77% of Inhouse Lawyers Experience Failed Legal Tech Projects

In what is a sobering finding amid the CLM buzz, a survey by Onit’s ContractWorks group found that over three-quarters (77%) of inhouse lawyers had ‘experienced a failed technology implementation’, with some even leaving their jobs partly because of the tech they had to use.

The survey of 350 inhouse lawyers and paralegals from the US and UK, said that for those who had been at a company where they were ‘struggling to use the tech’, it had contributed to 23% leaving their job, while 29% said it made them doubt whether ‘my employer knew what was best for the business’.

It seems quite extreme to leave a job because of having to use an unloved tech product in your day-to-day work. But, if you were, for example, in a junior contract management role, and the software that had been imposed on you – and that you had to work with all day – was really awful to use, then one could see this contributing to someone leaving their role.

ContractWorks data, 2022.

That underlines the importance to companies of not getting such things wrong. In short, bad tech projects can actually create low morale and lose the company some of its staff – which is something we don’t often hear about.

ContractWorks data, 2022.

Moreover 43% said they had experienced more than one failed tech roll-out in their department. Less than one-fifth said they’d never seen a problem with a legal tech roll-out inhouse. So what is causing the problems? The reasons included:

  • Implementation took too long (38%) – which suggests either the buyer or the seller didn’t really understand what needed to be done, and so could not provide a realistic timeline. Or, perhaps the tech simply could not deal with the complexity of the inhouse team’s work and so needed extensive customisation?
  • That it was too complicated (36%) – which is also a failure of the sales process, as the buyers have paid for something that they cannot easily use. Perhaps the sellers over-sold, or maybe the buyers were not well-armed when it came to procurement of legal tech. Either way, this has led to a mess.
  • The tech was not the right fit (33%) – now this really has to be on the buyer, as if they’re coughing up company cash for something that doesn’t do the job, then someone has made a bad decision. Maybe they got sweet-talked by the seller, but still, if it doesn’t even do what’s required then procurement has failed.

There were also very human challenges, such as resistance to change and too many stakeholders, with the latter seemingly inevitable given that few companies will have a dedicated legal tech team for the inhouse group.

Overall, the results underline the importance of getting decisions right here and really thinking about the end users. And as ever, the challenge with inhouse tech is the procurement process.

Despite the surge of interest in legal ops, the reality is that the majority of companies on this planet don’t have any dedicated team that helps the inhouse lawyers with matters that relate to tech procurement and implementation. Instead they rely on a mix of the tech companies, external consultants, and the company’s own central tech team, plus their own best guesses as to what they should do. In short, things remain in a bit of a muddle for many businesses.

In such an environment it’s perhaps inevitable that the number of failed tech implementations would be so high. And as mentioned, this creates a sobering counterpoint to the buzz around CLM – even if some of the newer ‘CLM 2.0’ companies are a lot more intuitive.

4 Comments

  1. However, there are success stories! We all need to work on better approaches and learning from success is incredibly valuable when you you consider the failure rate. I am working on better models to make human centric tech change with high success a reality. It is worth more than the software!

  2. Whilst the failure of tech roll out in-house does not surprise me, having such a high % comes as a shock

    A few things could probably explain the root causes of such failures

    – change management: willingness to do everything at once VS incrementally implementing changes with less disruptions and consideration for the users

    – ambitious goals: digitise the entire legal function in a very short amount of time, often out of a very manual current state

    – scaling failure: reproducing the existing (manual) processes Without looking at whether they could be eliminated or streamlined

    – user centricity: not recognising that users aren’t the same and come with diverging interests, challenges and roles

    – stakeholder engagement: not involving the relevant stakeholders early enough, keeping them engage and having champions leading the initiatives across different business units

    My two cents on this

  3. This survey is shocking indeed, albeit not surprising. Speaking with stakeholders who have tried to implement legal tech, it is indeed a combination of problems. My view is that the key inhibitors are:
    The vendor does not properly understand the customer’s problem but wants to sell the tech anyway;
    The customer generally understands what they want but does not have the bandwidth/knowhow to get down in the trenches with vendor to figure out if they really are the right fit and, if they are, how to make it work; and
    Using the tech is still too complex and tech providers are not investing enough in the end-to-end user journey as part of their “go-to market”.

    I could go on and on. I throw the gauntlet down to the technologists though, to understand that they are not just selling technology. They are selling the whole user experience. This must be built into the “go to market”. More expense, yes, but your customers will say “they are worth it”!.

  4. Wow, that’s food for thought, 77% is such a big figure! Reading this article makes me realise even more how important is to develop and iterate your legal content specific to your team’s needs.

    What I can see on a day to day basis, you might have the best possible tool available in the market in your hands, but if you do not create a sort of a bridge to help your colleagues to find their preferred wording in contract review, gates are closed: “this thing does not work”.

    To boost our success rate we need to pay attention to legal content iteration and constant feedback from our team members otherwise, the risk of failure increases dramatically.

    We probably need to remind ourselves that the machine won’t do the job for us in autonomy once installed, it’s key to start a dialogue between the tool and members of the team in the early days, and it is going to grow in time. It’s like having new colleagues join the team. They might be top 100 lawyers, but if you do not spend time with them on internal training and commercial support, you won’t get out of them much.

    With a content iteration approach + open dialogue in the team + not forcing change, I hope we might take at least 20% off the standard failure rate? 🙂

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