Posts Tagged ‘law’

Lawyers are from Mars, Technology is from Venus

September 16, 2011 Leave a comment

I spent two excellent days last week at the Legal Week’s Corporate Counsel Forum, where I’ve met several new and interesting people and learned an awful lot of things I didn’t know.

But I left the conference very frustrated.

The forum audience comprises primarily senior lawyers: General Counsel and Heads of Legal departments. The topics covered were as wide as crisis management, ‘moral’ compass, employment, Bribery Act, ‘Tesco’ law, cross-border teams, intellectual property, competition, etc., etc. Fascinating subjects, some of which admittedly I knew nothing about and learned a lot. It gave me a small insight into “a day in the life of a General Counsel” and the sheer volume of diversity that they have to be knowledgeable about, deal with and protect themselves (and their company) from.

And in 8 out of 10 conference sessions I wanted to shout: “There is a solution that can help here!”.

It amazes me (and frustrates me!) how much of the technology that other parts of the organisation take for granted seems to be absent from the legal department. As if they are the poor relatives in the organisation. I am not talking about highly specialised legal technologies such as eDiscovery, Content Analytics or even Information Risk & Compliance Governance (although these too are available and seem to be missing from many legal officers’ armoury, but that’s another conversation…). I am talking about basic capabilities that make the daily office operation significantly more efficient:

  • Digitising paper – avoiding the costs, avoiding delays of shifting piles of paper around and the risk of losing them by accident or in a crisis
  • Electronic document repositories – managing security and access controls, reducing duplication, managing versions, allowing online access from anywhere and simple searching
  • Case management – allowing lawyers to organise their work, negotiate with third parties, monitor progress, apply rules and generate reports automatically instead of using spreadsheets
  • Email management – capturing, filtering, organising and routing emails, ensuring compliance
  • Collaboration software – communicating amongst large teams, dispersed in different geographies and timezones

The list goes on… This isn’t trailblazing, these are automation tools and capabilities that have proven their value and have been helping organisations remove basic inefficiencies, for the last 10-20 years.

I am not advocating that technology is the answer to everything. Some business problems can be improved with some common sense and a bit of reorganising. Others are far too complex to be tackled by technology alone. But there is certainly enough basic technology to make a General Counsel’s life much simpler.

One of the key messages coming out of the conference was the resource constraints that legal departments are facing. Too much to do, too little time, too few people, too much information to process, too much knowledge to upkeep, too many risks to avoid, too many departments to coordinate, too many regulations to adhere to and too many stakeholders to appease.

So why are you wasting time on menial tasks that can be simplified, automated, or eliminated by use of simple tools, instead of using that time effectively to add value to the elements of the process where technology can’t  help.

Whenever I asked that question, the answer is typically “We don’t control the budget” or “We have other priorities” or “We don’t have the time to look at new tools”, etc.

Excuses! The question here is not “have I got time to worry about technology?”. The question is “Can I afford the luxury of NOT using it?”.  If these technologies can improve the productivity and reduce costs in the operations department, the marketing department, the sales department, the procurement department, why not use them to improve the efficiency of the legal department too?

(I would love to hear your views on this, especially if you are and in-house lawyer or work in a legal department)

Law – The fire within…

Writing is a form of therapy (Jan Timmons)

(Photo by kind permission of Jan Timmons)

I must confess: I am not a legal expert and my closest encounter with a courtroom is through the safety of a television screen.

I realised recently however, that inside my brain I have multiple and conflicting views of “The law”.

I grew up in Athens and, even though my grandfather was a lawyer (or maybe echoing his cynicism), I have grown up with an inherent mistrust of all thing ‘legal’: Legalese language that seeks to confuse and befuddle the average mortal; vulcher lawyers that procrastinate in order to maximise their hourly fees; legal cases that run for years and years because scheduled court hearings get postponed on technicalities; the list goes on…

In another compartment of my brain lives the virtuous, almost glamourous, world of TV courtroom drama with a very diverse portrayal of reality, ranging from Rumpole Of the Bailey and Kavanagh QC to Ally McBeal and Law and Order. Where young and old conscientious lawyers are burning the midnight oil, over endless stacks of case law books, looking for the one nugget that will exonerate their Ill-accused client and where honour, ethics and the omnipotent sage of the presiding Judge, prevail to save the day.

Many many years ago, I was involved in the delivery of early, bespoke Document Management systems to large law firms, such as Clifford Chance, Linklaters, Cameron Markby Hewitt (as it was then…), and others, which gave me yet a different perspective: One where Law firm partners are considered akin to deity, hordes of hopeful legal students and young lawyers work through endless hours of menial tasks in order to establish themselves on a career ladder, where information is king but information systems are a foe and where laborious, manual processes represent the status quo. Admittedly that experience was over ten years ago, but it was a cut-throat business then and I doubt that much has changed since.

More recently, I have been marginally involved with the world of electronic discovery and reading about legal proceedings on both sides of the Atlantic, often through the excellent commentary of Chris Dale’s insightful blog.  Through this, I have seen a more earthy view of litigation, where monetary considerations, negotiations, common sense (if such a thing exists….), judgments written in plain English, project management, geopolitical variances and the general admission that nobody, not even judges, are immune to the complexities of technological innovation, paint a picture of a legal environment that looks, well… almost business like! Commercial reality (and the associated astronomical costs of litigation) often dictate that cases are assessed, negotiated and settled on the merits of cost and objectives, not just “fairness” and “justice”.

Which of the views in my brain is more realistic? I don’t know. I find all of them fascinating: I am intrigued, watching an industry which is thousands of years old, constantly evolving and seeking to learn new tricks, acknowledging its own shortcomings and fighting to keep up with technological innovation – just like the rest of us!

Categories: eDiscovery, legal Tags: , , ,
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