Executives are demanding more from their corporate legal departments (CLDs). They expect them to provide true business value and help their organizations achieve performance goals. The rise of the legal operations function underscores the importance of CLDs and the significant investment they have made to meet these goals - all driven by greater accountability and the provision of value to their companies.
This newfound responsibility trickles down to decisions about the types of technology vendors to partner with. The ideal partner is no longer just a platform or software provider. A true partner helps make decisions that go beyond the department’s immediate wants and needs. They leverage market-specific experience, as well as a deep understanding of best practices. This helps legal teams make better choices that will positively impact the goals of their organizations, now and in the future.
How do you find those true partners? By embracing a broader definition of return on investment. Focusing on long-term benefits and sustained value, rather than short-term wins, is the key to evolving from cost center to value center.
To that end, here are five things to look for when embarking on legal operations technology searches.
An ongoing commitment to technology and customer support
When a corporation purchases software, the mindset is that it will be a long-term investment. They want the software to evolve over time along with the needs of the business units using it. So, it’s important to choose vendors that demonstrate a significant investment and multi-year commitment to their own technologies with roadmaps and scheduled releases over an extended period of time to meet changing market needs. This speaks to the stability of the partner’s organization. It also indicates they will be around for the long haul.
It should go without saying, but a strong investment in customer support is nearly as important as having great technology – and is a prerequisite for a successful relationship. Support should extend beyond the call center to the very fabric of the relationship, from the original point of sale throughout the entire lifecycle of the partnership. Support should be at every level, at every interaction. Vendors should be just as invested in the goals of legal operations teams as the teams themselves, providing those teams with guidance and input to help them make the best possible decisions. That’s why some vendors have dedicated Client Success Managers for each client. Ideally, there will be global support teams in place to respond in an expeditious manner to needs at any point in the relationship, from implementation to ongoing use.
Vendors should also provide interactive in-person and web-based conduits for the open exchange of customer feedback and input. User groups are great venues for exchanging ideas, getting opinions on everything from minute platform details like UX and design to shaping new product offerings. This brings customers into the fold by making them feel like they are one with their vendors.
Ready and able to provide proactive insights and recommendations
Strong partners really shine when they raise issues and opportunities, proactively and early, that the legal department may not have even considered. This could include providing insight on evolving data security parameters, government mandates such as GDPR, and rapidly changing threat vectors from industrious bad actors.
A valued partner can help educate on what these and other issues mean to the organization while showing how to meet these challenges head on. A partner is more likely to provide these insights when they have deep experience in both the legal market and the business issues legal operations faces. Choosing a partner with a deep bench of experience is important. They can bring a unique, educated perspective that can help the CLD make better business decisions.
A sense of security
It’s not news that corporate legal and aligned business units face an enormous pressure to protect their corporations’ data. As a result, we are experiencing a rapidly changing regulatory landscape. The GDPR, which sent ripples across the pond that are being felt in every corporation, is a prime example of why legal operations teams must be more diligent than ever before when it comes to information security.
The challenge, however, is two-fold. First, CLDs often have incredibly sensitive information they routinely share with their law firm partners. Second, those firms are not always as sophisticated as their corporate counterparts are when it comes to information security. Therefore, legal operations must be exceedingly careful about what they share and who they share it with -- and be aware of their partners’ security preparedness.
Choosing partners with the proper security credentials is vitally important. From the technology vendor standpoint, CLDs should look for partners that are ISO-27001-certified and have been Service Organization Control (SOC) audited. The former is a framework of policies and procedures relating to an organization’s information risk management processes; the latter takes into consideration how well a company manages information security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality, and privacy.
It is also imperative that legal operations teams have a deep understanding of their law firm partners’ security postures. Teams may consider issuing automated questionnaires that firms can use to provide feedback about these postures. That will provide an accurate sense of whether or not a partner is in compliance with the CLD’s information security standards.
A focus on a great user experience
Traditionally, easy-to-use enterprise legal software has been hard to find, making the strive for efficiency a true challenge. Indeed, research from IDC has shown that today’s professionals routinely access more than four systems every day and spend 36 percent of their time searching for information – and even then only finding it 50 percent of the time.
As CLDs evaluate software with a wide range of legal applications and workflow capabilities, there must be an equal focus on the usability of the software and ability to integrate seamlessly with other systems. CLDs should look for partners that invest in developing a highly intuitive user experience, including easy-to-use menus, simple navigable interfaces, and personalized dashboards. That experience should be complemented by the ability to plug into the tools that users are already accustomed to using for existing workflows, such as Microsoft Office, and displaying information in environments that are immediately familiar.
Although software should be easy to use, the availability of user training is still important. Different people learn in different ways, and even the simplest dashboards should be supported with partner training to help increase users’ comfort levels and ramp up adoption.
An investment in innovation
Finally, partners should also display an ongoing commitment to innovation and be willing to invest in new technologies that will move their customers forward. Technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning were the stuff of science fiction movies not too long ago; now, they have the capacity to fundamentally change the way corporate attorneys work.
While we have yet to see the full potential of these solutions, consider partnering with organizations that understand and are ready to harness their innovative capabilities. These partners should also be open to exploring any other innovations that may appear over time and have the potential to benefit their customers. A partner with a long, stable history has likely weathered numerous rounds of disruptive technology innovation. This helps organizations understand the cultural and process changes needed to take advantage of the latest and greatest.
Certainly, no single vendor will be able to successfully address all of a corporation’s needs within the context of a particular product. There is no “killer app,” and it may be necessary for CLDs to select a number of companies and products to meet their demands. But knowing what to look for in a vendor is half the battle. Once the legal team identifies traits that will make a good, viable, long-term partner, they can move forward, armed with another asset to drive better value for their organizations.