Looking at legal project management through the eyes of process improvement and task automation – six steps to clawing back time for you and your team
Many, perhaps most, legal teams feel stretched, and are asked to do ever more with less. One way of tackling this issue is through legal project management (LPM) – the application of proven management techniques to the legal profession to help lawyers achieve their business goals. Martin Scott from Halebury shows you six steps to doing more with less, as inspired by the process improvement and task automation aspects of LPM.
A proper contract management system tailored to your needs has many uses from interrogating data to contract generation and contract storage and can be a real boon saving time and stress. The right system can also boost your team’s strategic value to the business by reducing margin leakage; How many times have your sales contracts included a clause that states a price review will take place on a particular date. How many times is this lost to the ether because the terms of the contract are not readily captured? How much cash could you claw back for your business by recording the commercially strategic terms of the contract?
My Halebury colleague Richard Dalby recently wrote an incisive article on choosing the right Contract Management System for you: http://halebury.com/the-in-house-experience-choosing-a-contracts-management-system
NDAs are surprising hidden thieves of time prefaced by (usually) the sales team stating ‘can you just take a look at this…it won’t take very long…’. Do you count the number of NDAs you enter into? How many hours of hidden time do they actually take to complete? Do you know? How many hours does this represent that your team could be using on high value projects that serve the strategic aims of your business? What other higher volume, lower value documents does this apply to?
Technology exists that allows your commercial and sales colleagues to complete NDAs by using online questionnaires. The software ensures only your preferred precedent form of NDA is completed and that you are notified at each step of the process. For example, Evident Legal provides a range of technology tools that can automate your NDAs and standard templates.
Even if you don’t have a contract management system, a simple Excel spreadsheet properly interrogated can yield surprising results.
In one FTSE 250 business I worked in interrogating their Excel spreadsheet revealed that 40% of the workload from the legal department’s largest internal client came from just two managers. This prompted discussion between the legal department and their client colleagues as to how these managers could be supplied with better, simpler precedents and be trained with the help of checklists to self-serve the contracts concerned. This covers two more points: Take a hard look at your contracts – which documents, or parts of documents could your non legal colleagues self serve, and training. If you service a procurement team’s legal needs, which purchase contracts can the team be trained to self-serve? This may cause nervousness amongst a number of GCs, and may not be an overnight solution, but can yield significant benefits, particularly if combined with another theme – the aggregation of marginal gain.
Finally, gathering data provides objective proof of your worth and workload to stakeholders.
Use a neutral objective outsider to interview select team members and key stakeholders
My learning from having previously worked on the operational turnaround of two businesses, one in aerospace manufacturing, one in lighting, and from coaching the CEOs of a number of charities is that as an outsider it can be surprisingly easy to spot efficiencies …. but as an insider it can be surprisingly hard. As human beings we quite naturally become inured to what we see every day. Using a neutral outsider such as an external consultant to have conversations with a few key team members and with carefully chosen stakeholders often highlights common themes and suggestions for quick wins. Use the consultant to take soundings from key internal clients such as heads of sales and commercial and from other selected senior colleagues or board members. Whilst it is useful, and I would argue, essential to take soundings from the top, don’t neglect the bottom. The ‘on the ground’ users of a service can also add real value to you. They know how it works at the coal face. Interview some junior sales, procurement or commercial colleagues too.
Whilst this is your chance to get structured feedback from colleagues, it is also a chance to help set your agenda with colleagues. Never forget the power of Henry Ford’s adage ‘If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse’’. Your non legal colleagues will know what they don’t like, but they often won’t know what good truly good looks like in a legal function. Taking soundings from them, and the results that shows up can be an opportunity to start a mature dialogue with them
Why invent mediocrity when you can copy genius? Copy the best practice of others. If you want to create a new process someone will have done it before, and possibly better. Let them take you up the learning curve faster. Find a similar but not competing industry to your own and benchmark your performance against theirs. People often think their business and its issues are unique. My experience from working across several sectors, and in legal and non-legal capacities is that issues are more similar than they are different. Reach out to GCs in other industries.
Aggregate marginal gain
With recent Olympic successes in Rio still fresh in our minds, take a leaf out of British Cycling and Sir David Brailsford’s book from London 2012; “If you broke down everything you could think of that goes into riding a bike and then improved it by one percent, you will get a significant increase [in performance] when you put them all together.” If you take a hard look at your processes where can you aggregate marginal gains?
Review your precedents
Cut back your precedents as much as you dare. How many rounds of negotiation does it take to complete your standard contracts? Do you measure this? Which clauses are most often negotiated? For instance, could you remove that all-encompassing indemnity that is always has to be negotiated? This point also ties into ‘gather data,’ and ‘aggregate marginal gain’
Take heart; the good news is that finding efficiencies in the way you and your team work is often relatively straightforward if you use a structured and disciplined approach to finding them
Martin Scott is a senior lawyer specialising in commercial law and a member of Halebury’s Legal Project Management team. He is a former Head of Legal and has previously worked on turnarounds of failing businesses as well as coaching charity and SME CEOs to achieve their efficiency goals. He holds an MBA from London Business School.
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