How to buy legal software: 15 tips from the experts

Document automation, contract lifecycle management, workflow, data abstraction: it can be bewildering for in-house lawyers to know where to start, and how to make the right choice. We asked the experts for their top tips on how to buy legal software the right way.

Peter Lee, CEO, Wavelength Law, a regulated law firm of legal engineers that helps in-house teams and law firms deliver efficiencies and cutting-edge legal services.

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Define the problem before you look for a solution
Be very clear about what problem you’re trying to solve. Define the problem first, rather than finding something that looks interesting and looking for an issue for it to address.

Make your choice for the right reasons
The time lag in this type of procurement is often driven by securing budget rather than by people analysing the use case. It might not be that they rush into it, but they’re not making a considered choice for the right reasons. Maybe that’s partly to do with the fact that lawyers generally aren’t typically used to being sold to by professional software salespeople. The normal assessment process that a procurement professional might go through naturally isn’t necessarily there with lawyers - even with senior lawyers. So you end up selecting a product too soon because you’ve been sold it.

Get the right input into the buying decision
Make sure you involve users - in this instance the user lawyers, but also the internal customers. That might be on the business side, such as the sales teams, procurement team, and so on. And then it’s useful to involve people with broader design thinking skills. If you do all that, you’re starting to think more deeply about the user requirements. And all this is before you’ve even decided on a particular product to buy.

One size doesn’t fit all – find tools that work together
Organisations ask Wavelength to design new legal solutions and to integrate them into day-to-day work processes. This involves us deploying a user-centric, design-led approach where we focus on defining the problem, then mapping processes, using data and software tools creatively (sometimes using software tools that the business already has ‘on the shelf’), and ensuring the solution works for the lawyers. We are often engaged to then deliver data services for legal teams, using the solutions we have designed for them.

Catherine Bamford, CEO and Founder, BamLegal, a legal engineering consultancy. Catherine is an expert in legal document automation, a lawyer and qualified project manager.

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Plan for implementation
A common mistake is to purchase software but not to budget for, or plan, the resource to implement it. This, coupled with the fact that many software vendors tend to oversell how easy it is to get their solution up and running leads to disillusionment, implementation being seen as ‘too hard’ and ultimately software being shelved rather than used to its full potential.

Can your law firms help?
Ask your panel law firms what they are using and if they can assist; several firms these days have client licenses to certain software available. For example, Hogan Lovells and DWF can help with their client’s document automation, so that clients can avoid going through lengthy procurement and implementation projects and benefit from the firm’s experience.

Get buy-in to avoid shelfware
You need to get buy-in from your team of lawyers. Have advocates or ‘champions’ involved in the procurement, pilot and testing stages so that they can sell the benefits to the rest of the team.

Alistair Maiden, Founder, SYKE, a legal engineering business that helps businesses and law firms to procure and use technology to solve legal problems.

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Tech is not a panacea
It’s fundamental that they understand their objectives – what is the legal/ commercial problem they are trying to fix? Don’t just assume that technology will be a panacea for general legal inefficiency. Be specific about what you are trying to tackle and work from there. Turn your problem into a set of clear requirements which you can use as the basis for a sourcing event and later your contract(s) with supplier(s). Also don’t underestimate implementation effort. Vendors tend to pitch products as being “easy” but they aren’t really. You will need to hire experts to get the most out of them. Plus you will need to ensure that the relevant parts of your legal process are in good order. For example if you want to automate your contracts process, you will need to polish your template contracts, playbooks and governance and signature process.

Experience counts
Several of my clients are now on their second or third major legal tech acquisition so they are able to give us clear direction and then let us get on with it. By contrast when lawyers are taking their first foray into legal tech, they often want to get stuck in, until they realise the level of effort involved and it starts to affect their day job. This happened to me when I was heading up the contracts function at Asda but I soon realised that it was best to leave the heavy lifting to experts.

Look for a focused solution
Start off with your own research via Google. Be focused about what you want to achieve. Cast the net wide at the outset. Be firm to ensure that vendors give you a demo which is tailored to your objectives rather than their generic pitch. Ask vendors who they perceive to be their main competitors. That's how I found the solutions I used when I was at Asda. Ask your law firms but don’t expect to get too much from them. In law firms legal tech is still generally used to improve internal efficiency rather than build new customer propositions although this is changing with the great work of Alex Smith at Reed Smith and Jonathan Patterson at DWF.

Find something manageable
Be really focussed on objectives and be prepared to sacrifice nice-to-haves. There are no panacea products - you will have to sacrifice something. I estimate that 80% of legal tech functionality is never used. Also, make sure you buy something which you can eventually self-manage. Many software companies are service companies in disguise and sell licences cheap for an endless supply of service revenue. Don’t underestimate the importance of user experience: will your internal customers be able to use whatever you deliver with limited training? If they are phoning you up every ten minutes with queries then you are probably not achieving your objectives. Finally, consider licence structure. Don’t overbuy at first. Negotiate a low per user cost based on anticipated eventual number of users. You don’t want to pay for licences that you aren’t using.

Robert Lankester, Founder and Director, RLegal Engineering, a legal engineering consultancy specializing in document automation.

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Build a robust business case
Buying legal software can be painful, but any change process is. It often takes longer than it should, but that’s not always a bad thing. If you’re taking the time to engage key stakeholders, understand their challenges and requirements, and write a solid business case, taking time to do that well can really pay dividends and lay the foundations for success. It shouldn’t be rushed. With law firms, and lawyers generally, the idea of a ‘fail fast’ mentality doesn’t really exist, so you have to work within the context of the organisation. It’s all very well saying you’ll adopt a startup mentality and break things but that doesn’t align well with the culture of most law firms.

Look for specific success stories you can emulate
Customer testimonials and recommendations can be useful but the solution that was right for one organisation may not fit your needs. Also, look for specific and real success stories – not just ‘we used x and they were great’, but what specifically they were used for, what were the benefits achieved, were they measurable, and so on.

Be open-minded about where to focus your efforts
There’s a perception still held by some lawyers that everything they do is bespoke. The truth is most work can be broken down into parts and made more efficient. Lawyers who are open to exploring this are key to the future of their firms, and our role as legal engineers is to help them along the way.

Resource your project adequately
The biggest mistake that I see and hear about in automation projects is that the resourcing isn’t done correctly or is an afterthought. Buying software is just the beginning – tech without people doesn’t do anything. If resourcing isn’t included in initial budgets then it can take longer to the realise the benefits of the project.

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