Small legal departments have so many things on their plate — budgets and billing, administrative tasks, fielding questions for other managers, working with CEOs and C-level executives. It’s easy to see why longer-term planning and projects are often overlooked or put on the back burner to focus on more urgent matters.
But failing to create a strong foundation for your in-house legal team, particularly around legal technology, will only create a snowball effect of pain points and inefficiencies as your company grows.
This article offers a roadmap for small legal teams looking to build out systems and processes to support current and future growth.
1. Establish a Legal Tech Foundation
For small legal teams looking to streamline operations and build a strong legal tech foundation as they grow, contract management software is a great place to start (and it’s the top legal tech priority for today’s in-house teams). Contract management software enables small legal teams to navigate the contracting process with less risk and greater efficiency, but it can also serve as an affordable way to connect Legal with the rest of the business.
Every department across an organization relies on contracts with vendors, service providers, and other partners to operate effectively, and when all of those agreements are stored in one central, secure location, Legal can maintain visibility and oversight of the company’s complete contract portfolio. And with help from contract management software, other departments can still access the contracts relevant to their work, allowing Legal to strengthen cross-functional relationships and share some of the responsibilities of tracking and managing contract terms and milestones.
The ability to quickly demonstrate the value of contract management software to leaders throughout the business can serve as a jumping off point for teams looking to scale efficiencies and adopt additional legal technologies moving forward.
2. Evaluate Your Current Situation and Identify Areas of Opportunity
Today, many small legal teams rely on manual processes that have served the needs of the department for years. But is that sustainable and scalable as your organization grows and your responsibilities expand?
For example, a lot of legal teams can adequately manage their contracts using a combination of spreadsheets, shared drives, and one-off calendar alerts.
While these tools can provide much-needed functionality for legal departments, cobbled-together solutions can sometimes make organization difficult and time-consuming, especially as the number of contracts grows or the complexity of these agreements demands more robust reporting and insight. Additionally, maintaining the fidelity of finalized contracts can prove challenging. Though shared drives make it easier to share files, they don’t create a single source of truth; files may be updated in one location while remaining out-of-date in another.
The benefits of continuing with a familiar system should be weighed against the improvements and opportunities offered by new features and functionality available in an updated system when deciding which solution is best for your legal department.
While manually entering calendar alerts or sharing documents as email attachments may have worked well for your organization in the past, deciding whether or not changes are needed will ultimately depend less on where you’ve been and more on where your team and your organization are headed.
3. Get to Know the Current Software Landscape
Given all the advantages of legal technology solutions like contract management software, why isn’t every legal department — large and small — making good use of them? Here are some common concerns for teams on the fence about adopting contract management software, and the reality about today’s offerings.
Many legal departments have found themselves stalled by the high prices associated with enterprise-level software solutions. In today’s SaaS-dominated landscape though, the budgetary concerns of the past no longer apply, and organizations can now find a solution that doesn’t break the bank.
Pricing models can be confusing or require a heavy investment of capital upfront
Long-term contracts lock in a price for a specific period of time and include early cancellation fees
Expensive licensing fees can limit usability, and require additional payments for training and support
Paying for unneeded features or functions that don’t fit the needs of the company and add complexity and chaos rather than simplifying operations
Monthly, quarterly, and yearly Software as a Service (SaaS) subscriptions and free trials
Solutions that include unlimited users and 24/7 customer support and training
A large software marketplace with many different pricing options and software focused on specific features and pain points so organizations choose an option that includes only the functionality they need
Many organizations are dealing with implementation fatigue as a result of time-consuming onboarding of complex, enterprise-level software solutions. It’s no surprise that legal departments often balk at introducing yet another set of tools into an already saturated environment. Thankfully, the recent shift to smoother, easier user-interfaces means you can be up and running with contract management software in days instead of months.
A steep learning curve that requires staff to spend weeks in training seminars
Searching for contracts through multiple storage formats
An avalanche of bells and whistles including tools nobody needs and features that only add confusion and complexity
Simple-to-use interface with 24/7 support so staff can immediately begin using the system
A centralized repository in the cloud that allows for secure sharing, easy searching, and other automation tools
Streamlined, focused software solutions that have only what you need, so that implementation and ongoing use are quick and easy
Making the switch to a new software system can mean taking a leap of faith. How will you know if the solution you choose will be able to grow with your company? In the past, concerns about complex system upgrades and outdated software lurked on the fringes of every new implementation, but today’s contract management software is designed to adapt and evolve.
Outdated system will stifle growth and innovation
System unable to handle an increase in contract volume
Wasting time learning a new system that will be outdated in six months or a year
Adaptable and customizable software solutions designed to respond to new demands and easily incorporate new technologies like automation and AI
Cloud-based document storage that enables unlimited contracts to be uploaded into the repository
Modern solutions that are maintained and updated by your software provider
The right contract management software can be a game changer and a force multiplier for small legal departments. Small and growing teams now have much to gain, and little to lose, by replacing time-consuming manual contract management tasks with purpose-built software designed to streamline processes, mitigate risk, and improve contract access and visibility.