Nathan Wenzel, CEO and co-founder of SimpleLegal. Courtesy photo

Adopting technology is becoming more commonplace in legal. But, with a growing number of tools promising increased operational efficiency and reduced costs for corporate legal teams, deciding which tools are best for your department is a challenging path to navigate.

The rise of legal operations and organizations like CLOC (Corporate Legal Operations Consortium) and TechGC have created networks for in-house professionals to swap knowledge about legal technology, yet there are few resources that point out the best tools for in-house teams. While every business is different, I want to share four tools every in-house team should keep in mind when building their infrastructure for success.

e-Billing

e-Billing, or legal spend management, has become an essential tool for today’s legal department to meet the growing pressure to cut costs and operate more efficiently. It’s often the first step toward creating a more data-driven department because it collects quite a bit of very useful data.

In my experience working with large financial institutions and insurance companies, I learned excessive billing does happen. This practice likely isn’t malicious. Instead, it’s the result of the tremendous pressure put on law firms and staff, the number of billing arrangements they need to manage, and difficulties configuring their billing system to conform to clients’ requirements. If you don’t have the resources or time to carefully go through each invoice you receive, overbilling can add up quickly. Spend management tools help monitor legal spend to make sure you’re not overpaying, which results in almost immediate cost savings.

e-Billing systems are more than just a way to streamline legal invoice review and catch double billing. Modern e-Billing solutions extract and analyze rich data within those invoices and serve up detailed reports that would otherwise be incredibly time consuming to build by hand. General Counsel and legal operations professionals gain deep insights into legal spend, average hourly rates, law firm efficiency, compliance with budgets, progress against monthly accruals, and more. e-Billing makes the data actionable.

Also, e-Billing systems serve as a place to consolidate key information around a matter, satisfying the need for a matter management tool in many legal departments.

Document management

Simple, secure file sharing seems like a no brainer, especially for legal departments as they deal with a lot of documents – emails, contracts, invoices, memos, filings, etc. In-house teams must have a document management solution. According to IDC, workers spend five hours per week searching for documents – that’s 260 hours per year.

Cloud-based storage solutions like Box, Sharepoint, or Egnyte are great options. There are also more complex solutions if you have specific security or functionality requirements. The storage solution you select will be based on your need for things like integration with email, role-based authorization requirements, tagging and metadata, mobile access, and version control.

Even more important than the actual solution chosen is the implementation and structure. Just putting documents into the cloud for easy access and sharing isn’t enough. The same study by IDC stated 7.2 percent of the working week is lost by the inability to find the right documents. There needs to be a clear plan on how the documents should be organized. The plan needs to be communicated and team members need to follow it consistently.

Contract Management

In-house legal teams need a contract management solution to effectively manage the magnitude of contracts organizations are faced with today. Without software, manually managing all the contact terms, renewals, and compliance policies across hundreds or thousands of contracts is inefficient at best and can be incredibly costly.

I know of one specific data analytics provider that undercharged a customer by more than $250,000 because they didn’t track the terms in a single contract. The company was left with either an awkward conversation with their customer, or an awkward conversation with their CEO and CFO.

There are quite a few options in the CMS space. A contract queueing system or a contract repository are good places to start. Those tools combined with an e-signature component can help get contracts processed faster. They will also make legal part of the revenue generating process as opposed to just the people who say no.

Task Management

Legal needs to collaborate with nearly every other department in their organization. Sometimes this is ongoing while other times project based. Tracking tasks is critically important to being a good internal service provider. As Stephanie King, general counsel at Adroll, told me, “Legal doesn’t work in a vacuum and most projects involve at least one, if not more, groups throughout the company.”

Complex projects need to be managed correctly to achieve the expected results. Any form of project or task management can help immensely to keep key stakeholders on the same page. I’ve seen legal teams of all sizes use Asana, Trello, and even Google Sheets.

Again the key here is a successful implementation, as well as getting the other teams to adopt the process you build. As with e-billing and document management systems, the change management process is just as important as the capabilities of the specific software you select.

Bonus

I also want to point out two additional tools that aren’t needed by every legal department, but have incredible benefits where they are a good fit. These are part of the toolkit for many legal departments I’ve worked with.

e-Discovery

Organizations that deal with a lot of litigation should consider investing in e-Discovery software rather than a vendor-driven offering. Modern e-Discovery software with enhanced search capabilities makes discovery more accessible and affordable to more people. It can save hours and hours of time for in-house attorneys and law firms alike.

IP management

For IP-focused companies, an IP management solution provides a unified process for managing, growing, and protecting an IP portfolio. Companies that leverage IP management software streamline workflows by integrating the high-volume world of IP management with their other systems. If your IP management solution integrates with your e-Billing system, you can eliminate duplicate data entry and keep your engineering, legal, and finance teams in sync.

Finding What’s Right for You

There are many resources that can make legal departments of all sizes more efficient. The tools that are a great fit for one company might be overkill for another. Choose the tools that solve your pressing issues. Future-proof those choices by choosing modern tools that have an API that can integrate with other systems inside and outside the legal department so that you don’t end up with a collection of apps that can’t talk to each other.