Remote working, or telecommuting, has become increasingly common for knowledge industry workers in recent years. One study by IWG in 2018 found that as much as 70% of professionals work remotely at least one day a week. The proliferation of online tools like Slack and Zoom enable individuals who perform most of their work using computers – among which are lawyers and other legal professionals – to interact with others and get their work done outside of a traditional office environment.
Moreover, globalization has meant that even when at the office, much business is actually conducted at a distance - with colleagues in other offices or electronically with vendors and customers. It’s now routine for commercial transactions to be completed with neither party ever meeting in person.
The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has brought remote working to the forefront of businesses’ minds. While the pandemic is first and foremost a serious health issue that has directly impacted the lives of millions of people, people’s livelihoods also depend on their ability to continue working and earn a paycheck - something that has been severely disrupted in recent weeks. In this context, remote working is no simply longer a “nice to have” that affords flexibility to some workers, but a business necessity. COVID-19 may very well have permanently changed the way businesses operate in the future.
The pandemic has seen businesses quickly turn to evaluating their information technology infrastructure to support a reality where some, or even all, staff are self-isolated at home. But while general tools like email, chat, and video conferencing exist, what about technology for the legal professional?
Offline to Online
The most obvious area where legal technology can help is where you need to replace an offline legal operations process. Take, for example, contracts. Do you ever need to:
- Have people physically print and sign agreements with ink?
- Walk a document around to get approvals?
- Find a paper agreement in a filing cabinet?
- Drop by a lawyer’s desk to ask them to help you with something?
These tasks may no longer be feasible in a remote working situation. And while these tasks may be able to be accomplished using general purpose technology like e-mail, this can be cumbersome, creating inefficiency in a situation which is already less than ideal. It’s also a missed opportunity.
Using legal technology should not simply be about replacing offline processes with online ones. If you’re going to update your processes, you should also consider how to upgrade the efficiency of those processes.
Contract Management Systems for Efficient Remote Working
A contract management system facilitates the work needed to move a contract through its life cycle, from task initiation, to contract creation, negotiation, approval, signing, and filing. Not only is it completely digital, and therefore suitable for remote working, but it can improve efficiency by saving you time and effort. Below are some examples of how a contract management system can facilitate certain processes.
Self-serve searching and self-serve contract generation: Instead of needing to contact a lawyer to locate an agreement, or to have them create a standard agreement, co-workers can complete these tasks in a self-serve manner without having to wait on a person to respond (or wonder if they are even available).
Contract Approvals & Signatures: When working remotely, it is no longer easy to drop by someone’s desk to brief them on a contract and get their approval or signature. This can mean more work and longer times to obtain approvals, especially if you need to get more than one of them. A contract management system can help by taking care of the process for you. By automatically shepherding a contract through an approval workflow - your job is limited to a single task of submitting the contract to the system, together with a summary of terms or any other information approvers need to contextualize the approval request. Then, you can sit back as the system routes the contract to approvers and records approvals as they are received. Managers and executives can approve with just a couple of taps or clicks, while also creating a written record of their approval, from anywhere in the world.
Centralization and Accessibility: Contracts and information associated with them are typically scattered throughout various systems. Contracts may be stored in various locations, and notes about the contracts may be locked away in email threads, accessible only to thread participants. A contract management system makes contracts and the information about them available globally in one central location. The system is continuously available, even when a user is mobile.
Security: With a dispersed workforce, ensuring the security of an organization’s most sensitive documents becomes even more important. Contract management systems give organizations more control over their data. Permissions can be set up to limit access only to the extent needed by individuals. Audit logging can help teams to monitor who is accessing what, and when. And having a single system where you can search and view documents, and send links to documents, helps to avoid the proliferation of copies of documents that comes with emailing attachments.
The Bottom Line: It’s no longer business as usual
Now is a good time to think about refreshing legal operations in a way that supports remote working, and makes operations more efficient (whether you’re remotely working or not). A good start is taking a look at contract management systems that help serve you and internal clients alike at different stages of the contract management lifecycle - from task initiation to contract signing. The pandemic will eventually pass, but the work you do now to facilitate remote legal work while businesses are focused on this issue, will continue paying dividends long after.