Evolving Legal Operations: Why Own Your Own Workflows?
Why is it important to be able to both customize and standardize your Legal Operations workflows? There are a lot of good reasons, and one very solid solution.
Every corporate legal department “owns” its own workflows, more or less. They’re processes and pathways that have grown up over time, the routes by which a corporate Legal Ops team is used to getting things done, whether for simple NDA processing or more complex tasks involving CLM or matter management.
But as we’ve said, Legal Ops teams are transitioning to legal technology tools to take over the process of getting a project from Point A to Point B. Or, more often, to Point Z and every step and approval in between.
Workflow automation has been a godsend for Legal Ops management and services thanks to its ability to automate and standardize routine processes, speed them up, and remove human error and all its attendant headaches. In embracing the automation of Legal Operations workflows, though, it’s important to avoid excess inflexibility, or users may find themselves in a situation where their quality of service is actually compromised.
Customization = client service
Each company or public service organization is, to some degree, idiosyncratic. So the corporate Legal Operations department always has to cope with that. The legal services workflows that are suitable for a global petrochemical corporation aren’t going to be a fit for a mid-sized pharmaceuticals research lab.
Even within a specific segment, or within the same organization, there’s going to be a need to customize Legal Ops workflows and processes to produce outcomes that precisely match the need of the legal department. That’s at the very heart of client service.
Unfortunately, the traditional manual processes used in legal departments were often “customized” to a fault. Sometimes there was no doctrine for a particular process, so project workflows were on-the-fly improvisions or, even when following a blueprint, a breeding ground for human fallibility. Plus, managers had to constantly police those processes to prevent people from excessive tinkering or dodging around them so much that efficiency or compliance are lost.
Having a standardized process is a good thing, then, so long as it’s not unduly rigid. So legal workflow automation, with its promise of linearity and standardization, is automatically the right way to get there…right?
Who’s servicing who?
Jules Verne once said, “In consequence of inventing machines, men will be devoured by them.” Many Legal Operations CIOs and CTOs have found, in evaluating Legal Operations workflow applications, how there’s a Goldilocks quandary at work: finding an automation software product that delivers a level of standardization that’s just right for their operation. If it’s too rigid and inflexible, the “machine” ends up dictating their culture and deliverables.
That’s what many organizations, not just in Legal Ops, but many other industries, discovered while using earlier generations of workflow automation, DTM and BPM software. These software platforms enforced adherence to set process models, and any customization was difficult and slow, sprinkled with more than a few agitated conversations with IT or developers.
It’s vital that any Legal Operations workflow technology solution serves the human beings involved, not vice-versa. Striking that balance is why those CIOs and CTOs are looking for workflow automation tools that incorporate flexibility and customizability, while still ensuring standardization, compliance and governance.
Why own your own?
Some of the main reasons an in-house Legal Ops teams needs a workflow automation solution allowing them to design, publish and warehouse their own tailored workflows:
- To optimize efficiency and speed: Only by being able to build Legal Operations workflows that are designed to maximize efficiency and minimize issues can corporate Legal Ops Departments hope to hit the service and financial goals many of these departments are being given. That requires their software platform of choice to provide flexibility for fine-tuning optimization.
- To maximize agility if there’s a sudden need. For example, a Legal Ops team or department may want to design and store workflows designed for unlikely or rare contingencies peculiar to their particular line of business, or for dealing with regulatory challenges or other emergencies.
- To empower collaboration, which increasingly must include the wider legal Ecosystem and people beyond the immediate Legal Ops team. There may be different departments, clients, and stakeholders being brought into different projects, including outside corporate counsel, and there may be dozens of projects (at least!) active at once. So customizing legal workflows for different team configurations is essential.
- To ensure positive standardization: Once a workflow is perfectly fitted to a specific routine process, it can be saved as a template and used again and again. The people using it can rest easy knowing that “standardization” means it’s task-specific, tested, and angst-free, and embeds a Legal Ops department’s own best practices and rules.
- To promote better morale. There’s greater job satisfaction to be had, especially for legal professionals, when they can exercise their intelligence, expertise, and creativity within a framework that reflects and leverages their unique understanding and competence, so they’re able to do the best job possible.
But the biggest reason for demanding customization and flexibility from legal workflow automation or any other process technology intended to help Legal Operations workflows, and the entire Legal Ops ecosystem, evolve? It’s simple: The process should never compromise the professional.
Legal Ops evolution – tech-powered, but empowering people
Legal Operations is launching into an intense period of evolution and innovation as its IT leaders try to sort out which new tools to embrace, and how to use them. There are plenty of outstanding questions about where that evolution will take us all, and how it’ll shake out for in-house Legal Operations Departments and the enterprises they serve.
To get a better handle on those complexities, it’s valuable to hear informed points-of-view from each side of the situation – technologists, analysts, Legal Ops leaders and others with hands-on experience and skin in the game when it comes to applying shiny new legal technology tools – like automation solutions for Legal Operations workflows – to the challenges ahead.
It’s why we’ve recorded a free online webinar, MISSION: IMPERATIVE – How Technology is Evolving the Role of Legal Operations, a wide-open discussion/Q&A featuring some of the best-respected experts in Legal Ops technology. [UPDATE: Check out the recorded webinar via the box below.]