The process of preparing and negotiating contracts can be a time-consuming and at times stressful task, especially when you have multiple matters on your desk of varying levels of complexity (all of which are ‘urgent’) and insufficient hours in the day to process them. Throw in other challenges that can arise for public sector lawyers and procurers and it’s no wonder that even the most capable run the risk of burnout, anxiety, and depression. Those challenges can include keeping up to date with the public sector operating environment in which we do our work, understanding cross-government contracting initiatives and requirements, addressing evolving contracting risks and approaches, managing difficult personalities, and discovering that the better we are at our jobs, the greater the risk of an onslaught of new matters as colleagues come to know, trust and rely on us.
As a lawyer with over 25 years’ experience in a mix of public law, dispute resolution, and commercial procurement and contracting, I’ve experienced these pressures and challenges firsthand. When an in-house lawyer working for the Crown, I also experienced the consequences.
My experiences in commercial procurement and contracting since 2006 led me to develop the Contract Foundry, an online platform designed to streamline and simplify contract preparation for public sector agencies and those who serve them. In this post, I’ll share my journey, the inspiration behind the Contract Foundry, and the benefits it offers.
I’ve been doing the law thing since 1996. For the first decade I worked in large law firms, here and in Europe, in primarily dispute resolution roles. After that, I transitioned to in-house roles with a focus on advisory and transactional work. I served as legal advisor to the All of Government Authentication Programme, advised various ICT branches within government departments, and consulted on a wide range of procurement and contracting matters. In 2012, I moved back to the private sector, and have been advising public sector entities ever since.
Throughout my career, I’ve seen law firms struggle to embrace new technologies, I’ve seen the challenges that in-house teams can face when they wish to do the same, and I’ve both experienced and witnessed the pressures faced by both in-house teams and their external advisors.
You know, we’re trained to believe we must be ‘perfect’ and to present ourselves as such when, in reality, it’s likely that most of us endure periods of stress, overwhelm, and even self-doubt. These side effects of our work can be contributed to by a lack of digital resources. Like many in-house and external lawyers, I’ve endured these side effects through re-creation of the wheel and negotiating ‘the usual suspects’ time and time again (often because an agency’s starting template is unbalanced), I’ve held by head in my hands due to sheer volume, and I’ve felt the exasperation that wells up when we see legal teams not being given the tech support they need to perform at optimal levels.
As a profession, we need to relieve some of the pressure and cut ourselves some slack by harnessing technology more than we currently do.
My own experiences caused me to embrace the belief that there must be a better way — a way to make our contracting lives easier, more efficient, and more effective. With that in mind, I set out to create a platform that would address a range of contracting challenges faced by public sector lawyers and procurers.
I envisioned a platform that would offer:
- a comprehensive and ever-growing knowledge base: a centralised, easily accessible resource containing answers to contract-related questions, best practices, and guidance on public sector contracting;
- a clause library: an ever-growing collection of clauses that lawyers and procurers can quickly incorporate into their contracts when they need a particular clause for a particular situation; and
- contract builders: a range of tools designed to generate contract drafts efficiently, tailored to specific needs, and based on standardised templates.
There’s no rocket science here and it’s a no-brainer that these things can be extremely helpful. The enabling tech has been around for a long time. The problem lies in having the time, resources, and resolve to invest in their development. In my experience, for in-house lawyers and procurers who are constantly fighting fires and managing high workloads, finding the time can be very difficult. Frequently it’s also true that you don’t how useful automation tools are until you use them.
With the vision above in mind, the Contract Foundry was born, built, tested, and released. It’s a platform that combines a wealth of knowledge and resources with innovative technology, resulting in a user-friendly solution that addresses the challenges of public sector contract preparation.
The Contract Foundry offers numerous benefits to its users, including:
- upskilling: particularly for more junior lawyers, spending some time in the knowledge base and clause library will result in rapid upskilling, and help them provide advice when they’re asked questions covered by knowledge base topics;
- stress reduction: by providing access to a knowledge base, clause library, and contract builders, the Contract Foundry helps people navigate the complexities of public sector contracting with confidence, reducing the stress we experience when facing new issues or requirements with little time to explore or address them;
- efficiency gains: the platform streamlines contract preparation, enabling lawyers and procurers to generate drafts quickly, to the delight of internal clients and stakeholders;
- improved compliance: with the contract builders and clause library, lawyers and procurers can create contracts that address government requirements, policies, and standards, reducing the potential for non-compliance and unmitigated risk; and
- collaboration: lawyers and procurers using the site can ask questions that will result in knowledge base entries, add clauses or suggest changes to existing clauses, and suggest new contracts for automation via the contract builders.
Let’s wrap it up
The Contract Foundry was born out of my own experiences, particularly in-house, and a desire to help others facing similar challenges in the public sector. By providing a comprehensive, user-friendly platform that combines knowledge resources with innovative technology, my goal is to disrupt the status quo and contribute to a world in which public sector contract preparation is accelerated and improved, to the benefit of all involved.
If not now, when?
To the in-house lawyers and procurers out there, I say give it a try. If you’re in the public sector and have a .govt.nz or parliament.nz email address, you can sign up today for free access to the knowledge base and a free trial of the clause library. And if you’re a public sector agency keen to give the contract builders a whirl, drop me a line or give me a call (contact details below). Until the end of May, I’m looking to give 4 weeks’ free beta access to 5 agencies. A couple have already gone.