Top 5 technology gaps in law departments

In an increasingly complex work environment corporate law departments often lack automated tools that can make managing many critical tasks more co-ordinated and less complicated, according to a recent survey by Thomson Reuters.

The survey identified the top five critical law department tasks most often not managed with automated tools. It found while law departments are frequently using technology to help manage certain tasks such as legal research and matter management, at the same time, only about one in five are currently using automated solutions on tasks such as legal holds, complex transactions, and compliance.

More than 500 law department leaders, lawyers, and staff were surveyd. The survey questions focused on tasks that were deemed critical by survey respondents, and were also carried out by the majority of law departments.

The top five critical tasks that have the least use of automated solutions are:
  • legal holds (20 per cent)
  • complex transactions (21 per cent)
  • compliance (22 per cent)
  • entity management (28 per cent)
  • contract management (40 per cent)
Some respondents described their current work environment as being: “Sheer and utter chaos,” or “I spend most of the day facing two computer screens. Some days I will go through the whole day and won’t even see the other side of my office.”

“Expectations for legal departments are rising and the demands of global operations place new strains on departments,” said Eric Laughlin, managing director of the corporate counsel segment at Thomson Reuters. “The finding that fewer than a quarter of law departments surveyed are applying automated solutions against several critical tasks clearly indicates the need for greater use of technology. At the same time, simply applying point solutions against these needs is not the complete answer either.”

The tools need to be integrated to provide a comprehensive view of the department’s activities. While deploying point solutions can help address individual needs, survey respondents expressed a strong need for an integrated approach that could eliminate problems such as duplicate data entry, multiple storage locations, missed collaboration opportunities, and lack of leadership visibility into their entire legal landscape.

In Canada the numbers might be slightly different according to Dominic Jaar, partner and national practice leader of information management and e-discovery with KPMG in Montreal

“Here in Canada Canadian companies are between three and 10 years behind the U.S.,” says Jaar, who adds this can mainly be explained, although not justified, by feeling less pressure from regulatory agencies.

Accordingly, if he had to identify the main technology gaps in Canada based on what KPMG sees in legal departments, he would rate them as follows:
  • matter management (40 per cent)
  • contract management (40 per cent)
  • compliance (45 per cent)
  • document management (60 per cent)
  • legal holds (60 per cent)
The importance of having integrated systems remains important though, says Jonathan Lau, legal counsel with TV Ontario where the in-house department is currently revamping its contract/rights management system internally.

“For TVO, it’s vital that we have the rights management system speak to our accounting system,” says Lau, since payments are triggered by deliverables of tapes and scripts to the other system that releases the content to servers so it can be shown on TV and on the web (depending on the rights).

Lau says the survey results don’t surprise him because legal counsel are largely focused on their day-to-day technical work.

“Analyzing the issue and implementing action can be paralyzing because it is a lot of work,” he says, noting departments need buy-in and funds when too often legal departments are seen as an expense function.

Lau says this last issue is like getting a checkup with the doctor to assess your health status.

“No one wants to know how bad it might be. Moreover, most patients only take action when something tragic happens. But once they regain their health, they revert to old bad habits. Legal departments can be the same — we know things are inefficient, but we still keep on with it.”

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