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Thomson Reuters

How workflow automation can enable efficiency in your legal department

Time is scarce and workloads are heavy for today’s corporate legal teams. In-house lawyers are increasingly focused on making significant contributions to the strategic goals of the business and showing their value to stakeholders. In order to do this, corporate legal departments are bringing more work in-house, offering real-time reporting and delivering insights to help the business meet their goals.

Even as they are asked to contribute more strategic advice, general counsel (GC) must still serve the day-to-day needs of the business, including handling business transactions, analysing and managing risk, ensuring regulatory compliance and more.

As a result of these growing demands, GCs often find themselves with more tasks than time and must carefully manage their workloads. With expectations and responsibilities higher than ever, corporate legal teams are turning to technology to find new, smarter ways to manage their workloads.

Automation to the rescue

Automation has the potential to be one of the most effective ways for corporate lawyers to free themselves from lower-value, monotonous tasks and dedicate their time to larger strategic goals and business initiatives. Automation is the triple threat of legal operations. Not only does workflow automation save time, it also reduces risk by improving consistency and builds a foundation for better data capture leading to more reliable future insights.

Legal workflow automation isn’t just for big businesses and huge law firms anymore. Cloud-based workflow automation solutions are increasingly affordable and easy to access. Legal teams that don’t take advantage of these tools risk being left behind as the speed of business shows no signs of slowing down. As the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is felt more widely across the legal and business landscape, corporate legal teams will be tasked with delivering more with less, being more efficient and effective, and operating more like a business.

The time to start automating is now—here’s where you should start to maximise buy-in from your business and see rapid results.

Self-service document generation

 Corporate legal departments generate a staggering number of documents and spend an enormous amount of time drafting them, but many of these documents are routine and require very little specialised legal input.

The list of these time-consuming documents includes employment contracts, supply and sales agreements, non-disclosure agreements and more. While these contracts and agreements are critical to the business, they can be time consuming and monotonous for the legal department.

With workflow and document automation, much of this process can be completed by the business user with a few clicks of the mouse. The user selects their desired document and, using an easy form, completes the required information, such as party names and dates. The information is then matched to the appropriate fields in the document templates provided by the legal department. The document is then generated and delivered as requested with all the pre-approved and up-to-date language defined by the legal team.

The benefits don’t end there. Automated documents can be controlled through a document management solution integrated with an e-signature service—which guarantees that you never miss a step in your workflow. Once a document is completed and signed it can be further managed so that document metadata is retained for easy access, and renewal reminders trigger upon selected dates.

Self-service doesn’t mean that business users are flying solo. Detailed instructions can be built into the forms to help answer common questions and guide users through the process. In addition, the legal department can determine, based on the user’s responses, which documents will require further review, more information or escalation. The self-service system can then trigger the next step in the workflow to create a task and notify the appropriate legal team member of the additional review required.

In addition to the efficiency benefits to both in-house lawyers and business users, improved consistency in these routine contracts protects the business from risk, while the data submitted by the business user can be leveraged for future insights.

Automated legal matter intake

Legal matter intake can be complicated. In-house lawyers field requests that can take many forms from a variety of departments. Depending on the maturity of the intake process, GCs may receive legal requests in person, sent in an email or dropped by in person. Without a clearly defined (and enforced) process, it’s unlikely that the request was conveniently accompanied by all the information required to move forward.

With automation, you can standardise and optimise this process to ensure that every matter is submitted with all the right information, every time. Imagine how much time could be saved when the involved parties don’t have to be tracked down and followed up with for omitted information.

Simplifying the matter intake workflow begins with a matter intake form, completed by the business stakeholder and includes questions to prompt the user to submit all the necessary data and documents.

Once submitted, the matter intake workflow is triggered, and the responses determine which associate is notified of the incoming request. The associate then approves the instruction and the system sends a confirmation email to the business user while at the same time creating necessary documentation. Simultaneously notifications, calendar events and tasks are sent to the right people with instructions on how to process the request.

Traditionally, business stakeholders would need to inquire with the legal department directly to find out the status of their matter. The legal team would then compile an update and email the information to the inquiring parties. However, with an automated legal matter intake solution, business stakeholders can view the progress of their matter in real-time.

Additionally, the legal team can use data visualisations drawn from their matter intake data. Visualising this data helps the legal team determine which business departments are submitting matters, which matter types are in progress and the speed at which matters are being processed. From these visualisations, the legal department can quickly evaluate team and individual workloads and adjust where needed to ensure staff utilisation is optimised.

Approval workflow automation

 At any given time, the corporate legal department is tracking matter progress, external counsel and vendor invoices, deadlines, contracts and more. These documents create a web of people, tasks and due dates that can halt progress if not managed and tracked properly.

Some corporate legal departments spend hours manually updating Excel spreadsheets in an attempt to stay up to date. Inconsistent updating and human error can cause delays and open the business up to risk.

Automating the approval workflow means that the correct process is followed every time, current documents are available to all involved parties and legal matter progress is transparent. Bottlenecks can quickly be identified and addressed. Responsive task templates mean your team will won’t lose track of where they are in the process and nothing will fall through the cracks.

A really simple way of handling approval workflows is by using the Kanban method—this enables easy progression through the process and visibility of all the work. The Kanban board represents the sequential steps required to handle the approval workflow, while a task represents the individual item to be approved.

  • For example, a contract is submitted for review. The submission triggers the automated creation of a task that is then assigned to the relevant legal team member.
  • That team member completes their step which automatically moves the task along to the next step and person in the workflow.
  • As tasks are moved along the Kanban board they are automatically reassigned to the relevant person until the workflow is complete.
  • All tasks are clearly visible on the Kanban board while data visualisations on a dashboard are used to represent scale, performance and work in progress.

A more efficient approval process can create a quicker route to revenue. Using technology for an approval workflow can reduce the legal contract processing timeline by 65 percent, resulting in an accelerated sales cycle and value for the business.

Using automation to improve these three workflows will deliver quantifiable benefits and help the corporate legal team align more closely with the goals of the business. Automation ensures that the right people have the right information at the right time and helps GCs and in-house legal teams stay focused on higher-value work.

For more information about how to technology can enable your legal department to be more efficient click here.

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