Anthony Bekker

The world of traditional lawyering is rapidly changing thanks to legal technology.

Contrary to the gloom and doom predictions of robots eventually taking over our jobs, innovation in legal tech is making life easier for lawyers. These advances mean that we can do more for less, we can utilise a wealth of low-cost resources, and we can streamline our daily work schedule. Soon the days of reinventing the wheel will be long gone.

All lawyers know the value of time, and using technology to increase efficiency only increases the value of your team. It is estimated that 22 % of a lawyer's job can be automated.

Below we look at some reasonably priced legal tech options for a legal department on a budget.

 

Excel / Google sheets

We start with a simple and overlooked software that is already living on your desktop or browser — Excel or Google Sheets.

We live in a data-driven world, and quite simply, lawyers need to be both numerate and data-savvy to remain relevant.

But why would advisors who are paid to advise on the law have to be numerate and incorporate data into their daily roles?

Because numeracy and analytical skills are critical to in-house lawyers and external counsel, and because insights offered in pictorially represented data can tell a story in a way that words cannot.

A case in point - it's common for US attorneys to own the cap table of their organisations and clients. But for some reason Australian lawyers run a mile, some saying they can't give 'financial advice'. Or the lawyer who tells their client they can't tell them whether the security offered on a loan stacks up. We call BS on both. Risk can often arise in numbers as well as words - and the lawyer's job is to identify and manage risk.

Think about that departmental or company-wide contract review you're undertaking. This is an amazing opportunity to showcase add-on value to your organisation and collect and utilise data to provide helpful and more informed insights on the organisation and its processes.

When advising on that contract review, the data you have collated can allow you to advise on the number of times the company has had to amend the standard form contract, which clauses produce the most pushback, the time spent in negotiating those points, how much revenue those contracts have generated for the company. This can assist in determining whether all the effort is worth it - whether you need to look at amending standard terms or adapting your contracting process to minimise push-back.

Collecting the data is reasonably easy. Ensuring collected data is actionable is a bit harder. Presenting it is harder still — but with a bit of Excel training, you can collate and produce data to turn information into insights.

Excel can also assist with routine or administrative tasks: automating manual processes, managing projects, assisting with document reviews, evaluating external counsel performance and tracking legal costs and spend.

There is more to Excel and Google Sheets than just adding a few numbers together in a table. It is worth investing in some Excel training, and there are a number of companies who offer Excel training specifically to lawyers.

And if you want to get to the next level - try the super data visualisation capabilities of Tableau.

 

Legal matter management

Ah, legal matter management software: the indispensable electronic filing cabinet, virtual secretary and dishevelled collection of Post-It notes all combined into one. Without legal matter management software, we would reinvent the wheel every day on non-essential administrative tasks.

Most lawyers are familiar with legal matter management software. Put simply, legal matter management maximises your people. It provides a user-friendly interface that manages every aspect of a legal department, including project and matter management, workflow summaries, task management, automated notifications, due dates and deadlines. It also automates opening and closing files, expense management and, for external counsel, billing.

The wealth of legal matter management software means that lawyers are constantly on the lookout for something better.

Ideally, you want a cloud based software which allows access from a number of devices, and an integrated built-in system to avoid multiple software packages and minimise reliance on legacy systems.

Some companies are moving away from bespoke legal software altogether - and instead using free or much cheaper tools that perform similar functionality - like workflow management software monday.com, or

 

Contracts

It is estimated that 50% of in-house lawyers time is spent on reviewing contracts, most of which are standard, high-volume, low- value contracts.

There are a number of software solutions to assist with all stages of the contractual process- from obtaining instructions from the business area, contract drafting, contract review and sign off.

Contract drafting

Contract drafting software now allows lawyers to automate some of the less complex tasks, or high volume standard contracts. Lawyers can spend more time reviewing the drafts of an agreement and focus on the more complex issues related to a transaction.

This software can utilise pre-existing standard templates, auto-populate clauses from questionnaire answers, and can include a drag and drop interface to modify each agreement. Some software also operates directly on Microsoft Word (most commonly, or Google Doc, for certain systems), so you don't need complex coding or developers to modify the macros or the software itself.

Contract review

The technology available for contract review does more than just work with a standard template. Using AI, contract review software can analyse a contract based on company requirements and/or predetermined criteria and benchmarks, allow approval of a contract if it meets the benchmarks, or forwarding on to the legal team for further analysis. Some software can also offer risk evaluation tools for specific agreements.

Sign-off

Digital signing/ digital signature software allows contract parties to approve or sign-off on contracts at their convenience, including from their mobile phones.

This software is now widely used and recognised as complying with e-signature legal requirements in Australia, so you no longer need to go through the process of printing, signing and scanning agreements and then sending through the counterparts. (Although for some types of documents wet ink signatures are always required (for example, court documents, real estate, or commercial/retail leases).

Similarly, contract management systems are also available to assist companies and lawyers with managing every stage of a contract life cycle. We explore this further in our guide to Contract Management Systems.

 

Legal research

One of the benefits of technology is the efficiency it provides for perfunctory legal tasks that nevertheless require a degree of legal expertise, such as legal research. We don't always have the benefit of junior staff to assist with legal research, particularly when we have so few resources and limited time.

This is where legal tech can assist. Household names like LexisNexis and Thomson Reuters have consistently improved itself year after year making legal research easier for lawyers. Gone are the days we would need to sit at the Supreme Court Library scanning through dusty legal texts and navigating outdated photocopiers.

Not only do legal research databases provide you with checklists, precedents and legal guides, they also allow users to track where a judgment has been followed or a legal concept adopted by other courts, and provide annotated cases and legislation.

The benefit of these databases is that they do the dirty work for you: all the manual work involved in finding relevant cases, relevant legislation and tracking down the latest judicial discussion on an obscure law. Phew!

 

Prediction and litigation technology

Any young lawyer involved in dispute resolution will recall a similar scenario: sifting through legal databases, searching for decisions from Judge X in the Federal Court to determine what damages Judge X ordered for similar breach of contract cases in the past six years. This long and arduous task provides the client with an invaluable and realistic dollar figure on the company's potential liability for a breach of contract claim. The exercise took hours of non-billable time to complete, but was nevertheless worthwhile. Now, with today's advances in machine learning and artificial intelligence, this could be done with a click of a button.

New advances in machine learning and artificial intelligence are used to assist lawyers with predictive technology: analysing past events to determine likely future outcomes. By analysing past legal data, AI can provide insights into future outcomes through predictive analytics. In law, this may mean predicting a certain judge's decision based on the reasoning provided in previous cases, or predicting the likelihood of the success of an application for government approval, based on past decisions of that regulatory body.

Through this analysis, AI can reveal when judges or decision makers follow certain patterns. This brings another level of informed, evidenced-based decision making that will ultimately benefit your client.

 

Final note

The glamour of legal tech is exciting, and only continues to evolve in providing practical solutions for lawyers.

However, there are some precautions that should be considered when utilising technology to assist your legal team:

  • If the legal tech that your team implements fails to provide seamless services to your clients, then it is pointless.
  • No matter how sophisticated it may seem, If the tech causes you more problems and complexity, then it may not be worth it. Most lawyers prefer usability over functionality: it is preferable to have a system you can use that does a portion of the work required, than to have a sophisticated system that is unusable.
  • The key is to ensure that your legal tech is solving an identifiable problem. Start by identifying the biggest issue in your team, the largest inefficiencies and where the majority of your team's time is 'wasted'. Then identify a software solution that deals directly with this. The chances are that someone has already made a solution for you.

Biztech Laywers helps clients identify and implement appropriate Legaltech solutions using its proprietary database of over 600+ legaltech vendors and technologies.  We combine law firm, in-house, government and management consulting experience to make life easier for counsel assisting their organisations.   

Ant Bekker
Founder | MD

 Ant launched his corporate legal career spending a decade covering ecommerce, technology, finance and litigation at Mallesons Stephen Jaques, followed by in-house stints at global behemoth BT and for the UK competition and consumer regulator (the OFT). An MBA at INSEAD led to a change in direction spending time at a top global strategy consulting business (Booz & Co), and projects in the Netherlands, Singapore and the US.  

Ant then got his feet wet in startups, joining marketing technology business Rokt as inaugural General Counsel and Head of Operations, building both divisions from the ground up. A few funding rounds and 10x growth later, this quickly turned into a global scale-up valued at US$250m+ and 175 staff

Ant founded Biztech Lawyers in 2018.   Biztech Lawyers is a tech-centric law firm.  We serve tech clients and uses an array of legal technology to make legal processes more efficient, allowing clients to grow as painlessly as possible.  Our role is to act as a decision-making partner, rather than a legal-blocker.