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How setting standards helps drive efficiency and excellence in the legal community

22 Nov 2021

by Iain Murdoch

Head of Legal Content, Iain Murdoch, has seen first-hand how important standards are to improving efficiency in the legal world. Here, he looks back at how his career has shaped both a love of legal tech and a deep appreciation for the importance of setting standards. And how these two are combined in his role at ThoughtRiver 

I  love Legal Tech.

For me, the drive for efficiencies and excellence began with some real basics. As a trainee, when calculating interest to include on a claim form, why not use an Excel sheet that calculated the answer each box on the form needed? Saved time and avoided error. Easily adjusted. Quick win.

As a junior associate, repeat work for a repeat client could be reported out with standard letters and emails. Then, I could project manage my own next steps using the same Word table I shared with the client as my progress report.

Now, I’m the first to admit, these aren’t examples to fit many modern definitions of legal tech. That said, using a standard approach saved time and met client need time and again, on budget.

After joining Practical Law, it was all about creating useful documents, and all the resources to support them. Setting out a standard approach. Helping lawyers adopt a market position, where that was right for their deal. Explaining that position. Working out how that position might shift, as market practice, case-law and regulation evolved and combined. During this time I worked on back and front-end tech projects too, both before and after Thomson Reuters bought Practical Law, deepening my experience of the tech side of legal tech.

Now at ThoughtRiver, I’m still helping lawyers set standards and then meet them. For instance, it’s about helping identify whether key (standard) legal principles have been addressed in a contract, through our Lexible framework. We can ask and answer the right questions of a contract to identify and understand key legal themes and meaning. Lawyers have many ways of saying the same thing. ThoughtRiver can help focus on adopting a standard approach to a legal principle, however it’s drafted.

And, as we recently announced, we can go even further when we partner with like-minded organisations, specifically WorldCC, to help lawyers work with standards (the WorldCC Principles) even more effectively.

But doesn’t standardisation bring greater rigidity or prevent deal-making? I usually found the opposite was true. If everyone works to a common standard, they can apply excellence, innovation and flair where it matters most. On the details that made the deal or project unique. On the key terms that mattered to the business. Or on the risk that came up last minute before, nearly scuppering that last big deal.

Lawyers can be their own worst critics. Both legal tech and a standard approach can help deliver high-quality legal input, efficiently, at the point of need.

Excellence is expected in lawyers. But innovation and flair are thought to be much more rare. Yet those rarer and high-value skills are much easier to demonstrate, and repeat, when set against the backdrop of agreed common standards.

Adopting common standards can bring make previously rare success more commonplace. And adopting effective legal tech can be one route to adopting common standards.

Whether using an Excel spreadsheet saved on a 3.5” floppy or using an AI-driven issues list to quickly review and negotiate with greater confidence, setting standards matters.




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