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Staying in the flow and focused when performing contract review

11 Jun 2020

by Martin Davidson

Or, why I want to wear my pants on the outside....

The other day, like most of us these days, I was working from home. My 5-year-old daughter, wearing her well-loved Supergirl outfit, suddenly jumped in front of me and asked what kind of superhero I would like to be. A surprising question, and seemingly out of context for the work that I was doing, but this was perhaps the ‘new norm’ of work interruptions. I declared I would definitely need a magnificent outfit to look pretty cool and to be able to fly.  

I soon got back to my work, but the interruption had broken my concentration and set me on a new train of thought. The thought of providing legaltech tools to lawyers to make them superhuman really appealed to me…especially when it came to helping them to maintain their flow and protecting them from distractions.

Now, not all distractions are as welcome as my daughter’s earnest question. Research tells us that it can take as much as 23 minutes to recover from such a disruption and get back to the task at hand.

And when you think about the fact that all these distractions do add up and compound over the course of the working day and week, you do start to appreciate how costly they are. A 10-year study by McKinsey concluded we are 500% more productive when we are fully immersed in the task at hand. This state of deep immersion in the task was coined “flow state” by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, a Hungarian-American psychologist back in 1975, but we often know the feeling as being “in the zone”.

As a former in-house lawyer, I know full well the challenge of having a mountain of business contracts to review and no time to do it. And then there is the problem of being constantly interrupted. It was no surprise that back in those days I often found myself frustrated by the well-intentioned interruptions from a business colleague asking quick advice over email, phone, Skype, Slack…you name it with the promise “it won’t take you long, it’s just a quick one”.

Contract Review Process

By its nature, the contract review process or really any legal advice requires careful and deliberate consideration – the type of ‘slow thinking’ advanced by Daniel Kahneman. Unfortunately, the reality we are faced with is one of limited time. And with all those interruptions, we are often forced into a ‘fast thinking’ mindset relying on our experience and intuition to form legal judgements. Let us be honest, we lawyers are often forced to wing it and have to deviate from our well-designed and considered contract review checklists.

A contract review checklist is the company policy that lays out a list of the legal checks that need to be performed against a given new contract under review  

image of contract review checklist

Of course, you can get away with this sometimes. What does it matter, as long as your colleague is happy that you have returned that contract mark-up in time for him to get a deal into the quarter? They get what they have asked for and the work is off your desk. Sometimes that is alright, but I suspect like many lawyers reading this, I have an in-built professional pride that conflicts with this approach and therein lies an inherent contradiction.  

I did not do all those years of study and training to pass off second rate legal advice; I want to work quickly and help to drive deal velocity for my company but recognise the value in providing tailored advice to ensure the deal  gets done quicker in the long run rather than simply for the immediate task at hand. And whilst my business is comfortable taking appropriate levels of known risk – they would be rightly disappointed if a risk eventuated from my sloppy contract review.  These sorts of sloppy work practices and corner-cutting can easily become habitual if we are not careful.

In ThoughtRiver, I run the customer success function, and also retain some responsibility for developing our automated contract review product. I genuinely want to help lawyers, especially contract review lawyers become super lawyers so they can get the job done at speed and to a good standard… or at least good enough. But there is a paradox that I recognise, which my daughter’s superhero question had reminded me of: the very legal tech tools you are looking to use to improve your efficiency might actually take you away from the immediate task at hand, thereby interrupting your flow, taking you out of the zone, and losing you those perceived efficiency gains.

As such, while we should be developing tools that supercharge our users’ (typically lawyers) work by providing direction and support, more crucially, we need to be delivering this when they need it in their usual environment, or dare I say comfort zone. We need to fit seamlessly into the existing and understood workflow to silently and invisibly improve it in such a natural way that our users do not even realise we are there. Perhaps invisibility should be one of ThoughtRiver’s superpowers, as we do not want to interrupt their flow! This does not make good sense simply from a productivity perspective, this also means we have happier lawyers who could then bring the best version of themselves to work. If we focus on making our users happy and successful (the literal definition of my job), we believe they will become better customers and we will all benefit.

When a General Counsel implements new tools to the workplace within their teams, lawyer happiness by necessity needs to become a consideration too. Of course, GCs should  be acutely aware of the return on investment from automated contract review tools, but they should also factor in the way their teams work and engage with the software or service. GCs will need to consider the total cost of implementing a new software, which is often more than just a simple calculation of license fees and time saved. There is an intrinsic cost, and benefit, in making work processes as ergonomic and frictionless as possible.

Now unless your organisation has employee happiness as a key performance indicator, your business case for the new legal tech will not fly if you tell the CFO you are making your lawyers happier! This is where deal velocity comes in. If your lawyers are supercharged - in a state of flow – the same job is done at speed and this results in not only get a quicker turnaround on the contract but improves the likelihood that the overall deal will be done quicker. A recent Gartner study (Legal and Compliance Automation Study - 2019) highlighted the importance of deal velocity when they found that the number one ask of the legal department by other members of executive management is to increase speed. Sales and business leaders have invested billions of dollars on tools to speed up sales efficiency, but they do not often help speed up the final mile: the contracting stage. And that is exactly where tools like ThoughtRiver come into play.

When you are choosing the right technology for automated contract review, having an appreciation for your lawyers needs and a desire to keep them in the flow not only makes good business sense but it will also make for a happier team. A win-win all round.

At ThoughtRiver we have integrated our pre-screening contract review tools into Microsoft’s Outlook and Word interfaces to provide AI-powered support without lawyers leaving the place they love. We like to think we help lawyers wear their pants on the outside. I have always thought that was a pretty cool look…my daughter may disagree. But if pants are not your thing, at least we can help you fly.

We would love to show you to become your own superhero when reviewing contracts, so please do get in touch with us to  book a demo

 

  

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