The Aerofiler team attended the annual CLOC conference in Sydney this year, along with more than 200 others. Interestingly, the majority of attendees came from larger Australian multinational enterprises (including at least half of the largest 10 companies listed on the ASX). When you think about enterprises and enterprise software, the mind often turns to large budgets, complicated systems, lengthy implementation projects, project management teams, and hours of user training. This is true for legal technology as well, where systems that enterprises tend to use weigh in at six or seven figures and take many months to implement. But that doesn’t always need to be the case, and looking for traditional enterprise software can sometimes be the sub-optimal solution - even for the largest of enterprises.
One well-received session at CLOC showed that sometimes there is a better, simpler tool for the job that doesn’t require a lot of extra money, time, or effort.
Telstra is Australia’s largest telecommunications company and has a legal team of over 100 lawyers. In 2018, the organisation underwent a large restructuring that saw a 25% reduction in the size of its legal team. As part of the restructuring, the legal team was asked to rethink its operating model, with the opportunity to rebuild certain processes from the ground up. Additionally, the legal team was asked to ”do more with less” and explore “no cost solutions”.
Legal process automation is a common initiative for improving operational efficiency and enabling teams to do more with less. How, then, did Telstra implement processes for automating matter management, contract generation, lawyer capacity tracking, and legal capabilities reporting with projects that took weeks rather than months and with minimal spend? You’d typically expect each of these process automations to be a large project in and of itself, using specialised software for each process.
Their answer was Office 365. Yes, Office 365. Every legal team uses software from the Office 365 suite, so for Telstra there wasn’t the need to buy brand new software. It may also come as a surprise to some that the Office suite extends beyond the most well known apps, like Word, PowerPoint and Excel, and includes tools like Forms, Flow, SharePoint and Power BI. Telstra used these tools in different combinations to automate each process, and they were unimposing enough that the legal team implemented them without needing to rely on the IT department.
For example, to automate matter management, Microsoft Forms was used to create a form where internal clients could request work from the legal team. The information was stored in a central database (SharePoint). Incoming tasks could then be triaged and assigned to individual lawyers. The tasks would then appear in Microsoft Planner, where each lawyer could manage all the tasks assigned to them. All these steps were chained together using Microsoft Flow. To automate contract generation, Microsoft Forms was used again to collect inputs for variable items in contracts (like party details). These details were captured in SharePoint, then combined with a Word template, and then sent out by email to the intended recipient.
Telstra used to track the capacity of each of its lawyers by having each lawyer submit their capacity (eg, how busy they were on a scale of 1-3 or 1-5) each week to a team coordinator, who would then forward their team’s report to a single person who would then manually update a master Excel spreadsheet containing 150 rows. To automate this process, they created a mobile app where each lawyer could press a button to indicate their capacity for a week. This information would automatically update a database without the need for any manual work in between. Having this information in a database also allowed the team to generate real-time reports very quickly and easily using Power BI, giving actionable insights into their raw data. By slicing and dicing data through a user friendly interface, managers could understand capacity trends of different teams over time and adjust resource planning to address spikes in activity and capacity shortages. While a “simple” tool like Office 365 may not initially seem like an obvious solution for building an enterprise application, Telstra has shown that even the largest of enterprises can make use of low cost, relatively simple software and derive significant benefits from it. It doesn’t always need to be complicated.
One of our takeaways from Telstra’s presentation is that change sometimes helps to create innovation. Happily, each of us doesn’t need to go through our own company restructuring to figure out what Telstra’s legal team figured out. We can learn from their journey and implement their lessons learned into our own legal operations.
The other takeaway is that if you’re part of a larger organisation and you’re thinking about how to make legal operations more efficient, try to leave behind preconceptions about what’s an appropriate tool for the job. Bigger doesn’t mean better, and the more expensive and complicated the tool, the more risk it comes with. Think outside the box for non-traditional solutions; is there a more nimble, cost-effective way to solve the particular challenge you’re confronting? Are there solutions you can implement without needing to spin up a large project implementation team and help from the IT department? Can you apply the 80⁄20 rule (solve 80% of your requirements for 20% of the effort)? After all, if improving legal operations is about improving efficiency, being able to implement a solution efficiently is just as important as implementing a solution that provides efficiency.