Getting Approval for New Legal Technology — and then Putting it to Work

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As much vitriol as some legal professionals have for their old, slow technology systems, sometimes implementing new ones can seem like such a monumental task that upgrading is simply a nonstarter. However, a recent roundtable of legal professionals showed that this process doesn’t have to be painful, as they shared their tips for getting budget approval and spearheading successful implementation. 

The results? Streamlined systems, time freed to focus on strategic work, and even a better hiring pool. 

Kristin Zmrhal, VP, Product Strategy, DISCO, facilitated a roundtable discussion at the Women, Influence Power and Law (WIPL) conference with two legal experts in very different industries: Tracey Brady Yurko, Chief Legal Officer and Corporate Secretary, of the hedge fund Bridgewater Associates, and Shaila Lakhani Ohri, Assistant General Counsel, Exelon, one of the largest energy providers in the U.S. Despite their differing industries, they reported similar strategies for proving the need for new technology and executing a successful implementation. 

Getting to yes for a tech budget  

The first step in implementing new technology is, of course, getting the budget for it. Zmrhal, who led ediscovery at Google before joining DISCO, advised, “You need to demonstrate that people need new tools to get their job done and that there will be cost savings over the long haul.” 

Ohri suggested that convincing tech naysayers and finance teams to approve investments in technology required documenting the time it took to get common tasks completed manually, and forecasting time savings with the tech implemented. 

Yurko tied the company’s overall digital transformation journey to her efforts to use technology to streamline the legal teams’ work. “Align with the overall company objectives,” she advised. She also suggested looking at the needs and technology aspirations of other functions, and where possible, adopting the same tool across multiple groups to negotiate better rates. 

People + Technology: an important combination to get right

Once you’ve chosen a technology and gotten the budget for it, the next step is making sure that it will actually get used. Here, the panel stressed the importance of focusing on how a technology implementation will impact the legal team members. “Technology can make life easier, but changing the mindset of workers and how they get work done requires patience and effort,” said Ohri. When a new legal support technology is implemented at Exelon, demonstrating to people how their day-to-day work would be improved is generally well-received, and led to greater willingness to adopt the technology. Furthermore, she advised having a robust support system ready with the technology rollout. “The technology is only as good as the buy-in and adoption,” she said. “To bring about a successful implementation, you need to have your entire organization, including the IT team, committed to supporting it. You need training, office hours, and people on staff who can troubleshoot.” 

Yurko said that Bridgewater has a culture of constantly pushing the envelope in terms of innovation and entrepreneurship. Bridgewater’s legal team demonstrated this mindset by recently undergoing an initiative to revamp its many systems to streamline work and boost productivity. In determining where to implement technology, Yurko created a taxonomy of common legal team tasks, and identified areas of work that were repeatable. Repeatable, non-strategic tasks were the areas chosen for technology application, in order to free up lawyers’ time for more strategic work. Her technology transformation thus far has focused on three areas: a system to centralize billing for outside counsel spending; technology to auto-generate contracts; and knowledge management tools to store billing guidelines, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) information, and other details in one place. 

Yurko explained that part of the drive for putting new technologies into practice was to allow Bridgewater to better compete in the war for talent by creating a better employee experience. “Tech and talent go hand in hand,” she explained. “Not only are we now more efficient, we are improving our employees’ day to day lives. Implementation of technology helps with engagement.”

As demonstrated by this exchange of views, it is not impossible to get the legaltech stack to allow lawyers to invest more time in meaningful, consultative work — as long as you tie it to broader company goals. Doing so will reap rewards: reducing risk, controlling costs, and very importantly, creating happier and more engaged employees spending time on higher value work. 

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