Legal Ops 101: 3 Processes Legal Ops Teams Should Automate Right Now
February 8, 2023
May 17, 2022
Legal operations (Legal Ops) is fast becoming an indispensable function for companies of every size. While Rev Ops gets more of the buzz in the enterprise world, more and more organizations are coming to understand Legal Ops’ incredible value. Against the backdrop of rapid digital transformation, Legal Ops is gaining steam not only in tried and true legal areas like risk management, but as a key internal business partner to help organizations achieve strategic goals safely and efficiently.
It’s not hard to understand why this is an emerging trend. According to a 2018 survey from the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC), medium- to large-sized corporations averaged 400+ litigation matters. On average, survey respondents spent more than $2 million on eDiscovery alone. The same survey indicated that 84% of legal departments expected their legal needs to increase in the coming year.
Legal Ops teams can relieve huge burdens placed on legal departments. Too often, legal professionals like general counsel (GCs) and chief legal officers (CLOs) get bogged down by the work and tasks around legal matters, pulling them away from the critical tasks at hand. When that happens, their expertise is squandered. That’s where Legal Ops teams can step in to handle all of those peripheral (though not inconsequential) tasks and free up the legal department to focus more on the work for which they’re uniquely qualified.
But the nature and function of Legal Ops teams is evolving. Let’s explore what that means.
What is Legal Ops?
Legal Ops comprises all the business activities, processes, and people that enable an organization’s legal department to focus on core competencies. They’re instrumental in protecting companies from legal risks and also reducing costs and streamlining processes across a business. At a high level, Legal Ops teams make sure the right legal work is in the hands of the right people at the right times.
Members of a Legal Ops team typically aren’t legal professionals; they’re from other disciplines like finance, project management, marketing, and data analytics.
Legal Ops teams’ primary focus is supporting the legal department so its constituent personnel can focus more completely on legal matters instead of logistical ones. However, they’ve increasingly begun supporting the legal needs of the entire organization, shouldering a broader mandate that involves maintaining both holistic and specific views of the business and contributing to its strategic goals.
Legal Ops teams can help organizations of every size, because every organization has legal needs. A functional team can begin with a single member and scale in proportion to the size of the business and scope of growing legal demands.
The Legal Ops team is not the same as the legal team. Even though Legal Ops teams have specialized knowledge of legal issues, their focus is on streamlining all operations, reducing risks, and curbing costs related to legal functions that affect the entire organization, informed by their deep and wide knowledge of the business.
But not all Legal Ops teams are equally effective.
Hallmarks of effective Legal Ops teams are strong communication and savvy automation.
Ops is one of those unique areas of work where the more effective you are at the job, ironically the more invisible it is to most people across your organization. Yet Legal Ops professionals typically need to interact with virtually every team and department within a company, because those folks are the natural “customers” of the legal department.
The task of communication, then, includes letting people know that you exist in the first place and how you can potentially help them.
That requires proactive communication on the part of Legal Ops. You have to reach out to your constituents in the organization and learn what their needs are through active listening. Preemptively create solutions for them, check back in to evaluate results, and repeat that cycle of feedback and improvement.
That’s how you build trust and ensure that you’re supporting individual and company-wide goals.
Practically speaking, Legal Ops will meet those needs and support those goals by implementing automation into processes. The primary benefits of automation—faster processes, more streamlined processes, reduced costs, and less manual work for employees—are obvious across the board.
But for Legal Ops, there are even more benefits. Because every manual process increases the vector for errors simply because humans are involved, fewer manual processes means fewer errors. For legal matters, errors can increase legal risk exposure and jeopardize aspects of Contract Lifecycle Management (CLM) and even litigation. Plus, automated processes are inherently heavily documented and are thus easily auditable, which makes discovery and compliance significantly faster and more accurate.
But deciding where, when, and how to introduce a technological solution is where intelligence and wisdom are critical, because it’s not hard to identify a need or problem, slap a technology bandaid over it, and say it’s solved.
That’s a technology-first approach, not a people-first approach. Technological solutions are effective only if people use them. And people won’t use them if it’s not clear, easy, convenient, or empowering. Worse, a new piece of technology that nobody wants to adopt can be counterproductive, because people will find workarounds that may introduce errors or other problems—and you won’t be able to track them.
A people-first approach takes into consideration what’s already working, too. If a team is using a process or technology, and they like it, and it’s working well, don’t replace it—find a way to implement additional solutions or tools that augment it. In other words: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Great Legal Ops pros meet people where they are, and give them solutions—or empower them to implement their own—that they’ll actually use and will make their work easier, better, and more fulfilling.
If you’re thinking about moving forward with automation to augment your Legal Ops teams, you can start simple and still make a big difference.
Below are a few examples of the kinds of low-hanging-fruit processes that Legal Ops teams can automate now that will generate significant returns right away.
Oh, and if you want to see processes like these automated step-by-step using no-code automation, sign up for our Legal Ops Webinar.
1. Legal Intake
Before anyone can perform any legal services, legal departments have to perform an intake process. Simply put, it’s an onboarding process. Legal intake encompasses how you convert contacts and leads into clients, as well as fielding and delegating legal requests to the correct party.
Though intake happens via numerous channels, such as phone calls and online forms, these days email is a primary vector for intake. Intake requests include CLM, Legal Matter Management (LMM), vendor onboarding, elements of the procure-to-pay-cycle, and even budget approval items for an organization’s leadership team.
This is an area where Legal Ops teams can have an outsized impact on their legal department, because legal intake fits their expertise perfectly: knowing about legal issues without actually being an attorney or paralegal.
Broadly, the component parts are:
Gather legal requests
Coordinate requests with legal team
It’s all too easy—and common—for legal professionals to overlook or undervalue intake. Largely that’s because the process can look like, well, nothing—instead of a clean, defined process, it’s often an ad hoc jumble of back-and-forth phone calls, messages, emails, and even faxes in some cases.
But that rather manual and time-consuming means of conducting intake, triage, and coordination is inefficient and rife with vectors for errors. It can even jeopardize the relationship between legal teams and their clients if the process isn’t a pleasant and smooth one. Intake is a customer experience opportunity, and you can either use it to increase client satisfaction and increase their confidence in you…or you can botch it.
An optimal legal intake process is streamlined, centralized, and empowered by automation.
With Tonkean, you can automate your legal intake process without writing any code. Modules in the Tonkean platform allow you to automate specific processes and their related communications between parties. Here’s a guide for how to do it, but steps and parts of the process are below.
Gather legal requests: The first step is gathering legal requests, however they come. Tonkean has modules for email, online forms, CRM, or even a Slack or Microsoft Teams message. A client can initiate or ask a question from any of those interfaces, and your team will be notified so you can complete that particular process through that interface.
Triage requests: Once you receive a request, you need to collect additional information in order to assess risk level and route it to the correct person. Without using a line of code, you can create a set of “when/do” triggers that automatically route and label incoming requests, including flagging items that have missing information.
Unified request management: To track all your legal requests—basics like where they came from and what area they pertain to, as well as metrics like handling time and areas for improvement—Tonkean provides a KPI dashboard.
Auto handle common requests: A number of legal requests like NDAs are routine and therefore simple to automate. Others are outside the scope of the legal department. In either case, Tonkean modules can automatically generate responses to common requests, generate documents, create matters, initiate contracts, and coordinate signatures.
Coordinate special requests with the legal team: More complex requests require more attention from legal personnel with expertise in particular areas. Tonkean modules can automatically request more information and then route requests to the correct attorneys. After that step, they track progress and nudge the attorney for status updates.
That’s a lot of steps within steps. But most legal teams are doing all of that manually. With Tonkean’s process orchestration managing it all, each piece gets automated and tracked, which prevents errors, reduces time spent, and increases auditability. And the interactions occur in the applications people are already using—email, Slack, Salesforce, and so on.
Every organization has certain rules and regulations they have to abide by. The particulars vary widely based on the size of the company and the field it’s in. Examples of regulations and regulatory bodies include HIPAA, GDPR, Sarbanes-Oxley, SEC, and the IRS. For specific industries, organizations may need to deal with delicate international laws, manufacturing requirements, and more.
In all cases, regulatory or governing bodies will perform periodic audits that ensure companies are in compliance with germane rules, regulations, and laws. (Organizations have their own internal policies, procedures, rules, and codes and may perform an internal compliance audit, too.)
Although obviously it’s critical to be within compliance, it’s also important to be able to give auditors the correct and timely information they need to perform their audit. There are ramifications if you can’t. It’s incumbent upon Legal Ops teams to gather and serve up that information, and to do so, they need both automated processes and an audit trail.
Here are the steps Legal Ops teams need to think about with an audit:
Employee Notification: Let people know that they’re part of an audit.
Evidence Collection: Reach out to (and follow up with) relevant stakeholders, organize evidence documentation, and make assessments about risk areas and internal controls.
Approvals Audit Trail: As the audit proceeds, you can automate steps to streamline the approval process at each step and create an audit trail for every item.
Audit Checklist & Findings Collection: You need a single place for all the audit’s questions and findings, as well as a way to send automatic notifications and reminders.
End-to-End Reporting: Strong reporting gives you a view of the entire audit process, as well as a way to identify areas for future improvement.
As an example of how Tonkean can help Legal Ops effectively execute a compliance audit, there’s a module for evidence collection. An auditor—external or internal—can list the evidence they need to collect, and all of the people who need to provide evidence will get a notification.
Whether it’s finance, IT, sales, HR, or legal—or even a partner outside of the organization—the Tonkean module will automatically reach out to the right person, via whatever app works best for them, be it email, Teams, Slack, or what have you. Tonkean will follow up with those parties, and escalate the request if need be, and then store and organize each piece of evidence in easily accessible formats like Dropbox, Google Drive, or a spreadsheet.
None of the above is prescribed, because Tonkean lets Legal Ops teams tailor their workflows with a no-code interface. You can create simple when/do logic blocks so that whenever a particular event happens, an action automatically follows it.
For example, from within Tonkean, you could choose to store all requests pertaining to a particular audit request in Dropbox. Using the blocks, you can set Tonkean to automatically create a folder any time there’s a new auditee.
This way, Legal Ops can save tons of time by creating a custom workflow that takes care of all manner of minutiae, including follow-ups and tracking, all without writing a single line of code. Anytime you need to make a change to the workflow, you can simply edit a solution to do things differently going forward.
Reminder: if you want to see processes like these automated step-by-step using no-code automation, sign up for our Legal Ops Webinar.
3. Document Automation
We’ve already mentioned document automation indirectly, but it’s a key component of Legal Ops’ automation strategy, regardless of the size of an organization or the field in which it operates.
Largely, document automation is what it sounds like. But because you can’t populate documents without information, the process requires data collection as a first step. From there, you can generate, verify, send, and approve documents using Tonkean.
Here are the component steps:
Collect Details: You need to gather data and text from pertinent sources before you can create a document.
Generate Document: Armed with the information you need, automatically generate and send the document.
Verify Document: Before you send a document to its final recipients, you need to send it to a reviewer who will look it over and verify it.
Send & Approve Document: The final step is sending a document to its final recipients and collecting approvals or signatures when necessary.
The stakes are high with this process. Lost, missing, or incorrect information or documents could be disastrous, resulting in leaks, delays, or failed contracts. Fortunately, it’s a straightforward challenge, so document automation isn’t complex with the right process orchestration platform.
One Tonkean module that makes document automation go is OCR document sorting. Once you’ve uploaded documents into a storage system like Dropbox or Drive, Tonkean can scan the documents using optical character recognition (OCR), applying natural language processing (NLP) to automatically “read” the documents and triage them accordingly.
When there’s data that’s unclear, whether because of a low-quality scan or words and phrases that the NLP doesn’t know, Tonkean routes the issue to a human who can understand and clarify it. Then Tonkean will add that new knowledge into the database, improving the system over time.
This is a critical aspect of document automation that the Legal Ops team can easily manage on behalf of the legal department.
Other document automation opportunities that address specific, commonly used applications include Salesforce instances for Legal Matter Management and DocuSign instances for Contract Lifecycle Management.
What sort of automation tool does your Legal Ops team need?
There’s a final, incredibly important component to creating streamlined processes for Legal Ops teams (or any ops team, for that matter): the ability to remove technical burdens from IT.
If the IT department is responsible for supporting all your shiny new technology, that creates cascading problems. Most practically, it creates a bottleneck because no one can make, edit, or adjust anything without involving IT. It’s not only counterproductive, it’s antithetical to the value that ops teams bring to organizations.
That’s often true of point solutions; the people who use each piece of technology are the ones who need to be able to, well, use it. Any employee in the organization needs to be able to automate their own processes as things shift and demands change—they’re the ones who know their own workflows best, after all. And because almost none of those people are coders in any traditional sense, they need to be able to use automation tools without having that deep technical knowledge.
In order to serve most effectively in their role supporting the legal needs of the whole organization, Legal Ops teams need this same capability. But they need even more—they need a no-code process orchestration platform like Tonkean that not only enables the creation of individual solutions, but the management of all of them.
That’s the part of the equation that makes the whole thing go, and turns a bunch of cool standalone automated solutions into a unified machine that empowers every person in the organization to do their best, most fulfilling work.
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