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Symptoms of Failed Legal Automation:
Before Implementation

failed legal automation

Legal automation has become an essential resource for in-house legal teams and law firms. Lawyers are increasingly being asked to find innovative ways to ‘do more with less’, and legal automation is a counterpart that makes it possible.

Successful legal automation projects connect people, processes, and technology. However, many automation projects fail, companies never see a return on investment, and legal teams are left to backtrack and repair the damage – often through further spend. In these cases, it amplifies the challenges it was intended to resolve, whether that’s around productivity, bottlenecks, or slow uptake and buy-in from business stakeholders.

While each legal automation project is unique, and embedded within a complex digital transformation strategy, there are three underlying mistakes that inhibit most of these efforts before they even move into pilot.

Here’s what to avoid before implementing any type of legal automation.

Stakeholder Neglect

Although interest in legal technology has increased as a result of the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic – underscored by increased spend worldwide – the people who will be most affected by legal automation are still often left out until the very end of the project.

This throttles knowledge exchange, and typically creates a level of resistance to change that can cripple automation projects altogether.

IT departments are the historic custodians of all technology matters. But while the IT team has rightful responsibility for the infrastructure on which any business runs, it’s critical that subject matter experts (SMEs) aren’t neglected.

Legal automation projects rely on SMEs who understand the existing processes and intended outcomes, and can advise on, refine, and manage the project roadmap while warning of potential risks throughout. Crucially, they can proactively collaborate with technologists to deliver new capabilities to the business that align to what their colleagues really need.

Don’t discount the value of buy-in which is the intangible feeling and confidence people have towards a project by playing a part in its development. That means lawyers and paralegals, as well as those outside the legal team, such as sales or procurement.

That’s not to say there’s no leading party. In fact, unclear delegation and communication is a major inhibitor to any technology investment. It’s easy to assign a ‘project team’, though this promotes a lack of ownership. It also leads to bottlenecks when parties simply disagree. In a case like this, a project leader or ‘champion’ can take responsibility to spearhead the specific project and ensure its successful delivery.

Inadequate Mapping of Requirements

Many legal automation projects are started without a baseline understanding of the nuances of a process, or the intricacies of why it’s in place.

Companies that begin implementing legal automation before mapping out the full extent of a process’ requirements find themselves constantly cycling through revisions that cause delays in the business and drain budgets.

The other issue here is that when a process is distributed within a larger team or organization, it’s commonly interpreted very differently by that diverse pool of stakeholders. A common example is the procurement process, which can be assumed to be defined, but involves complex handling and customization. Before starting an legal technology project, the types of desired benefits – qualitative and quantitative – and required stakeholders must be clearly established and communicated to those set to benefit. The big questions are: where it fits within the broader corporate strategy, and how end users will be impacted across their multitudes of functions and responsibilities.

The answers to these overarching priorities can be deduced through a simple process that addresses:

• Who is involved in the process
• What is the activity they are performing at that particular point?
• How and where (typically in relation to offline vs online action)?
• Why is this being done in the first place? What is the motivation for them?
• When (and where) in the process does this action occur?

Once this basic process is mapped, we ask ourselves: where do the pain points lie, and how big are these pain points (in either time or cost)? By tagging the steps that have pain points, areas of improvement are easily identified.

These are also crucial considerations when the project is evaluated for return on investment against the promised benchmark.

Shopping for a Silver Bullet

Automation is an incredibly broad term – ranging from off-the-shelf tools that organize workloads, to those that transform how professionals work. The scope of what it can deliver has rendered it yet another perceived silver bullet, much like prominent technology trends before it. Unfortunately, it’s only after organizations have poured significant investment into new technologies that they find major limitations – including a lack of use from those expected to benefit.

Avoiding this takes a thorough legal technology evaluation process. Start by documenting your functional requirements, which should flow from business requirements, as described in the previous section. Then, source vendors who appear to be able to meet those requirements and request product demonstrations. After that, shortlist your options and challenge those solutions’ ability to comply with these requirements by using a compliance checklist, or having the vendors present a bespoke product demonstration showcasing those requirements being met.

When going through this exercise, it’s important to not only understand the outcomes the technology will be delivering today, but how it will expand alongside the company to support the evolving needs of stakeholders. Importantly, that means ensuring it’s easy to use to drive adoption and enable agility, and flexible to change as business requirements evolve.

Dodged the pre-implementation symptoms?
Read more about the signals post implementation

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