A Note On Automation And Technology
In-House Counsel as well as lawyers in general these days appear to fall into three groups when it comes to the use of technology. Not all groups are the same size, however.
The Fearful: the smallest of the groups, these individuals typically fear technology and/or are afraid they will be lost and lose control were they to employ any kind of technological solutions to their practice. As a result, these individuals operate without the use of much legal technology despite its nearly universal presence in today’s world.
The Legal Technologists: a larger group, these individuals embrace technology and use technology wherever possible.
The Moderates: the largest group, these individuals fall somewhere in the middle in that they are skeptical of technology, but are not afraid to embrace it under specific circumstances or when put in particularly time-sensitive situations. Today, more and more attorneys, particularly younger ones are embracing technology in greater numbers and applying it to a greater number of different scenarios. Given my dual passions of contract management and being in-house counsel, I thought that it would be useful to discuss two groundbreaking areas that have done an eye-opening job of bridging the legal and technological worlds. These areas over the past few years have unsurprisingly, given this age so invested in technology, experienced tremendous growth. So what are they?
It should not surprise you that they are electronic contract management and contract generation. As in-house counsel, to be truly responsive and adaptive, you need to familiarize yourself with both of these areas and try to make use of both technologies if possible.
1. Contract Management
Perhaps no other single area can consume more time, energy, and/or resources of the in-house legal department than this area. Most companies either handle this through a contract manager working in conjunction with part of that company’s in-house legal team. Other companies handle it solely through their legal department. Regardless of what method companies choose, ultimately this area seeks to address four key functions. These are storage, tracking of key provisions, searching, and reporting.
Nearly all current contract management systems on the market seek to address these four key functionalities. Many offer alerts that an individual can set to warn stakeholders of key events such as renewals and expirations of key provisions or entire contracts. Moreover, these systems also offer ways for users to aggregate data to give a broad view of a particular set of contracts or other key trend. Each system differs in their ability to handle inputted data and how that data can be inputted. In addition, some systems are better suited for smaller companies whereas others are better suited to handle larger enterprises.
For the latter type, some of the top solutions include Agiloft, CobbleStone Systems, Gimmal Contract Management and Great Minds Software Contract Advantage. Naturally, each of these systems also requires a bigger financial investment. For the former, ContractWorks, and Contract Assistant may be better. I would urge you to do your own research and determine your enterprise size, your budget, and what your specific needs are and proceed once that information is on-hand.
Following that, research these products, read reviews, and, if possible, talk to actual users of each product. This is clearly not a decision to be taken lightly given its both practical and financial and implications.
2. Contract Automation
Contract Automation is based on the concept of document assembly. Essentially, document assembly consists of having a template with blanks for some other party to complete and having that party go through the document and fill in the blanks. Today, technology has, thankfully, allowed us to move far beyond this simplistic task to creating entire documents without having to type a single word. Moreover, many of these programs work either with programs you already use like the ubiquitous Microsoft Word or SharePoint.
In today’s world given the dynamic economics of practicing law, many companies have chosen to go beyond just contract management to actually using software that can automatically create a contract. Essentially, this takes the concept of document assembly and applies it to contracts. The greatest benefit of having a system like this in place is that one can quickly generate contracts based off pre-loaded templates. In other words, a salesperson can quickly generate a needed contract without needing legal to do it. The Legal function is left then to focus their time and bandwidth on higher-level tasks and step in when needed if terms need to be negotiated down the line with the other side.
Given what a vast field this is combined with how many different solutions currently exist, rather than attempt to summarize everything here, I kindly offer an alternative – suggestions to look to for more information. As a starting point, if you are interested more in learning more, I would urge you read this helpful article which, while a bit dated, provides a nice overview of the concepts of document assembly, and, for a flavor of just what such a product can do in today’s age, read about Software Express, a leader in the field and endorsed by Ken Adams, who is the leading authority on contract construction. A couple of others that are worth looking into include HotDocs and Xpressdox.