I wasn’t able to attend LawFest in person this year but I devoured the videos once they became available. There were a number of great talks but the one that resonated with me the most was Verity White’s talk, Rebels get results: Time for lawyers to push for better business?
Who’s Verity and what nail did she hit?
If you’ve not heard of Verity, she’s the founder and legal director of Checklist Legal, which she describes as “a contract design focused boutique law firm, where we help women in business and law create contracts clients love”. She’s also the author of the book Create Contracts Clients Love (which happens to be on my bookshelf).
Now, why did Verity’s talk stand out to me? Well, in addition to the palpable enthusiasm she has for doing things differently (not a given for lawyers…), she posed the question:
What’s wrong with the way we’ve already done it? Why do we need rebels? And why now?
She gave a two-part answer, the first part being about how clients experience receiving legal services, and the second being about how lawyers experience delivering the services, or ‘the experience of being a lawyer’, as she said with emphasis. Let’s call these CX (for client experience) and LX (for lawyer experience) (Verity used CX and BX, but I’ve opted for CX and LX). In relation to LX, Verity talked about the stress lawyers endure; the headlines about lawyers’ stress, burnout and worse; and the need to do things differently.
What’s going on?! We need to do something differently, she said.
Nailed it! To me this is 100% correct, and it’s why Verity’s talk resonated with me.
When it comes to contract preparation, we need to rebel against the old ways
When it comes to contract preparation, my application of Verity’s encouragement for lawyers to be rebels goes like this…
On the client side, in-house lawyers just shouldn’t have to keep pulling old precedents out of the figurative drawer, reviewing them to see how fit for purpose they are, figuring out the negotiated positions, pulling them back to the extent required, and doing a line by line review to ensure all is in order. This takes far too long and, if the internal client is paying for the in-house lawyer’s time, it will likely be costing too much. The resource drain can be even greater if you’re getting external lawyers to do the job!
Now, of course, solid templates (as opposed to dusty precedents) are a partial answer to this, many in-house teams and firms have them (whether they’re balanced and up to date are separate questions), and public sector agencies are able to use the Government Model Contract (GMC) and Outcome Agreement templates when appropriate. However, cracking open a template in Microsoft Word will only take you so far, even when using – say – a GMC that you need to vary in certain ways. Unless you’re an in-house team with existing automation or a firm with automation, someone is still going to need to review the drafting notes, figure out what to include and exclude, and – significantly – make manual moves, adds, and changes (MACs) to the document, and check that what they’ve done hasn’t screwed up the formatting, auto cross-referencing and the like.
If you put the old ways in one lane, and automated processes in another, the former will be an old VW Beetle (as beautiful as they were), and the latter will be a Porsche – much faster, more reliable, more consistent, and much less likely to be messed with over time with Frankensteinien appendages. And at the same time, the Porsche will cost you less than the Beetle!
Getting back to the client, old-style manual processes just take too long and waste precious resources, whether financial or a lawyer’s capacity. Notices of procurement can be delayed, contracts can take longer to get in place, and delivery timeframes can drift. None of this is a way to delight a client.
By contrast, if we automate these processes, we can prepare a solid draft contract in a fraction of the time, and the opposite of what I just said is likely to be true: in a nutshell, rapid preparation and contract signing, and delighted clients.
How many lawyers can empathise with this feeling of repetitive line-by-line manual contract review?
Let’s now look at the often neglected lawyer side of this equation. The slow lane processes I’ve described can, quite literally, be painful. Mentally painful. Why? Because the longer one continues with the ‘old ways’ in the knowledge that there’s a better way, the more mental anguish one can feel. I’ve been there, I’ve done that, I’ve felt that. And despite what some may think (who I’m not sure), reading a substantial contract that you’ve built off your earlier precedents, line-by-line to ensure everything is in order, is only marginally more enjoyable than watching paint dry. Cracking open a solid template in Word and making the required MACs is less painful but, if you’ve experienced the power of automation, even that can leave you feeling blue.
Lawyers’ lives are hard enough as it is. In addition to focusing on CX, let’s bring LX into the equation, lighten lawyers’ load, and craft a solution that delights everyone. Legal teams will get more done for less, the lawyers are likely to enjoy their work more, and you’ll reduce the risk of talented lawyers getting burnt out from unsustainable workloads and leaving for greener pastures.
So where’s the rebellious element in all this? Well, to my mind, in-house teams should insist upon being able to leverage automation, in terms of what’s available to them in-house and in terms of what’s available from their external lawyers. If not today, when? If ‘tomorrow’, it’ll probably never come.