Although there has been a lot of buzz around implementing legal innovation in your in-house team, successful case studies are few and far between. How can you turn buzzwords into something that delivers real change? This article will outline four tips that can help you put your best foot forward when preparing to lead an in-house legal innovation project. 

1: Understand the Problem You Are Trying to Solve

Innovation projects often fail because people make the wrong assumptions about what the process improvement or technology solution is meant to solve.

For example, imagine that members of your sales team have told you that they find certain precedent contracts difficult to negotiate. You have also noticed that the precedents look different from your other branded documents and you would like them to match your current branding. From looking at the precedents, you might realise that:

  • the documents’ structure appears to be slowing the sales process; and 
  • gaps in your latest re-branding process mean that certain documents are inconsistently formatted. 

It seems like a pretty straightforward problem at first glance. You have a handle on the problem, so you quickly delegate to a member of the team to update the branding and simplify the precedents. 

Would this lead to the best possible outcome? Possibly not. Taking the problems at face value may have led you down the wrong path. Sitting down with your stakeholders to understand the needs of your users through a legal design process might lead you to a different solution. You may discover that the sales workflow is actually incomplete: the sales team is using the wrong document in the first place. Why do the documents look different? Your sales team could say, ‘well actually, we have 17 versions of this precedent, but only have enough time in the day to manage 5 versions’. Continuing to unpack these insights will help you reach a more valuable solution to the problem.

Getting to the Heart of the Problem

Getting to the heart of the problem begins by doing a deep dive into the circumstances surrounding the legal problem. Using certain simple tools can allow your in-house team to methodically understand the ‘current state’  of the problem through a structured approach. If you have looked into principles around lean manufacturing or Six Sigma, you may be familiar with some of these already. Set out below are several tools we have used successfully in our own projects.

Tool What Is Its Use? What Is It?
Business Process Map Understand the process. A visual diagram that describes each task and decision in the process. To complete a business process map, you will only need the subject matter expert, a pen and a piece of paper. 
User Journey Map Understand your colleagues’ experience as they interact with your legal team. Similar to the process map, except a user journey map relies on you employing empathy to plot the experience of your users at each step in the process. In your in-house team, the ‘user’ could be anyone who comes to your team for legal help.
The ‘Five Ways’ Understand the root cause of a problem. Start by stating the problem. Then, continue to ask ‘Why?’ until you find a root cause. You may need to repeat this exercise if there is more than one cause.

2: Clear Owners With Even Clearer Responsibilities

Once you better understand the problem, you will be in a position to nominate an owner to apply a solution.

Projects frequently fall down from lack of clear owners or executive buy-in. Typical innovation drives will include:

  • an executive sponsor
  • a subject matter expert; and 
  • end-user advocates.

Let’s Take a Look at the First Two Roles

The executive sponsor has ultimate accountability for the success of the project. They are responsible for:

  • championing the project by whipping up urgency and awareness throughout the target audience (or wider business); and
  • removing any organisational bottlenecks. 

If you intend to pick an external service provider to help deliver a solution, work out who will be making the purchasing decisions. If it’s the C-Suite, you may need to align your goals with theirs.

The project scope and requirements will come from consultations with your subject matter expert (SME). Typically, the SME will not have any delegated authority to make snap decisions. Instead, they will need to rely on the sponsor for authority. 

Dealing With Delays

Both the SME and the executive sponsor can help deal with delays. You could employ two tactics to keep the momentum of the project going: 

  1. ensure the SME is empowered to make decisions about the process; and 
  2. ring-fence the executive sponsor’s time throughout the project to make the rest of the calls. 

Without employing one of these tactics, bottlenecks can easily happen.

Find Your Advocates Early

User advocacy will become easier the further into the project you are, but it is always worth identifying your potential advocates and then nurturing relationships with them. These are the people who will proactively talk up the initiative to their peers within your business. You should build trust with potential advocates from the early stages of the project by engaging with them transparently about the process. 

Once you have owners in place and a potential solution, you will need to think about key performance indicators (KPIs) and measuring the success of the project.

Measurable Goals That Are Aligned With Company Objectives

It can be difficult to achieve your desired outcome if you are unable to measure success.

It can also be tricky to demonstrate value to the business if your initiative does not align with your organisation’s overall KPIs. Creating a clear way to measure the success of your project, especially by increasing your visibility over dollar figures, will allow you to create a competitive advantage for your team and demonstrate value to the C-Suite.

Creating Alignment With Strategic Objectives

Aligning the project to a strategic objective involves four key steps:

  1. establishing your business goals for the project. Ensure your goals are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound);
  2. linking the project benefits to the business goals. It doesn’t matter if your document automation initiative makes short-term profits if it doesn’t align to your business’ objectives;
  3. determining the conditions that need to be met to make it possible to achieve those goals; and
  4. implementing and tracking your innovation project.

Prepare for a Data-Driven Legal Function

Measuring success will not always mean tracking hard numbers. However, leadership teams are increasingly expecting legal departments to tell their story through data and metrics. You may need to be prepared to put processes and data analytics infrastructure in place if it does not already exist.

Once you have the systems in place to track and measure, ensure you have readied the other piece of the metrics puzzle: actually tracking progress. Your initiative may have inputs that require a bit of planning. 

For example, if you want to implement a document automation system, you will need to have the documents you will be automating ready to go.

Key Takeaways

With the legal innovation push gaining momentum, many in-house teams are looking to reshape their legal function but avoid the failures seen in many of their early-adopter peers. Preparation matters. You can improve your odds and set your team up for success through a bit of preparation. When preparing to lead a legal innovation project in your in-house team, you should: 

  1. understand the problems you are trying to solve;
  2. establish clear owners and roles; and
  3. set goals for your initiative that are aligned with your business objectives.

If you have any questions about implementing innovation in your in-house team, contact LegalVison’s Legal Transformation team on 1300 544 755 or fill out the form on this page.

About LegalVision: LegalVision is a tech-driven, full-service commercial law firm that uses technology to deliver a faster, better quality and more cost-effective client experience.

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Dougall Stevenson
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