Recently, Mark Reynolds, Associate Director in our Thomson Reuters practice, spoke to Mark Dodd and Alex Fellowes from LOD about the evolving landscape of legal self-service. What it’s all about, how it can help your teams, and the pitfalls to avoid when embarking on a self-serve project. Below are some abridged highlights from that discussion, you can listen to the full episode of the LODcast here.
What is legal self-service?
Very simply, legal self-service is a tool which allows a business user to quickly access information or services that they need from their legal team. These systems can also be known as a legal front door or legal portal.
For me, the more important and frankly interesting part of the system is the triage that sits behind the intake mechanism. This is the functionality that ‘serves’ the user with the information that they need or points them in the right direction of where to find it, depending on the complexity of the system. For example, you may have a simple FAQ site that serves up an article which it thinks matches the request. Or, you may have a full portal which can automatically serve up the correct NDA template which is then sent to the client to sign electronically, all without a legal team member ever needing to be hands on.
The triage mechanism needs a lot of thought at the start of an implementation. Where will the request go? Who needs to see it? How will the system understand the request and what’s the structure that needs to sit behind it?
Was the pandemic the cause of the growth in self-service?
I think it was more of an accelerator. We were looking at legal intake during my time working at HighQ as far back as 2016. The pandemic accelerated the uptake of self serve technology because you’re losing the ‘water cooler’ and ‘edge of desk’ access to legal teams which used to be commonplace in the pre-pandemic office landscape. Because you can’t just ‘pop over’ to legal anymore you need an alternative means of connecting the legal team and the business.
What are the advantages of legal self-service for a business?
A key advantage is the improved access to data and increased efficiency of processes. Being able to simultaneously see what queries your legal team are receiving and speed up access to information for business users is a great advantage to a legal team which may be being asked to do more with less.
I think for me though the more exciting implication of a really good self serve system is that it frees up the legal team from spending time on menial tasks and answering the same questions five times a day, meaning they can really get into value-add and fulfilling work. Nobody becomes a lawyer because they love admin; so it’s a huge advantage to be able to offer your teams more projects which excite them.
And what about the potential pitfalls?
One of the biggest barriers for a tech project can be overcoming the natural inertia in a large corporate business. Change management is key here. Taking stakeholders on a journey with you is a cliché but it is crucial for a successful tech project which will impact areas of the business outside of your own team. Let people know “what’s in it for me?” – self-serving self-serve if you will…
What are the first steps for a legal team embarking on a self-serve project?
Legal teams are generally not in the position to utilise the ubiquitous ‘move fast and break things’ model we often see in the tech world. The model for us should be more like ‘start small and iterate.’ Find the low-hanging fruit and start there – don’t be tempted by the lawyerly trap of seeking perfection at all costs!
When starting a project you should always start with a plan and a budget, then get buy in from the business users who will actually be impacted by the new processes and the senior management who need to sign off the project (Amanda Bradley has written a great article on how to do this). In my opinion, choosing the software should really be the last step on the journey once you’re really clear on your objectives, the budget, and the timescales.
Mark is an experienced Legal Technologist with a history of corporate legal work. Before moving to specialise in Legal Technology he worked in Project Management for Clifford Chance and Linklaters.
Mark was a Senior Consultant/Lead Consultant for TR’s HighQ practice for 12 years before moving to SYKE as the Associate Director for SYKE’s HighQ Practice, where he currently leads teams for large-scale in-house legal and law firm implementations and discoveries.