COVID-19. Fires are burning deep and strong within legal services organizations. We have entered a crisis that was unfathomable only a fiscal quarter ago. Even the strongest amongst us should often feel frustrated, overwhelmed, concerned for the future, and full of doubt.

While chaos and disruption have replaced what was a period of relative stability and predictability, there will be a different future state.

Teams exist to accomplish together what could not be accomplished individually. Thus, the suggestions that follow are based on a reasonable belief that legal teams can do better than merely adapting to the new environment; they can thrive by proactively shaping it.

Measure remote work environment successes and opportunities

Jonathan Dingel and Brent Neiman of the University of Chicago recently estimated that over 80% of work conducted in legal occupations could be performed at home. Even with shelter-in-place orders being lifted, large corporations have set much slower time frames for returning to the office and are devoting intellectual capital to post-pandemic office design.

Successful legal teams in the new “normal” will seek to learn from the experience of the coming months. Armed with knowledge from data points obtained, they will gain influence and be active participants in the ensuing development of a better organization.

The data points collected and measured do not have to be particularly complex but should be tailored to learn what does and does not work for individuals and the team. Given legitimate anxiety related to COVID-19 and potential reductions in force, it is imperative that leadership communicates clearly, consistently, repeatedly, and transparently about what they are doing and why they are doing it.

Examples of places to start your exploration include using survey tools to set a baseline and acquire some basic measurements on employee experience and engagement:

  • Please rate your satisfaction with work-at-home experience. 
  • Have you been more productive working from home? 
  • What are the pros and cons of working from home? 
  • Which meetings are most effective? 
  • For functions served by the legal department, have you been satisfied with the productivity, process improvements, and technology utilization of the legal department?

Coupling the survey data with basic usage data showing which platforms are being used and whether use is increasing or decreasing will provide some simple but actionable insights going forward. For teams with contract and matter management functions, pull data on contract turn-around times, matter completion, and showing whether strategic priorities are being met.

With respect to product performance and corporate operations, Zoom use has obviously exploded but many organizations and teams have not selected a single video conferencing tool. WebEx, GoTo Meeting, Google Hangouts/Meet, Blue Jeans, and UberConference are all widely used, as well. Recruit some lawyers and staff to A/B test the platforms and collect Net Promoter Scores or star ratings on the products while also investigating the security features and potential flaws of these systems.

Given the increased board level focus on environmental issues, obtain some basic data supporting sustainability efforts by showing reduction in paper and printing usage within the legal team. Legal technology platforms such as Legal Tracker can assist you in showing a sustainability return on investment (ROI).

These data points will support any future discussions regarding selection of preferred video conference providers and the workplace of tomorrow.

Test and learn collaboration tools

Legal and corporate teams are taking deeper dives into business collaboration productivity and project management applications. Move beyond using the basic chat, conversation, and file sharing and create functions to test the full ecosystem of these products by piloting features and app add-ons. Run pilots of a month or 2 in duration over the course of the next 12 to 18 months.

Start simply by adding survey tools to collect product satisfaction and performance metrics and view results of the surveys. Add a link to commonly used websites or company intranets used by the team to get work done. Next, experiment with project management and scheduling functions of the apps to better schedule work and tasks as well as acquiring some basic metrics on work completion and performance.

Integrate applications by expanding connections from template libraries to create simple approval processes and connections between other commonly used platforms and document repositories. Now that you have a rich data source, start exploring business intelligence tools to gain a deeper understanding of the data outputs leading to novel insights.

Set individualized and attainable innovation goals

Empower legal operations by adding a goal to each attorney and staff member to explore technology or data to improve and better serve clients. Do not dictate what must be done; rather, give the individual the intellectual freedom to discover insights previously missed amidst a sea of team anecdotes and heuristics. In all organizations, exploring technology currently in use or running a proof of concept with a vendor will invariably lead to a process improvement that benefits each individual and those they serve.

Starting with this common, clearly articulated mission will unite people in their efforts as valued members of a cohesive team, infusing their work with purpose. When combined with an inclusive leadership approach where each person understands how they can contribute and where regular recognition of contributions is made will result in transformed and resilient legal operations, cultures, and careers.

Imagination is one of the most difficult things to keep alive under pressure. Our lives have been seriously disrupted and likely permanently changed—in some aspects—by this pandemic. Some wisdom can be gained in these times by reflecting on the words of a former Swiss patent clerk who engaged in his own Annus Mirabilis in 1905 (Brownian motion, special theory of relativity, photoelectric effect, and a little equation known as E=MC²):

First and foremost, I wish you health in these times, but I also hope you use the opportunity given to you and your team to engage in a year of wonder.

To learn more about why your department needs a roadmap, how to prioritize your needs to build a roadmap, the risks of not having one, and where to get started, download our complimentary white paper.

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