The Case of NLC: Systems, Process-Thinking & Future Possibilities
Q&A: part 2/2
Host: Maurits Annegarn (Segment Manager Legal Software at Wolters Kluwer)
Guests: Sandra Lammerding (Head Legal Counsel at NLC), Jan-Willem Prakke (Founder of and Partner at Legal Manager)
Maurits: Sandra, how did the implementation of Legisway change things for your department compared to last year?
Sandra: It’s interesting how quickly you get used to a new system once you’ve implemented it. Legisway is so user-friendly and has become vital to our operation. I sometimes can’t even imagine that we used to work without it. The main activity we are trying to monitor is our participation in ventures we created. Our legal dashboard neatly reflects all of NLC’ entities and ventures on just one screen and therefore gives us tremendous oversight. With the help of Legal Manager we are now also able to instantly generate organograms. This is a huge help and time-saver for our legal assistant who used to do this manually in a spreadsheet. So all in all I would say that dashboarding our data has been a huge improvement for our department. We can finally see the entirety of our legal data, organize all of our documents and keep track of all our ventures.
Maurits: Jan-Willem, you are quite experienced when it comes to implementing these kinds of systems. Can you explain what this automated way of organizing legal data actually solves for legal departments?
Legal professionals today should move outside of their comfort zone and learn about other disciplines. I personally have good experiences with our IT specialists that are indeed very process-oriented. - Sandra Lammerding (NLC)
Jan-Willem: Yes, there are a few main advantages to this. The first is making the data clear and accessible for the entire department. This is not just beneficial for legal but the entire organization. Also, systems like these invoke responses from its users causing them to help develop its usability. In other words, employees will start to explore new possibilities for this software to be used. Implementing a program like Legisway forces your department to rethink its way of working and become much more process-oriented. The ironic thing is that – in my experience – legal professionals are usually not the best process thinkers.
An implementation like the one we did with NLC is a joint effort in which you also involve, for example, your IT department. As a legal professional you should be reaching out to people outside of your legal department to get the most out of this new way of working. We shouldn’t forget that this is standard, recurring legal work that needs to be in order. I know from experience how challenging it can be to organize your own administration, even with help from a legal assistant. Why not train your in-house legal professionals to optimize their workflows through this technology. It would make their lives a lot easier and give them the opportunity to focus on complex matters. This transition creates a lot more stability within the department because you rely less on manual processes. Plus it makes room for new developments regarding processes and technologies. In that sense, I’d say that Legisway is just the start.
Sandra: I couldn’t agree more, Jan-Willem. Legal professionals today should move outside of their comfort zone and learn about other disciplines. I personally have good experiences with our IT specialists that are indeed very process-oriented. Their expertise really helps me to find out about new processes to improve our service level. At NLC it is already quite normal to work together with other departments because it always produces something new.
Sandra: Jan-Willem, I was actually wondering: Do you have some more advice on how legal professionals can improve their tech-skills and work more process-oriented?
Jan-Willem: I think it is important to remember that companies are confronted with the digital future. Legal departments should put much more effort into exploring the technological possibilities and get in touch with their tech-savvy colleagues. Like I said, it’s a joint effort. When I was working at Schiphol we had this thing called the Digital Airport Program which applied to digitization in the broadest sense. That was the point where I started to visualize what a digital legal department would look like. I quickly found that I had to work together with strategists and IT specialists to achieve this while also involving our legal department to explore the possibilities.And I think this is key in preparing your legal department for the future.
Maurits: Yes and I would add that this is also a matter of perception. We often see that legal professionals are not aware of how they are perceived by the rest of the organization. We sometimes heard the nickname “the deal prevention team” coming from the commercial side of organizations. This is of course not how you want to be seen as a legal department. So from what I have learned from talking to clients is that this dialogue between legal and the rest of the organization needs to be improved. After a quick feedback session you can actually solve problems that are quite easy to solve.
Maurits: Sandra what would be the ideal situation for you if we were to skip ahead 3 to 4 years?
Sandra: Ideally we would be using data insights we are producing right now to make better decisions for the long term. Ultimately it could also lead to an expansion of dashboarding, report automation and a data-driven method to safeguard our KPIs. In addition to this I see a future where the cycle of a contract is fully automated, from drawing up contracts to managing them in Legisway. This would then also make it possible for the rest of the organization to work with contracts once legal has approved them. I see a path towards full automation and perhaps even integration with other systems we’re using at the moment. So integrating DocuSign and other CRM systems we are using at the moment with Legisway.
Maurits: Yes if we’re talking about process improvement, automation and transferring data from one system to the other, we have to conclude that success depends on digital preparations made by a department. Jan-Willem, what is happening right now if you look at the market right now? Do you see a trend in companies making this transition?
Innovation within the legal world lags because of psychology, not technology. - Jan-Willem Prakke (Legal Manager)
Jan-Willem: Absolutely! But there is a risk in legal departments not keeping up with technological innovation. Looking at ERP systems by Oracle, SAP or even Microsoft, these systems already have so many new functionalities that we simply don’t know about. Ironically these innovations are vital for legal professionals to know about because it enables them to perform better. You want to prevent a situation where your IT department is delivering solutions to contract management because your department lacks the technological know-how. Staying up to date on these innovations means that you have influence on decisions involving systems used by the entire organization. Legal work is really dynamic and involves important decisions made by real people. It would be a shame if this kind of work is made more difficult by technology because of a simple knowledge gap. At the same time legal departments have a lot more to improve. Things like managing documents and e-signatures are sometimes still not in order. To give the example of DocuSign, an e-signature system that has grown immensely since the first lockdown last year. Docusign however exists for quite a long time now. In 2010 it processed 80 million e-signatures in the US alone. 11 years later we started to realize in the Netherlands that such a simple solution might be worth the investment. So that’s just to point out how long it can take. And while Dutch law is quite progressive when it comes to legal tech, we still see a lot of hesitance when it comes to adopting these systems. Innovation within the legal world lags because of psychology, not technology. The technological solutions that legal departments will be using in 3 to 4 years are available today.
Sandra: Yes but I have to admit, Jan-Willem, that these legal tech developments are not always as clear as we would like to think. There are so many tech providers today that you start to lose sight of which solutions suit you best.
Once you have a clear picture of how processes work and where the bottlenecks are, you can start looking for a suitable solution. - Maurits Annegarn (Wolters Kluwer)
Jan-Willem: Yes I agree and that’s actually one of the reasons I started Legal Manager. To me it’s much more logical to centralize knowledge about legal tech and legal services. This is much more efficient and prevents legal departments from having to reinvent the wheel. Instead they should look for service providers like us who have a lot of experience with and knowledge about these systems.
Maurits: Yes thanks, Jan-Willem. I just want to respond quickly to what Sandra said earlier about losing sight of developments in the legal tech market. I think for this it is best to focus on the work processes instead of the software itself. So what are the relevant processes for a legal professional? Which elements of the organization are affected by these processes? Who are the key actors? Once you have a clear picture of how processes work and where the bottlenecks are, you can start looking for a suitable solution. In reality we often see the opposite where departments start looking for solutions without identifying the problem first.
Jan-Willem: Couldn’t agree more. Of course there is the other problem of departments not communicating with each other. This often leads to situations where for example a purchasing department acquires a new purchasing system without consulting legal first. This is often software that works fine for purchasing contract management but does not correspond with corporate housekeeping systems legal uses. Because these programs are not compatible with each other you are actually adding manual steps in the whole process and increasing the workload for others.
Maurits: Before we end this Q&A I would like to summarize our discussion into the following take-aways:
- You need accurate and detailed information about your department to generate valuable data-insights
- You can collect all of your legal data in one system to make accessible for everyone on-demand
- With the expertise and services of Legal Manager you can successfully implement the system and manage the data
- Following these criteria enables your department to have valuable data-insights in one, easy to use legal dashboard
Thank you both for your great input and a very interesting discussion today!