Damian Olthoff discusses how legal tech is enabling rapid-growth businesses to redefine the purpose of a legal function.

Since I joined PROS Holdings in late 2011, I have seen the company triple in size. Most of that growth happening during the last few years, so its fair to say we have been on an incredible upward trajectory.

PROS Holdings is an AI-based software business in the B2B space that optimises shopping and selling experiences. For example, we create the software that airlines use to price tickets. In a range of sectors and industries, we develop innovative software that services some of the largest companies in the world to deliver frictionless, personalised purchasing experiences designed to meet the real-time demands of today’s B2B and B2C omni-channel shoppers.

In 2015, we made the decision to pivot our on-premise softwarebased service to a subscription-based cloud software model. At that time, roughly two-thirds of our revenue came from licenses and professional services, so the move was a major change for our business model. Although not an easy transition, it was a necessary and successful move that secured a path to further growth.

As a result of this work, we were well positioned to work virtually using digital tools as a company, almost at the flip of a switch. Even so, when the pandemic hit the working culture of our organisation changed quite radically, and the legal department had to evolve at speed.

One important change was shifting the way legal interacted with business. When working in the office, it was common for people to swing past the legal department with their questions. In a virtual environment that opportunity does not exist, so it was something we had to adjust to very early. We were able to modify a service desk software system our company was already using and implement that for our legal team. Since people were already familiar with the program it was very quick and easy to set up.

The results have been very positive, and it has certainly caused me to question why we didn’t think of doing something similar before. We have since built this out to handle all day-to-day legal matters. Now, instead of knocking on the legal team’s door, employees know where to submit their requests and how to track them in real time.

A secondary benefit of this approach is that it has given us metrics on the work we do. We can see who is working on a matter, the response time to the matter and we can easily review the volumes of work coming through. We can also scale by analysing the complexity of the work and the cycle time it takes to complete tasks. There have been a lot of benefits from adapting our processes.

The biggest advantage with going more digital is transparency. This system allows us to give great visibility into how matters are doing overall, and how they are being handled. It also allows us to see how much of what we are doing is actual legal work – as opposed to process work – and whether a matter can be handled more efficiently. This empowers our team to better delegate work and to focus on matters that require specific legal expertise.

Contract automation has also shortened the time it takes to put together standard agreements. We did some analysis and worked out that it takes a paralegal 20 to 30 minutes to put together a standard contract. If you take into account the volume of contracts the average business does, you realise pretty quickly that you will need a small army of people just to keep up with that side of things.

By automating standard company contracts we enabled commercial teams to assemble their own documents, injected a level of transparency into the process, and allowed the legal team to focus on more strategic questions and less on standard operational work. When it comes to contract work, being able to flag and address non-standard terms in real-time is the next frontier.

Just like the GPS in your car, I believe in the future we will be able to use relevant data signals to navigate legal matters using AI. I do not think this will happen broadly in the next couple of years, but certainly it may in the next decade.

Implementing these processes did not happen overnight, but the impact has been transformational. Compared to a few years ago, the quality and sophistication of the work we do today can be attributed to capacity created from the implementation of legal tech.

We now have systems in place that allow us to track the common questions we have dealt with in the past. This is truly empowering. It means legal advice is based on real data and gives us all the conviction that what we are doing is not only reasonable, but also marketable. For a support function, it is incredibly powerful to be able to assign a dollar amount to the contribution you’re making to the bottom line.

Just as importantly, it frees up our capacity as in-house counsel to focus more on other things, whether that be data privacy, compliance, ESG or D&I. Lawyers are more than contract jockeys and they can add value to many areas of a business. Technology is liberating lawyers and giving them a renewed purpose.

Despite all the clear advantages technological innovation provides, the legal profession as a whole has been slow to adapt. The next step will come when legal software providers move their offering to target in-house practitioners. This tends to be an area of the market that is receptive to new ways of working, and we are already seeing a shift in the focus of software vendors.

I have encountered many conservative professionals in my time who are averse to change. But, as with everything, the moment will come when the pain of staying still becomes greater than the pain of moving. We are not far from seeing that tipping point as the pace of change continues to accelerate, and GCs as a group are increasingly aware of this.

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