As the old saying goes, change is constant. This is especially true within the corporate world, where businesses must keep pace with market forces, technological advances, and other factors in order to maximize efficiencies and stay competitive. No department is spared from this ongoing need for evolution, and that includes legal operations.
So how are legal operations evolving? An annual survey with legal operations leaders shows a number of key shifts. Here are three ways legal operations departments are evolving – and the impact these trends may have on resources, processes, and other considerations that impact in-house legal teams.
1. Legal Operations Teams Are Growing
Compared to similar research released a year prior, the size of the average legal operations team was up slightly year over year, with more teams comprised of six or more staff members. While the investment of human resources into legal operations is a positive sign, showing that companies recognize the vast amounts of detailed work that goes into managing company contracts and other legal matters, larger teams can introduce new challenges to how legal teams conduct operations.
For example, the increased access by more people to sensitive legal documents can introduce security challenges as businesses try to balance their staff’s ability to efficiently retrieve documents with the need to protect their contents. While making a million keys to the file vault can make you extremely vulnerable (and make it hard to determine the source should a breach occur), technology is making it easier to resolve this apparent conflict. An electronic storage system can make it easy to scale security needs if it offers these helpful features:
Unlimited users with unique logins: Employing a common username and password for the whole team might ensure that everyone can access your database of legal documents, regardless of how quickly your team grows. But it also makes for a security nightmare. These credentials can easily be shared and if an employee leaves the team or company, the only way to restrict their access is by changing the login details for everyone. At the same time, having to pay for each new user can quickly increase the cost of a secure storage solution. To get around this issue, look for a platform that includes an unlimited number of users and provides each with their own unique access credentials that can easily be configured or turned off.
Granular access controls: A key concept in cyber-security, the principle of least privilege means assigning the lowest level of access that any individual needs to do their job. Even within legal operations teams, not every staff member will require access – or full editing permissions – to each and every document. A platform that allows you to manage access permissions on a granular, document-by-document basis, can help to easily control non-essential exposure to sensitive information.
Audit trail reporting: When larger numbers of people have access to materials, it becomes harder to track user actions for accountability purposes. Audit trail reporting logs each action taken by each individual user, improving traceability.
2. Legal Operations Teams Are Looking to Leverage Technology to Improve their Job Function
As the previous section shows, technology can help to improve some of the challenges legal operations teams face, whether longstanding or that are arising due to changes within the industry. Research shows that legal operations departments are aware of – but still exploring – such opportunities. Though only 15 percent of companies reported that their legal operations department has recently launched or is already using Artificial Intelligence (AI), 66 percent of in-house legal teams are considering the improvements such innovations can offer and 58 percent plan to increase their legal technology spend within the next year. This openness to adopt new solutions is important because 83 percent of corporations reported that their legal technology infrastructure does not currently meet their needs.
To find the right technology, it’s important to start by getting familiar with current capabilities and employing strategies to best interrogate existing solutions to find the platform that will best meet your legal departments’ unique needs.
3. Cost Management is a Top Priority
After managing legal technology, cost management is the top priority for legal operations departments. And that’s no real wonder: contract review can be a long, cumbersome process, while the time-consuming, detail-oriented nature of most other contract-related tasks slows efficiency and increases resourcing requirements. The nature of the work does not make legal operations inherently cost-effective.
But the right tools can vastly improve cost management capabilities within legal teams. For example, artificial intelligence-based features that are capable of crawling and ingesting massive volumes of text can shrink the amount of manual time required to thoroughly onboard a new contract from dozens of hours down to virtually nothing. Such automation can free up legal operations teams to find other efficiencies and opportunities to grow value for their business, for example, by conducting more thorough contract post-mortems that can inform the creation of more effective standard contract templates.