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The State of Legal Tech in Europe: Structure Ensures Tech Adoption Rate

In an era where digitalisation is no longer optional, what strides are European-based in-house teams making when it comes to legal technology?

Panelists from the European Legal Technology Association offered their perspectives on the state of legal technology across Europe during a masterclass with Lexology, moderated by Gregoire Miot, Global Business Enablement & Product Management Director at Wolters Kluwer Legal Software and ELTA President.

Panelists discussed some of the most interesting results from The Legisway Benchmark for Legal Departments, including how the results compare across countries and how they align with corporate legal departments today. The key takeaways from the session are shared below.

Tech budgets aren’t only for large departments

In-house lawyers are well aware that acquiring budget for any sort of project is a challenge. This has to do with the way the legal department is perceived by the rest of the business – as a cost centre – and the way technology is perceived – only large organizations can afford it. Where does this leave smaller legal departments?

Jon Bartman (ELTA Board Member) believes that implementing technology is feasible, even for smaller companies with a limited budget. He acknowledges that organizations are looking at how they can save money by examining what they can do within the four walls of the company to make themselves better and leaner, as opposed to hiring external counsel.

In Scandinavia, Helena Hallgarn (Co-founder Virtual Intelligence VQ and ELTA Ambassador Sweden) has noticed that there’s been a change in the way that in-house lawyers manage work. The legal departments usually consisted of a single legal counsel who didn’t have budget at all and was the sole decision-maker for technology and recruitment. These days, “you need to expand the legal spend and tech budget in order to transform the legal department,” she says.

Start focusing on low-hanging fruit

When it comes to making improvements, it can be overwhelming to determine where to start. Alan Alan Ragueneau (Managing Director Dentons In-House Solutions Europe and ELTA Ambassador Switzerland), a former Chief Legal Officer himself, suggests focusing on “low-hanging fruit.” The Chief Legal Officers he speakers to often mention that they’re having trouble getting their team to cut down on the low-value tasks. Not only are these tasks often repetitive and time consuming, but there is an advantage to focusing on low-hanging fruit. It demonstrates “that with the limited resources, there’s only so much the team can do,” he explains. “Empower your team to say ‘no,’ because they should be spending time on high-value added activities.”

 While focusing on low-hanging fruit is a good starting point, a lack of time can prevent in-house teams from getting started with technology projects. Jon compares deciding the right time for tech projects to deciding when to have children. “There’s never a right time to have children, it just happens. The best time to start with anything, is to start with today, and not tomorrow. Finding what the right solution will be means that you have to be proactive in what you do. Timing is everything.”

Helena pointed out that 43% of respondents say they plan to make improvements to structuring processes. She mentions structuring processes are crucial to implementing technology successfully. “You have to start with the basics,” she advises. To illustrate this point, she recounted a meeting with a client who wanted to digitalize the contract management lifecycle, but there was no existing structure in place. “Buying any software at that stage is just wishful thinking. You have to structure your processes, before continuing with the implementation.”

Developing digital strategies step-by-step

All the panelists agree that the key to developing a digital strategy is to go step-by-step. One of the most important steps involves identifying the legal department’s pain points. Alan explains, “You need to be self-aware and know your pain points. You can go fast and try things, but you need to have a short-term, mid-term, and long-term plan.” Again, this comes back to structure. Helena continues, “you must have data structured, and analyzed your situation – what matters are you handing, what can be prioritized, and what can be standardized?”

Could the lack of a digital strategy have something to do with the fact that there are simply too many tools to choose from? Jon speculates that a lot of in-house lawyers simply don’t know what tools are available to them. “They have some ideas about what’s out there, but they don’t have the full picture. It’s important to have people help you on that journey but see things that are out there. Start understanding that it isn’t scary, it doesn’t have to be a big implementation that costs millions.”

The importance of change management

While in-house teams face a number of challenges ranging from securing budget (57%), getting stakeholder buy in (49%), and coping with higher workload (34%), it’s how they approach those challenges that matter. “Get technology that works with your processes, which will make the implementation easier. Make sure you use technology that fits with existing solutions,” says Jon.

Unfortunately, technology implementations do end up failing simply because people are resistant to change. Stakeholders want to know how the technology will help, not harm, them. Alan says, “When we speak about technology, teams are scared they may lose their jobs because technology might replace them. It’s very important to speak to your team and tell them it’ll make their life easier, it’s not about reducing headcount.”

If stakeholders do not support the proposed technology, “Everyone will fight against it and it just becomes a destructive piece of technology that you’re going to fight battles with.” Jon points out that projects often go wrong when people are forced to use a tool without being involved in the decision-making process.

Seeking internal support is important, but so is having support from the vendor during the implementation process. Helena advises to “start using tools that are well-developed and easily available. If you’re an in-house counsel who’s an expert in law, it doesn’t mean you’re an expert in implementation of legal tech.”

While legal departments across Europe are in the early stages of their digitalization journey, they recognize that technology can help to boost efficiency and productivity. It starts with creating a digital strategy, a plan that includes pain points, metrics, and a clear budget.

Download the report, The Legisway Benchmark for Legal Departments, which is based on a survey of over 520 in-house team members across Europe, and get access to all the insights including how legal departments across Europe are allocating their budget, developing digital strategies and the top challenges they face.