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How Legal Can Help the Business to Safely Self-Serve

20 May 2021

by Angus Chudleigh

Legal tech enables non-legal colleagues to self-serve, freeing in-house legal from time-consuming first reviews and speeding up the contracting process.

An in-house legal team offers specialised, highly sought-after expertise. They play a crucial role in safeguarding their organisation from risk and ensuring deals get over the line — pulling vital revenue into the business and maximising the bottom line.

However, it is similarly critical for lawyers to move at speed. Time kills deals. The longer a deal is ‘stuck in legal’, the less valuable it becomes and the more likely it is to collapse.

This is where legal self-service functionality comes in.

The right legal tech tools allow non-legal employees to self-serve. They can quickly conduct preliminary contract reviews that would otherwise be incredibly time-consuming. These tools capture a GC’s or senior lawyer’s expertise to ensure the contracting process follows best practices. However, non-legal employees can rest safe in the knowledge that they are operating within a rigid set of guidelines and that legal always has the final say.

This blog will explore how businesses can safely self-serve, enabling non-legal colleagues to handle time-consuming and low-value initial contract reviews. This will make the contracting process quicker, easier, and more valuable — all without adding any additional risk.

The problem with bureaucratic legal processes

Bureaucracy provides decision-makers with a robust framework to follow at all times.

One of the central principles of bureaucracy, however, is that decisions are made by a small, select group of specialists. The rest of the business must wait for this elite group to review relevant documentation and reach a conclusion as they deem fit.

Bureaucracy is therefore a by-word for delay. Strict processes and procedures must be adhered to under all circumstances. The business is kept waiting — and deals are kept on ice.

Such bureaucracy has long been common in legal, too. This is perhaps unsurprising.

Years of training and experience give in-house legal teams knowledge and authority that the rest of the business simply does not have. As a result, legal is often unfairly blamed for delays. A bottleneck naturally occurs as in-house legal is the only department that can ever handle critical contractual reviews or examine potential legal issues.

Sales and procurement teams get frustrated by this legal black hole. Deals are lost, or their values greatly diminished. And legal, rather unfairly, gets the blame. The phrase ‘it’s stuck in legal’ becomes water cooler talk to explain a slow deal.

The risks of self-serve

Self-service functionality where legal work can be delegated down to the business seems like the obvious answer. However, this does not come without its own set of risks.

Sales and procurement do not want to do a lawyer’s job. They are typically nervous about the risks this involves and of making mistakes that a lawyer would instinctively avoid.

Training them to read, understand, review, and redline a contract would be time-consuming and expensive. It would require a physical playbook mapping out all the complicated dos and don’ts of your organisation’s legal positioning.

Even after training, non-legal colleagues would find it difficult to act with certainty on contractual terms. This much is evident.

How to safely self-serve

So how can businesses enable safe, speedy self-serve legal functions? How can they banish bureaucracy and add speed without incurring additional risk?

By implementing the right technology.

Legal tech has the potential to deliver incredible benefits. For example, ThoughtRiver allows lawyers to easily configure their company playbook into a readily available digital asset.

That playbook lives on the ThoughtRiver platform. Any contract uploaded to the platform can be instantly compared and contrasted against what the playbook defines as acceptable or unacceptable. This is what we call Playbook AI.

ThoughtRiver also applies something known as Familiarity AI. This involves checking all previous contracts and negotiations to see how familiar the new language is compared to their own contracting history, and a view of what is market. By allowing non-legal employees to verify historic wording and language through the ThoughtRiver platform, they can determine whether an existing agreement aligns with contracts previously signed off by in-house legal. It is important to note that this decision is not theirs; it is provided by ThoughtRiver’s AI and based on the defined company playbook that is controlled and configured by the legal team.

The benefits to sales and procurement

Self-serve legal functionality does not just make an in-house legal team’s lives’ easier — it can have a wide-ranging impact.

Take sales and procurement, for example, who can be added as licensed users and quickly upload any new contracts to the platform. They can then conduct their own first review of a contract in minutes, not weeks or months.

Externally, the counterparty will see that progress is being made and that there are no potential delays. The legal team also has visibility over any redlines or wording flagged by ThoughtRiver. This enhances confidence in the deal being properly reviewed and negotiated and speeds up the turnaround time, therefore reducing the risk that the counterparty will back out.

Of course, in-house legal still has the ultimate say.

Any areas of potential risk can be directed to the lawyer for additional review. This greatly improves speed as the lawyer then only needs to review a small part of the contract — not the whole thing.

There is no risk for sales and procurement; it is all upside. Contracts are reviewed against the company’s existing playbook, so the lawyer retains control and responsibility at all times. Deals are closed faster, which means more deals can be closed in any given sales period. Meanwhile, carefully negotiated deals can realise their full value for procurement.

Constantly learning and optimising

ThoughtRiver goes beyond simply capturing a GC’s expertise at any one given moment in time. Using both Playbook AI and Familiarity AI, it continues to learn from any contracts that your company signs — meaning it gets better over time.

For example, the playbook may state that a certain clause is unacceptable. In practice, however, it often gets approved. ThoughtRiver will surface this disparity, meaning lawyers always retain overarching control.

Upon reviewing any alerts, lawyers can then choose to update the playbook if necessary. Alternatively, they can simply ignore the suggestion.

Legal best practices change and evolve on an ongoing basis. With ThoughtRiver, you can regularly capture these changes and ensure that new and improved standards are followed at all times.

Self-serve: the secret to legal excellence at scale

Tools that provide self-service legal functionality free organisations from the burden of bureaucracy. Non-legal employees can conduct risk-free first reviews, consulting continually updated Playbook AI and Familiarity AI to identify potential areas of risk.

Once these preliminary steps have been taken, GCs can then step in — putting their expertise to good use when it truly matters.

This will enhance contract review, ensure deals get over the line, and maximise the value from each deal. Best still, it de-risks the entire contracting process.

Key takeaways

  • The right tools allow non-legal employees to conduct preliminary contract reviews.
  • They leverage AI to continually capture, and update, contracting best practices. Employees can compare current contracts to historic precedents and ensure the language used is familiar.
  • This approach speeds up the contract review process, frees general counsel’s time to focus on high-value work, and maximises the value realised from each deal.

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