Don't be afraid to welcome electronic overlords

In-house counsel must embrace the technology revolution in the legal department

Lawyers tend not to be the world’s most daring folks. As we are raised through the “baby lawyer” stage, we are taught that protecting our clients through the negative path results in a safe client and a safe lawyer. For the in-house lawyer, this philosophy is quickly dashed on the rocks of client demands and reality. Our internal clients are risk-takers and demand that their lawyers “find a way.”

So we alter our mindset and try to become more business-friendly, and sometimes discover our entrepreneurial and daring side in order to best serve our clients, and excel in the new economy. 

When interacting with my in-house peers, the risk-averse philosophy is more stubborn when it comes to the tools of the trade. The change from books to Lexis and Westlaw may have been a painful one, but we adjusted and can’t imagine going back now. But present an in-house lawyer with a room full of legal technology salespeople at a conference, and he might try to tunnel through the ballroom floor with a plastic spoon.

Last year, at a large in-house conference, I caught up to a friend of mine as he quickly fled the vendor hall. I asked, “Why did you take off so quickly?” He responded: “Ugh, those guys, they’re all so … SALESY.” I suppressed snarky replies and said, “Don’t you need some of that stuff in there?” He did. He told me just the previous day that his department was understaffed and overworked. But they did have a few budget dollars they could steal away for technology that could address some of the lower-level tactical aspects. But two fears were holding him back: the in-house counsel’s (misguided) fear of “the pitch” and his fear of the technology itself.

Why fear the pitch? Legal technology salespeople are becoming more knowledgeable not just about their products but also about the market they serve. Fortune 1000 conglomerates have snapped up many formerly small legal tech companies, bringing big company sophistication and selling techniques to what may have been an already great solution. The days of the hard sell are rapidly passing. If you give a vendor just 10 minutes of your time, you will be surprised what you may learn.

Why fear the technology? Because “new” is daunting. New takes mastery and time. Building the expertise is scary because we know we may not be able to succeed. But it took time to learn the nuances and shortcuts in Microsoft Word. Now you can’t imagine life without it.

Give yourself the time to gain proficiency. Reserve a little bit of time each week to explore new legal technology solutions and work on becoming better at using the technology you have, and it will pay big dividends. As a solo practitioner in a company with thousands of employees in a regulated industry, my weekly time for such activities is slim. I read the updates/client tips from my legal research software which are published every week (five minutes/week), and I either fool around with operationalizing the tips orpractice using a different technology tool (15 minutes/week). Certainly, I stumbled on multiple projects and wasted some short-term time. But the investment has paid off. Give yourself time to get started and to get better.

Also, you have to build a department that will scale. Throwing people at every problem is not scaling. Addressing systems and processes and looking at repeatable efforts is the key to a scalable, cost-conscious legal department. As much as we may hate it, look at your department as if it is an operational silo. Your job is to produce legal advice and/ or documentation. Both you and your business clients must constantly examine their operations for efficiency and cost savings. Technology ultimately will be the key to this effort.

Take the chance to explore the legal technology universe, and you may end up benefiting far beyond your expectations.

Stephen Kaplan is senior vice president and general counsel of Connextions Inc.

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