What It Really Means to Be a Better Lawyer

By Angus Chudleigh, VP Commercial, ThoughtRiver

Many things aren’t represented accurately on the big (or small) screen. Poker games rarely end with eight players going all in with increasingly superb hands. Hospitals, sadly, aren’t exclusively filled with wise-cracking and devastatingly good-looking medical staff. Yet perhaps one of the most egregious is the representation of the lawyer’s day-to-day life.

The Reality Check

Sure, there are ‘eureka’ moments over the tenth coffee of the night, or a brilliant off-the-cuff argument which unexpectedly sways a case. But there’s also an awful lot of paperwork and daily grind. In reality, teams of the best and most highly qualified lawyers around the world are spending a large part of their day trying to keep the ship afloat rather than setting the legal world ablaze. I’d like to look at why this is, what organisations are doing to change this, and the deeper, sometimes hidden benefits of the automated solutions they are starting to apply.

In today’s environment, legal departments are under increasing scrutiny in terms of what value they deliver to the business. Expectations are raised; senior stakeholders want to see demonstrable benefits and also lift the lid on the processes underpinning their legal team to create business improvements. We’ve written previously about how legal automation can give General Counsels a much firmer footing when it comes to proving value to the board, but the fact remains that lawyers are being asked to do more with less at the same time as making their expertise more widely accessible to their non-legal colleagues. This demand on their time is only being exacerbated by the current pandemic.

What Does It Mean To Be A Better Lawyer?

As a software platform provider that is laser-focused on user experience, we often ask our users (most of whom are in-house lawyers) to tell us what it means to ‘be a better lawyer’, and how they’d know they are succeeding at that. Here are four key things that lawyers tell us help to make them better at their jobs and how people, process and technology are helping them to do that.

A Better Lawyer Does Higher Quality Work In Less Time Than Their Peers

A lawyer’s first goal when reviewing a contract is to manage the risk within the document, but they also have to balance that diligence with the speed that the business demands of them. The contract flow coming into the in-house team never seems to slow, only increase. Obviously the fastest way to review a contract is to not read it at all, and just sign it, but that is clearly not an option, so good lawyers find ways to increase their own review speed while still feeling confident that they found any major ‘gotchas’ within the text. The best lawyers also leverage tools and now even software to make further improvements to this process.

Automated contract review software can help lawyers to work more efficiently and manage risk more effectively. For example, PwC state that they have measured a 33% reduction in contract review time for their lawyers using ThoughtRiver, and other clients have claimed even greater savings. However, as we discussed earlier, it is not all about speed, it is about risk, and the effectiveness of the review.

This technology provides a helpful and supportive guide to lawyers as they review contracts, which not only increases their speed but also their accuracy and risk management. It’s like always having a second pair of eyes to check your work. This de-risks the work for the lawyer and helps them to gain confidence as well as speed. This certainly helps them to do more high quality work in less time, which is at least one of the metrics of being a better lawyer.

A Better Lawyer Delivers An Amazing Experience To Their Customers (The Business)

Anyone who has ever worked in a service industry knows the feeling you get when a customer goes out of their way to say thank you, or to provide a positive comment on the work that you have done. You feel like a lottery winner, this type of praise hits a base human emotion, and the point I’d like to make here is that lawyers tap into this emotion when receiving feedback from their clients. For an in-house team that client is the business, and the customer experience that you can deliver to your business colleagues is an important way to measure yourself as a lawyer.

Let’s stick with the topic of contract review. When a new contract is sent to legal, the business (usually sales or procurement) is trying to get a deal done to increase sales or to reduce costs, and the speed with which that deal can move is primarily now in the hands of the lawyer. They clearly need to manage the risk, but they will also be mindful of the customer experience they want to deliver to the business and that is more about speed, as the risk for the business increases over time.

The more time that passes without getting pen to paper, that risk increases, because factors start to come into play which can affect the contract’s success. One of the most effective sales leaders that I ever worked with once told me that the biggest competitor in any deal is time, and that is definitely true when it comes to getting contracts over the line.

I have noticed a clear pattern in pretty much every organisation I have spoken to about this subject, and that pattern is a disconnect between the legal team and the business. The disconnect goes like this:

Question: How long does it take to review an NDA?

Lawyer: ‘About 20 minutes’

Salesperson: ‘About a week’

Fixing this disconnect is where we can unlock the real value of automating much of the low variance but high importance work which ‘clogs up’ the smooth running of a legal team.  An automated contract review tool takes the complex information present in a contract and then reviews it against a legal team’s own policies. It then delivers simple recommendations and guidance that lawyers can easily act on.

Lawyers can even use these platforms to delegate some of the review work to their business teams if they want to, safe in the knowledge that the software is still applying their policies to the review. If legal can allow the business to self-serve in this manner, while still managing the risk, it creates a massive efficiency gain for the business. A week-long turnaround time for a simple NDA now becomes 5 minutes, and the lawyer who enables this transformation becomes a hero to the sales team. This helps them to deliver that amazing customer experience we mentioned earlier which they say makes them a better lawyer.

When more contracts get the green light faster, not only does the volume of contract approval increase, but more overall deals can be signed with customers, the lawyers become the ‘deal hero’s’ for a change.

A Better Lawyer Is More Proactive In Advising The Business And Is Closer To The Money

Those who have many years’ experience as lawyers will be the first to admit that spending the majority of their time reviewing contracts is not limited to the early years of being a junior lawyer. All too many lawyers spend most of their day in contract review, rather than contributing to strategic commercial activities and decisions at a business level.

GC’s and their teams are not just lacking time: more often than not, they also don’t have access to insights from contractual data that can be used proactively for decision-making, which prevents them from being data-driven strategic advisors who can act, quite literally, as consiglieres of the CEO.

There are two really important facets to this, (1) data from the negotiation process itself, and (2) data that sits within the signed contracts. Both of these areas can provide a rich seam of information for the GC to review, analyse, and then act on to make improvements to their team and to business outcomes. If the GC and their team are armed with  this data they can proactively advise the business on changes to the contracting process that will increase ‘deal velocity’, and help to cement their new position in the eyes of the business, as deal hero’s.

It’s time for GC’s to take a well-deserved, proactive seat at the top table, and get ‘closer to the money.’ Gathering meaningful data is the first step and the first step of that is to get all of your contracts into a digital form.

A Better Lawyer Manages To Balance Their Work and Family Life

If lawyers can achieve higher quality work in less time than their peers and deliver an amazing experience to the business, they’ll have overcome challenges that have hampered the industry for a very long time. And, if GCs can get closer to the money and become the strategic, data-driven advisors that we all want them to be, the business benefits are likely to be significant.

The personal knock-on effect of ‘becoming a better lawyer’ is also encouraging. All of these points underpin happier employees, largely because of the gains made in time and efficiency. In a profession well known for extremely long hours, wouldn’t it be nice to know that steps are being made towards helping teams to balance their work and family lives? Instead of needlessly spending hour upon hour in contract review and away from both strategic business activities and well-deserved family time, with well-implemented automation, law firms and in-house legal teams are set to deliver better outcomes for their customers, and better work/life balance for their lawyers.

[ Artificial Lawyer is proud to bring you this sponsored thought leadership article by ThoughtRiver. ]