New data from Juro suggests that at least among inhouse lawyers at more agile, fast-growth companies, the love affair with Microsoft Word may be cooling off, with only 58% of the 90 corporate counsel sampled saying they ‘used Word to agree and manage contracts’.
The previous year the figure had not been that great either, at 68% in 2021. This suggests – albeit from a niche sample of lawyers at scale-up companies* – that there is a steady decline in the use of Word among some parts of the market.
And it’s worth noting that Juro works with companies such as Cazoo, Deliveroo, Farmdrop, Habito, Nested and many other relatively new businesses. I.e. this is not the High Street banks or giants such as BP we are talking about. So the results need to be seen in the context of the type of companies Juro works with most.
The data is part of the company’s annual Inhouse Report in conjunction with Wilson Sonsini – find the report here – which also covers a range of insights into the state of the market.
But back to Word.
Artificial Lawyer asked Richard Mabey, CEO of Juro, what this change meant?
‘The drop in Word usage definitely supports what we see with legal teams we work with, who increasingly creep towards Google Docs. This is driven by internal stakeholders wanting to use document formats that let them collaborate in real time, as they do in Notion, for example,’ he explained.
However, he added that Google Docs is not a perfect solution either.
‘It’s an unhappy marriage though, as Google Docs don’t allow for proper version control and asynchronous collaboration when you need to negotiate with counterparties, which is core to the contract lifecycle.
‘So if business teams want Google Docs, and lawyers want Word, and nobody’s truly happy with either, this leaves room for custom editors like Juro’s that allow for sync collaboration with colleagues, but careful version control for negotiation,’ he said.
The next question has to be: would it be a big deal if lawyers stopped using Word? The short answer is: yes, because so much of the legal world is hooked up to the wider Microsoft environment, from Outlook, to all that Azure offers, and more.
Now, just because you stop using Word for your contracts – and all the work that goes into the back and forth of creating and negotiating them – doesn’t mean you stop using all that Microsoft offers, but it could encourage users to move to other providers of core utilities. I.e. if you don’t use Word for your contracting it may be a bit less of an upheaval to leave Outlook behind, or to stop using Teams, and so on.
It’s not an automatic shift, for sure, but it smooths the way, one might say, for exploring a whole range of other software that isn’t tied into Microsoft.
It’s also noteworthy as there are plenty of legal tech companies that market their Word integrations as their key selling point, i.e. ‘ABC product works seamlessly with your Word-based document creation.’ So, a move away from Word could also have an impact there.
But, how widespread is this? As noted, this group from the survey is to some degree self-selecting, i.e. young and fast-growth, built with plenty of software from day one even if tech is not what they are selling to the customers.
So, this is not a broad sample, yet at the same time if the big software sellers are not bagging these types of young companies as customers then that also tells us something important: that the new generation of inhouse lawyers may not all be wedded to Word nor enjoy spending their days playing email table tennis when it comes to contracting.
The report also covers a lot of other things – and the bit about Word was just a small part of the whole. Other key findings were:
– Inhouse lawyers are hiring: 73% of fast-growth companies are scaling up their legal teams.
– Yet new inhouse lawyers ‘lack skills, experience and a commercial mindset’ the survey found.
– 73% of inhouse lawyers ‘think their training is falling behind private practice colleagues’.
– And, inhouse lawyers ‘still struggle to align with the business and 81% of respondents think they should have separate key performance indicators (KPIs) to their commercial colleagues’.
The latter point about KPIs is especially interesting, i.e. that lawyers don’t feel they can easily fit with the way the rest of the company judges success. And that makes sense. Lawyering inside a company is a distinct role and its purpose – to reduce risk, to ensure compliance, to handle contracting needs, to manage disputes – does have a different profile to, for example, the sales team.
Much of the success of the legal team may also well be invisible, i.e. the company won’t always notice that the contracts the legal team handles don’t get litigated, or are compliant with the latest regulations. Meanwhile, on the flipside, the company will notice when the legal team holds up a deal because of a perceived risk, which they have a duty to examine in more detail.
So, having different KPIs makes sense. That said, it does then tend to reinforce the idea that the legal team is separate from the rest of the company. And perhaps that is simply a reality?
Even so, some may argue in return that when it comes to the more process and BAU work, e.g. approving relatively simple contracts, or producing relatively standard documents, that there is room to be put on the same KPIs as everyone else, that the work – although legal in nature – is not that different to what the HR or accounts team are doing.
As ever, one of the challenges (as with legal tech adoption here) is that the inhouse team straddles multiple worlds. While there is plenty of ‘legal admin’ that may look to a company like any other type of admin work, the inhouse lawyers are also operating sometimes as if they run a mini-corporate law firm and are handling complex, high-risk litigation, or overseeing the legal aspects of an M&A deal or a refinancing transaction, even if they outsource a lot of the work to external law firms and ALSPs.
In short, inhouse teams cover a very wide spectrum of activities, from bet the company issues to ‘Hey, can you please just OK that sales agreement for me?’ So, there will always be some tension here and perhaps it’s something that will always be with us.
Note: The Juro community group is about 600 GCs/heads of legal/senior lawyers at scale-up tech companies, but you don’t have to be a customer to join – 45% UK members, 30% EU, 20% US, 5% ROW.