Further to my post of February 16, one more insight conveyed by Microsoft’s Jason Barnwell in his keynote at the Strategic Knowledge & Innovation Summit for the legal industry on January 13:
“Honestly, we need to get lawyers out of the middle of stuff when it’s a low-value thing“.
A corporate law function needs a lawyer’s knowledge for every service it delivers to the business. But it doesn’t need a lawyer’s personal involvement every time it performs a routine task.
Routine, low-value legal tasks are where carefully designed processes — sometimes technology-enabled — can deliver a legal service to the business without a lawyer’s personal involvement on each occasion of delivery. To be sure, well-qualified attorneys are imperative at the design phase — for instance, to draft appropriate contract language. But their expert advice can be integrated into standardized processes — again, often with the use of technology — in a way that eliminates the need for constant personal interaction with an attorney.
Nevertheless, mother-may-I sequences requiring personal involvement of an individual lawyer for even the most repetitive functions are the legal profession’s go-to move. But it’s a wasteful habit.
First, such personal, lawyer involvement calls for the most expensive tool in the law function — the time of licensed legal counsel. Law firm lawyers benefit from more hours billed. And it “justifies the existence” of in-house attorneys required to be repetitively (and needlessly) consulted on such occasions.
Second, this makes for corporate-counsel-as-business-bottleneck. The time delay frequently caused by the logistics of personal consultation with an attorney imposes its own costs on operational effectiveness.
Consider, as one example, the standardization and automation of non-disclosure agreements.
Based on my experience with general counsel personnel at Whirlpool Financial and GE, where I was a business executive (not acting as legal counsel), review of non-disclosure agreements consumed inordinate amounts of in-house counsel time (not to mention my own time).
Providers like Icertis, Ironclad, and Onit — just to name 3 — provide software that incorporates the best advice of a company’s attorneys into vetted clauses for recurring non-disclosure agreements. Those vetted clauses are “built” through a lawyer-guided software application by sales people, deal-makers, or non-lawyers ordering goods or services for the business. Minimizing the need for face time with the attorneys themselves.
“Getting lawyers out of the middle of stuff” in routine, low-value legal tasks, is vital to freeing up attorney bandwidth for higher value legal work, and, ultimately, to making better use of your company’s money.