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Virtual Summit Visionaries on COVID-19, Continuity, and the Future of Legal Ops

At the recent Virtual Summit, Continuity Beyond Coronavirus, we asked the brightest minds in Legal Operations to illuminate how legal departments might content with the COVID-19 crisis.

As Connie Brenton of NetApp reminded the audience, the spirit of innovation and always pressing forward has been integral to Legal Ops since its beginnings.  Not surprisingly, our other panelists seconded that judgment throughout the day, and pointed to level technology, and workflow automation in particular, as foundational tools in oversoming present-day problems, and building resilience against future challenges.

It would be presumptuous of any provider to claim their technology is the sole savior of in-house legal departments. Still, enterprise legal management (ELM) and legal workflow automation have had an impressive track record up until now in transforming the efficiency, responsiveness, and reportability of Legal Ops processes.

COVID-19 is driving the merits of legal tech merits home in a hurry for many legal departments who may have been sitting on the fence about adoption  The pressures to become more agile, collaborative, and cost-effective have been ratcheted up by a situation where, abruptly, staffs are having to not just work from home or even work from anywhere.

The need for long-term vision, even during crisis

As the Harvard Business Review once reminded us,

The task of leading during a sustained crisis—whether you are the CEO of a major corporation or a manager heading up an impromptu company initiative—is treacherous.

For Legal Ops to lead the legal department (and others) past the pitfalls of the pandemic, technology adoption must be driven by a roadmap, however, even during a time when Legal Ops is being urged to quickly pivot to meet unusual circumstances.

As Kevin Clem of HBR Consulting pointed out in his session, Legal Ops teams who have been pathfinders in pursuit of Legal Ops 2.0 understand this need:

What are you trying to achieve around what time frames, what’s the vision you’re trying to drive towards and how is there a roadmap to lead you towards that?

Technology is not the solution. It’s really an enabler of business processes, as we all know. So some of the things we’re seeing in terms of characteristics of Legal Ops 2.0…is having a vision for technology. That’s clear.

As Kevin explained, that roadmap must lead toward a legal department that’s maximized its ability to quickly and flexibly rise to the challenge of tomorrow’s potential disruptions.

We think that the first characteristic of a law department of the future is one that is agile.

How workflow automation has proven its worth

COIVD-19, then, has been a testing ground for the legal tech solutions best able to help reach that future level of agility.  One of the workhorse technologies that had proven its worth even before the pandemic?  Legal workflow automation, which has shown its mettle once again during the crisis to Legal Ops leaders like Andy Cooper of IDEXX:

Mitratech’s (TAP) technology has been a godsend since we installed in two and a half years ago… If this [COVID] had struck three years ago we would have been in a significantly different place than we are now.

The value of legal workflow automation for introducing a higher level of efficiency and productivity makes it a fundamental technology in the eyes of users like Gary Tully of Gilead Sciences, whose keynote session with our CEO, Mike Williams, focused on the key mission any technology needs to support:

Our job is to make our attorneys more effective in terms of the amount of time they’re spending to either process a contract or remove the administrative time it takes to review an invoice or any dashboard and reporting: These are the core functions of a Legal Operations team.

Greater efficiency isn’t the only new benchmark to meet. With a newly distributed workforce, the problems involved in workforce management and project oversight demand technological solutions across the board, according to Mike Russell of Trane Technologies:

Anything that they weren’t doing electronically, find a way to make it electronic.  Otherwise you won’t know who’s doing it, what their workload is, et cetera.

That was a point that Andy Cooper affirmed, too:

We’ve had personnel changes, we’ve had people that have gone out sick related to COVID, so we’ve had to do some shifting of gears rapidly, and having these technologies at our disposal made it significantly easier to disperse the work or see where our gaps are, see where things are falling off, so we can address them appropriately.

A backbone of business continuity

Supporting the entire corporate legal ecosystem during one of the most stressful times in memory gives Legal Ops a unique position within the enterprise.  “We are the change leaders in our departments,” Katrina Keiffer of Navistar said, and were now able to demonstrate the skills and tools they had brought to their role:

Business continuity is a central theme right now… and not just systems continuity, but functional business continuity.

It plays directly into what Legal Ops teams do on a day-to-day basis, whether it’s financial management or legal technology, communications, vendor management, you name it. Those are all areas that have to continue to function in a crisis so that the backbone of the department carries on.

At the Summit, panelists spoke about how other corporate business units and departments were approaching them to learn more about the technology solutions Legal Ops was already using, and how a solution like TAP might be adapted to non-legal processes.

Connie Brenton of NetApp had a lot to say on that subject during her session with Justin Hectus of KP Labs, among other insights.

Change management? Look how quickly – within a weekend – the law firms were willing to shift on a dime, and the same thing is happening with our internal teams.

Digital transformation has made it to the top of the CEO’s action items list…because TAP is such an easy technology to roll out, and has such a high ROI on it…NetApp is willing to invest in it regardless of the scenario.

We’ve had more knocks on the door (from other departments) in the last two months than we had in the last two quarters, because people cannot work how they used to work.

Finally, there’s another this movement toward Business Continuity Transformation, as these technologies can have profound impacts far beyond how efficient or effective they make a Legal Ops process.

An enterprise’s success with tools like workflow automation during a crisis like the one everyone is living through right now spins off much-needed benefits to employees, stakeholders, shareholders, communities, and ever the world at large, as Gary Tully reminded us all:

It’s not difficult to see how supporting the Legal function at Gilead is contributing more than just contributing to a company and its revenue stream. It’s supporting society in this case, and very in very much in a visible way.

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