Ten Things: Increasing Efficiency in the Legal Department Through Technology

One goal set out in my sample legal department goals for 2015 was to increase efficiency (and reduce costs) in the legal department.  One of the easiest ways to do this is through the use of technology.  This can mean anything from apps for your smart phone to sophisticated software programs running on servers at your company.  For some, using technology can be daunting and frustrating.  For others, it is as easy as falling off of a log.  But, to be a successful in-house lawyer or general counsel you need to embrace technology and make sure your team does as well.  So, if you are afraid of technology, you need to get past that.

One issue with using technology is that the choices are almost endless and it can be difficult to distill things down into a useful list.  This edition of “Ten Things” takes on the task of listing some key technology that can help you increase your own efficiency as well as the efficiency of your team or the department overall.  I am going to assume you know how to use Microsoft Office products (free and pay) and Google products (free), so those tools — certainly very useful — are not included.  That said, if someone asked me to list my ten key technology tools for an in-house lawyer, here they are:

  1. “Practical Law.”  This is probably my favorite tool. Practical Law gives you instant access to simple, useful articles, forms, checklists, practice notes, memoranda, etc.  For example, if someone in the business calls you and says “I need to know the in’s and out’s of insider trading in the next hour” you go to the Practical Law web site, type in “insider trading” and you will instantly get back several articles discussing the topic in simple “black and white” along with checklists, sample insider trading polices, sample memos to the client, and other useful materials.  It can save you hours of research and can save you the cost of contacting outside counsel on a myriad of issues.  My team based in the U.K. first pointed out Practical Law to me (so there is an excellent European version) and raved about it.  I contacted the U.S. offices and we had a CLE demo webcast set up.  Then we had a free trial period.  My team really liked the product, so we signed up.  It was probably the most used and popular tool we ever purchased. It can be a bit pricey, but it’s worth it.
  2. E-Billing System.  Unless you only have a handful of outside counsel invoices every month, almost all in-house legal departments should have an e-billing system.  It will save you time and money.  In particular, you will get deep insights into your legal spend, average hourly rates, efficiency of law firms, projected spend, budgeting compliance, monthly accruals, market hourly rates in your area (or other locations), and usually some type of matter management system built in, all rolled into one.  We had just begun to implement the Serengeti e-billing system when I retired.  Prior to implementing this system we were doing everything by hand and spread sheets.  While that worked well when we had a handful of cases, as the number of legal matters grew the cost in manpower spent cranking things out by hand, paying bills by hand, etc. grew as well, and we still did not have all the data we needed to really help us manage counsel spend down even further.  This time and cost savings (and data analytics) went a long way to justifying the cost of the system with the Finance team.  You will have to do the ROI yourself to see if adding a tool like this is worth it.  There are other highly rated e-billing systems available including Lawtrac, Lexis CounselLink, TyMetrix, etc.
  3. E-Discovery Tool.  I am old enough to remember when document discovery meant sending a memo or email to a group of employees and asking them to go through their desk drawers, file cabinet and their emails/computer files and let us know if they had any documents that dealt with “X”.  There is no way you can get away with a document search like that today without risking major sanctions.  If you rarely deal with litigation, you can go with one-off document collection efforts by various third-party vendors to collect document in an appropriate manner.  If you have a lot of litigation, then you will want to seriously consider investing in an e-discovery tool.  We used MatterSpace.  MatterSpace provided us with litigation-hold automation, document collection (where the only thing the client needed to do was give us access to their lap top or computer), cloud storage, and the ability to connect to multiple discovery management tools, e.g., Relativity, Summation, etc.  It saved us hours and hours of work, made the discovery process much easier for the business (i.e., how popular are you when you are asking the CFO to go through all of her emails from the past five years looking for relevant documents?), and gave us a defensible chain of custody/review in the event the other side ever questioned our document search or litigation hold practices. 
  4. “Getting the Deal Through.”  A great website that contains a number of multi-jurisdictional guides for many legal areas, including merger control, labor and employment law, competition law, arbitration, telecoms and media, intellectual property, cyber security, banking and finance, etc.  The guides are written by top lawyers and top law firms from those countries, are updated frequently and, best of all, are free to in-house counsel.   Do you need the down and dirty on merger control in Chile?  Want to know about trademark protection in Mexico?  Need to understand dispute resolution in India? Simply go to www.gettingthedealthrough.com and sign up.
  5. “Lexology.com.”  A free daily newsfeed service providing access to hundreds articles, blogs, law firm publications, newspaper stories about legal issues. When you subscribe to Lexology.com you set preferences regarding your geographic areas of interest (e.g., U.S., Europe, Asia, etc.), legal areas of interest (e.g., litigation, finance law, employment law, M&A, etc.) and you get a daily email chock-full of great content.  I read this every day and almost always found at least one article that I would save and/or share with my team.  Lexology is a service of the Association of Corporate Counsel (“ACC”).  If I had to pick one group to belong to as an in-house lawyer, it would be the ACC (either the U.S. or the European versions).  Tons of great information, webinars, CLE’s, forms, practice materials, message boards, etc. on their member website.   
  6. “SigFont.”  Sigfont is a program that scans your signature and makes it available as a “font” in the font drop-down list in Word.  You can then use it to sign and send documents directly from your computer (and it looks just like you actually signed it — none of the fuzziness of pasting in a pdf signature).  You get signature options that include your “full name,” “first name only”, and “initials” as part of the package.  This tool can save the day when something needs to be signed and sent and you are not near a fax machine or scanner.   If you are interested in SigFont you will probably also be interested in the technology to convert native files (e.g., Word) to pdf.  If you or your company have Adobe Acrobat (not just Adobe Reader) you can convert Word documents, PowerPoint presentations, web site pages, etc. into pdf documents (along with a host of other features).  You or the company will have to pay for the Acrobat software, so buying it depends on a lot of different factors.  If you are just interested in converting native files to pdf and looking for a free tool, I use CutePDF which works great (and it has pay options to add more functionality).
  7. “TripCase.com.”  I will first disclose that I worked for the company (Sabre Corporation) that developed TripCase. That bias aside, this is an awesome app (smart phone, tablet, lap top) that tracks your travel itinerary information from any travel source, i.e., air, hotel, rental car, dinner reservations, limo, boat, conference room, etc.  It’s perfect for business or personal travel.  Your admin can enter business trip information for you.  It has several services, like notifications, weather, reserve parking, and a link to Uber.  And most of your information can be added by simply forwarding your travel email confirmation directly to your TripCase account.  Before using TripCase, my admin would type up all of my trip details, meetings, phone numbers, etc. and then I would make a copy for my wife.  If I lost the piece of paper, I had to scramble to find my information.  With TripCase, this is all done automatically and you can print it out if you want to, or simply add your spouse as someone who gets a copy of the trip details emailed to them.  And, the information is always with you on your smart phone, tablet or laptop (or now your smartwatch too).
  8. Instant Message (IM) Program.  I don’t care which one you use (Microsoft, Google, Skype, Yahoo!, etc.) but accessing and using an IM program to its full potential is a great tool for the in-house lawyer, especially with remote/international offices and work-from-home colleagues.  While the “instant” part of IM is great, the more powerful tools are the ability to add a video stream by simply clicking a button (creating an instant video conference) and to share and collaborate together on documents (i.e., work on one version) as part of the IM session.  My team used IM all the time, including for group meetings, late night document drafting, and simply to stay in touch with colleagues.   Of course, the same rules apply to writing instant messages as drafting proper emails and other documents, i.e., treat all IM messages and sessions like professional business communications – and I have seen poorly drafted IM messages come back to life as trial exhibits so this is important.
  9. “Copernic Desk Top Search.”  If you’re like me, your laptop has basically become your file cabinet.  A very, very large file cabinet (kind of like the big Twinkie in “Ghostbusters”).  This also means it can be very difficult to find things you need.  You know you have that email, or memo, or PowerPoint somewhere on your computer but you just cannot remember where you stored it.  While Microsoft Office has a decent search program, Copernic is much better, more complete, and it’s easier to navigate the results.  There is a free version (perfectly good) and a pay for version (even better).
  10. “TRACE”.  This makes my list because there is simply no avoiding the increasing importance of compliance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, the U.K. Anti-Bribery Act, and a host of other anti-corruption laws.  Every in-house lawyer should be thinking about how to best ensure compliance in this area of the law.  One of my team members at Sabre came across this great resource.  TRACE provides anti-corruption compliance tools (and many other things) including a slick due diligence tool called TRACEsort.  Given the risks to company reputation, to your Board of Directors and executive officers, and perhaps even to yourself, it is worth finding and investing in a top notch anti-bribery compliance tool.

There are so many, many more technology-related things I could have listed.  Others near the top of my list are a free deadline calculator (contract deadlines, court filing deadlines, etc.), a free world meeting calculator (helps you set meetings across multiple time zones), and a handy smart phone apps to create pdf documents using your phone’s camera (another tool that comes in handy when you need a signed copy of something at 3:30 am with no fax machine or scanner in sight).   The takeaway here is that there are many resources out there can that make you and your team or department more efficient (therefore driving down costs).  If you’ve set a goal to better utilize technology in 2015, now is the time to start identifying those tools and get them up and running.  Some, like an e-billing system, will take a good amount of time to select and implement.  Others, like SigFont or TripCase can be up and running today or in a few days.  And do not be afraid of technology.  Have fun trying and testing different applications.  You really cannot break anything and you will likely find some really useful tools out there if you’re willing to experiment a bit.  And lastly, whatever you find that works, share it with others in your department, in your company, or with other in-house lawyers.

Sterling Miller

February 6, 2014

(If you find this blog useful, please pass along to colleagues or friends and/or “Tweet” it. “Ten Things” is not legal advice or legal opinion.  It is intended to provide practical tips and references to the busy in-house practitioner and other readers. You can find this blog and all past posts at http://www.TenThings.net or www.sterlingmiller2014.wordpress.com)

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6 comments

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