LOOKING INTO THE CRYSTAL BALL – 2016 CORPORATE LEGAL TECHNOLOGY TRENDS

I am often asked by colleagues to predict what I believe will be major areas of legal technology focus over the coming year.  I always like to put this in the context of the business purpose for which technology is needed.  So, without further ado, here are my four legal technology predictions through 2016:

  1. Shift from Spend Analytics to Pricing Visibility

Going into 2016, every software vendor and legal consultant geared up to help the General Counsel figure out how poorly they’ve been spending on legal services. There are tools and services galore designed to gather information already being tracked by the law department and, using advanced analytic techniques, paint a picture regarding how much is\should be spent relative to what other firms are charging for matters of a similar nature. Products such as ELM Solutions’ MatterAnalyzer, Consilio’s Sky Analytics and Quovant’s Legalitics are at the forefront of market pricing intelligence. But this is just the beginning. In addition to benchmarking against what other firms are charging, it’s important to retain firms that know how to set price. When selecting vendors, more emphasis should be placed on evaluating their having put in place systematic processes and tools that provide greater insight into how they price services and manage projects. Working with vendors that have this capability would give you the visibility—and certainty—needed to make better resource allocation decisions.

In effect, the burden shifts from the law department being reactive in assessing spend, to the law firm being preemptive in proposing pricing. Just maybe we can reduce the need for in-house counsel to also serve as financial analyst.

  1. Renewed Focus on Collaboration and the Extended Legal Team

For years, there has much discussion around creation of an extended legal team where members of the law department, their clients and vendors (i.e., law firms) can work together in a collaborative digital environment. Law firms spent considerable resources to draw clients into their extranets; law departments invested heavily in cloud-based computing platforms to improve accessibility to legal information. Neither of these investments have yet to fully pay off, as law departments and their firms still act as if there is a technology barrier between them. You can’t imagine the duplication of effort we have seen when both in-house and outside counsel are managing the same matter.

In 2016, I believe these barriers will begin to break down, the law department will claim ownership of their own matter management and other legal systems (and data) and force their law firms to use them. This is already happening in submission of electronic invoices, but vendors are now working towards extending their software capabilities to support law firm participation in areas of budgeting and project management (with overall supervision by the in-house attorney, of course). Clients will also begin to use these systems to request legal services and track their progress. It’s about time. No, really it’s about time well spent.

2016 CORPORATE LEGAL TECHNOLOGY TRENDS

3.  Contract Discovery as a Prelude to Effective Contract Management

A quick run through of the list of vendors prepared to exhibit at this year’s New York LegalTech tallies over four hundred eDiscovery vendors focused on how to manage litigation. Technology-assisted review, predictive coding, language-based analytics—these are all ways of identifying relevant documents as they relate to evidentiary management. For most companies, there is also the need to manage an even larger set of document types referred to collectively as “contracts”. These companies struggle to locate all contracts across the enterprise and gain insight into the unstructured data within. This is largely due to the cost-sensitive and time-prohibitive nature of the painstakingly manual approaches to contract search which, in turn, has made business decision-making around contract negotiation, execution, maintenance and renewal difficult to achieve.

I predict that over the course of the next year, tools similar in nature to those currently used in evidentiary management will be used in identifying, processing, reviewing and analyzing document sets in optimization of contract management. As importantly, when setting up a new Contract Management Lifecycle (CLM) system, these products can assist in determining which contracts (and which pieces of metadata) to bring forward into the contracts database.

The future has already begun. Traditional eDiscovery vendors like Nuix have partnered with Seal Software’s Contract Discovery and Analytics solutions to help in contract discovery and migration. eDiscovery…meet cDiscovery

4.  Knowledge Sharing Using Enterprise Corporate Systems

Almost every law department I work with struggles with the same issue—what do we do with Microsoft SharePoint? It is the document management solution whose benefit lawyers and Corporate IT alike have hoped for but yet to realize. Its promise stems from advantages in having already been purchased and deployed in other areas of the organization. Often, it’s the enterprise standard, strategically central to an enterprise application and data architecture that can be used by all interest groups, thus reducing cost and complexity of managing one-off or “point” solutions.

Unfortunately, reality has never lived up to expectations, particularly as a result of difficulty in organizing legal content by matter. As a result, most lawyers have denounced the use of SharePoint as being non-intuitive and too process intensive. Even Microsoft’s own law department needed to make use of a 3rd party add-in product to make SharePoint work for them. But all is about to change.

In 2016, Microsoft makes commercially available to the legal market what I believe to be a likely game changer—the Matter Center—a “skin” that sits on top of SharePoint, turning it into a matter-centric solution for managing documents, emails and all other forms of unstructured legal content. It is more intuitive to use and easier to navigate than “out-of-the box” SharePoint. It makes full use of the power and potential of not just SharePoint, but the entire Office 365 and cloud experience. In fact, it serves to prove the advantage in moving to this tightly integrated and robust environment. For Matter Center removes the need for vendors to build document management into their matter management/eBilling system and, instead replace it with a true enterprise-level DMS that leverages the company’s existing enterprise business application suite and technology infrastructure. Getting what you want while being a good corporate citizen…imagine that.

Conclusion

As I’ve predicted, 2016 holds much promise for improvement in legal practice and business operations. Should I be proved wrong in my forecast, hopefully you won’t fault me for trying to look into the crystal ball but praise me for having taken the chance. For as once said by Nils Bohr, the famous Nobel laureate in Physics, “Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future.”

Scott Rosenberg is Managing Director & Corporate Counsel of LegalShift, LLC.  He is former Sr. Manager of Legal Operations at Kraft Foods Group and Managing Director of Huron Consulting Group’s Legal Business Services division