When in-house lawyers are asked to identify their most pressing challenge, it is not about doing more work with fewer resources. Instead, lawyers are looking to expend less energy by using more process and workflow automation using technology. Corporate legal teams that have become highly skilled at navigating shrinking budgets and personnel constraints are now eager to adapt to an environment where digital tools empower their productivity through automation.

workflow-auotmationAlthough legal departments have traditionally invested in a host of disconnected systems that lack standardization and require manual processes, many are experiencing a significant shift that is fueling progress. With the renewed focus on legal operations – half of the ACC Chief Legal Officers 2016 Survey respondents reported having staff positions in their departments dedicated to this function, up from 20 percent in 2015 – they are undergoing an accelerating transformation.

In addition, the responsibility of law department leaders continues to expand. In The Rise of the GC: From Legal Adviser to Strategic Adviser survey, which polled U.S. corporate directors and executive officers earlier this year, NYSE Governance Services and BarkerGilmore found that 14% of general counsel act as the organization’s chief risk officer and participants expect that number to rise to 31% by 2020.

In light of these converging trends of maximizing operational excellence and minimizing risk exposure, many companies realize the need to implement repeatable practices that ensure consistency. Law departments that automate their legal processes, for example, establish defined protocols that remain constant, reduce confusion, and lower the probability for error.

When a member of the department receives a new matter, for instance, he or she can use a standard form to identify the project and request support. That individual can then track the request, archive its details and supporting documentation, and uniformly assign it for follow-up. In-house team members can also select preferred providers, collaborate both internally and externally, and seamlessly monitor performance through robust reports or routine notifications.

This is critical because law departments today struggle with implementing a common approach for requesting legal support, eliminating redundant data entry, and assigning responsibilities for various aspects of the process. It is consistent with addressing the top two challenges cited by respondents to the 2015 Law Department Operations Survey:

  1. Driving and implementing change
  2. Identifying opportunities for business improvement and cost savings

These are of particular importance especially since e-mail often ineffectively serves as the centralized means of distributing assignments and engaging with multiple parties.

With law departments interested in running more like efficient business units, the ASCENT™ Enterprise Legal Management System is the model of a tool that enables them to create dynamic workflow automation with defined actions, establish common processes that link both the legal department and its outside lawyers or service providers, and capture data collaboratively, among other capabilities. The technology also eliminates human error from new matter requests with a myriad of templates. Users seek tools that deliver more useful inputs such as configurable fields, custom dashboards, and cascading options. Additional accounting advancements permit general ledger coding and adherence to pre-approved budgeting.

Tools that empower individuals to streamline their tasks according to a holistic workflow are revolutionizing the way legal teams interact. When in-house lawyers and law firm attorneys are not bound by any universal guidelines, that fluidity creates tremendous uncertainty, which results in uncoordinated decision-making, inconsistent responsiveness, and strategic missteps.

Software that eliminates isolated e-mail calls to action in lieu of predetermined administrative tasks built into an approved workflow materially alters the likelihood for success. Standardization is now the hallmark of every modern, forward-looking law department. It is defining a new generation of attorneys to acknowledge the benefits of repeatable, verifiable, and proven parameters in workflow management.