INSIGHT: General Counsel Advising in Unfamiliar Areas—Collaboration is Key

March 24, 2020, 8:00 AM

As Covid-19 makes its way into boardrooms across the globe, many lawyers find themselves in uncharted territory. All eyes turn to them to ensure the organization applies appropriate guidelines from public health institutions, revamps policies on everything from office etiquette to remote work options, and still protects company assets and interests from potential risks.

In other words, it’s yet another day in the life for corporate lawyers who increasingly face new challenges in unprecedented situations. A 2019 survey by Gartner found that 64% of general counsels are giving more guidance on unfamiliar business opportunities, and 64% are giving more guidance on unfamiliar risk areas.

Whether in-house or in law firms, lawyers need a more multidisciplinary approach to make the strategic decisions expected of them today. Fully understanding today’s opportunities and risks depends on more meaningful collaborations with others who can provide the subject matter expertise, data, and resources needed.

How do you build an environment conducive to collaboration? It can be too easy to overlook the essential elements. When planning your legal technology strategy, start by evaluating these three factors:

People: Who Needs to Work Together?

Today, dominant cultural trends influence competitive organizations to place higher values on teamwork, transparency, and diversity. Clients are building virtual teams to work on projects, which enable lawyers to build cross-functional relationships online. Lawyers from law firms work with in-house lawyers and others such as alternative legal service providers, accountants, colleagues, consultants, and even competitors.

We enlighten and are enlightened by others who share unique perspectives and knowledge. Most importantly, we gain access to the subject matter expertise and information needed to make more informed decisions.

Who Is on Your List of Potential Collaborators?

With so many potential contributors in the mix, how will you bring together the right ingredients?

Productive collaboration requires strong leadership and robust collaborative tools. Digital collaboration needs strong central leadership, a planner with a strategic vision who understands the value of each participant’s contribution.

Various team roles require different permission levels within technology platforms. You need full control of aspects such as comment and change visibility. The software must make it easy to assign each team member their relevant parts and track progress.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but useful features to look for include:

  • Customizable dashboards and project boards
  • Automated routing on tasks, requests, etc.
  • Flexible tracking and reporting options
  • Real-time sharing of documents, files, and other resources
  • Recorded online discussions and chats
  • On-demand audit trails

Processes: How Do People Get Work Done?

Defining work processes can seem daunting, like building a skyscraper out of toothpicks. But you’re not building anything, at least not initially. You simply want to gain insight into workflows already in existence.

Defining work processes entails:

  • Have people document the activities they do to complete their work, breaking each task into individual steps.
  • Analyze these steps with an eye toward achieving greater efficiency.
  • Streamline or eliminate overlapping responsibilities and unnecessary activities.
  • Identify repetitive, low-value tasks that are ripe for automation.
  • Identify additional capabilities people wish they had to improve their work lives.

With these steps, you pull back the curtain and shine the light on ways to better organize and simplify work procedures. Gartner estimates that 63% of current legal work can be standardized, which also helps you incorporate your legal judgment into workflows.

Use the information learned to identify which features and capabilities will be required, and which will be just nice to have, in the appropriate technology choice. The right technology will work across multiple devices.

Useful features include:

  • Customizable workflows with options for automation
  • Overarching data analytics
  • Task and approval dependencies
  • Appropriate third-party integrations
  • Native mobile apps

Gain Efficiency With Simultaneous Collaboration

Sending revised versions of a document back and forth until you reach an agreement is a sequential collaboration. Each step occurs separately, often slowly.

Modern software prioritizes simultaneous, not sequential, collaboration. For example, two lawyers log onto a platform to negotiate a contract in real-time. They access all exhibits through a centralized dashboard. The software records all comments and suggestions, which a third counsel reads later and responds accordingly. All the facts, files, and decision-making processes are in one, easily accessible location.

E-discovery, case and practice management, time and billing, and a plethora of other platforms support simultaneous collaboration. Many include AI-enabled analytics tools for tracking and sharing up-to-date data, which is essential for continually evaluating and improving our collaborative strategies.

Create Meaningful Collaboration

In our increasingly dynamic world, lawyers can create meaningful collaboration using integrated software tools and advanced legal technology platforms in our daily operations. In gaining access to critical insights and continually increasing efficiencies, lawyers can intelligently decipher unfamiliar situations to protect clients from disruption.

Building productive relationships also enriches our own environment, ensuring we face new challenges with an enlightened awareness of more creative solutions that can come from those around us.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. or its owners.

Author Information

Olga V. Mack is the CEO of Parley Pro, a next-generation contract management company that has pioneered online negotiation technology. She focuses on improving and shaping the future of law, having led from the front lines for decades as an award-winning general counsel, operations professional, startup adviser, public speaker, adjunct professor, and entrepreneur.

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