Legal departments are not typically seen as agile or leaders of change, but last July the team at ATB Financial saw an opportunity for the legal group to stretch its non-legal muscles and champion change.
In July 2017, ATB Financial switched from primarily Microsoft Office products to Google-based tools. The belief was that the collaboration benefits in operating in a cloud-based sharing environment were obvious for the organization as a whole. The question was how would a small legal team of seven lawyers and two paralegals take advantage of the new tools?
As part of a company-wide assessment by McKinsey & Company, the legal team was already benchmarked as “highly effective.”
“We were eager to demonstrate our agile forward-thinking nature,” said Aaron Friedenthal, assistant general counsel, legal services, in ATB’s Innovatio nomination submission. [Friedenthal is currently on a nine-month secondment to the internal audit department.]
The initiative was spearheaded by project leader Stephen Cooper, senior counsel with ATB Financial, who supports the bank’s commercial lending group and innovative technology and fintech group.
The legal team set up a committee of three to look at some of its operations and review opportunities to be early adopters. The committee landed on undertaking three initial projects. The first was to develop a non-disclosure agreement bot using Google tools that would automatically generate a standardized NDA based upon completing a Google form.
Previously, ATB had supplied editable Microsoft Word non-disclosure templates to its business partners. Those templates weren’t always intuitively obvious to the business partners and took some hunting around to find on the internal intranet. The team decided to reimagine the process as part of the company’s migration to the Google G suite.
With the help of an internal Google product manager, the NDA bot was coded and, within 30 seconds of clicking ‘submit’, it sends an email with a completed NDA in PDF format to the requestor. It can then be sent off to the potential vendor via email or DocuSign.
That reduced the turnaround time from what was several days to about 30 seconds.
Boundary conditions for the NDA terms were developed in consultation with ATB’s risk department and with a view to balancing the organization’s overall risk appetite with its focus on innovation.
“Deployment of the NDA bot has allowed ATB legal’s business partners to engage with their external clients on their own time frames using reliable documents. This has freed up our legal department to focus on higher-value work and provide more strategic contributions to the business rather than cookie-cutter, day-by-day contractual work,” says Cooper, who is based in Calgary.
The second project was to start to move the legal team’s knowledge-sharing content from the SharePoint-based intranet to a Google+ community page.
The G+ site has ATB’s internal legal department content and information sharing and provides updates for internal users. It has become a more manageable and user-friendly way to share knowledge.
The team took the opportunity to consolidate legal opinions, memos and forms from various fragmented places to unified team drives. Legal services can control access to those team drives by user, by editing permissions and by a period of time they have access to a document.
“It’s really revolutionized how and when we can provide documents inside and outside the organization,” says Cooper.
The last project undertaken was to streamline the department’s inquiry process. All legal departments receive general inquiries from the organization on more or less random legal issues that they face. After running the project through a reimagination exercise, the committee assessed that using a Google form and eliminating the general email address would provide the best benefit.
The Google form redirects team members to the right place the first time, reducing employee time and involvement. It also collects data about the type of inquiry, which department or location the user comes from and requests a risk assessment about the inquiry. Based upon the Google form, legal is quickly able to assess whether the inquiry is truly a legal issue that it should engage on or whether there are other resources in the organization to which to redirect the team member.
Despite external benchmarking showing that the legal department is already lean and proactively engaged with the business, Cooper and the team were able to realize additional efficiencies both through leveraging larger organizational changes and through reimagining legal’s own processes.