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What Comes First? How to Choose Your First Legal Tech Purchase

Leaning on Legal Technology

It’s an open secret among legal ops veterans: Your ability to deliver the results you were hired to achieve largely depends on choosing the best legal tech for the job.

If you’re making due with outmoded tools, then you’ll likely never move the needle. If you blow the budget on unnecessary or unused software, then your department (and career) may actually suffer a setback.

If you can install the right systems in the right sequence, though, then demonstrating value quickly and expanding progress consistently becomes almost inevitable.

So what’s the right legal tech roadmap for your department? While I can’t answer that for you, I can offer four helpful prompts to consider when weighing your options.

What’s Been Consistently Popular?

Very few topics are settled science in a profession as new as legal operations. So whenever there is evidence of consensus, it deserves close attention.

Consider the CLOC State of the Industry reports from 2019–2021. Despite capturing radically different moments in time—with in-house legal teams working before, during, and through a global pandemic—the same four categories led legal tech adoption rates across all three surveys:

  • eBilling
  • eSignature
  • Contract management
  • Document management

Use of eBilling solutions seems especially persistent across time and survey samples. Bloomberg’s 2022 Legal Ops & Tech Survey, for example, found—for the third consecutive year—that four-out-of-five respondents were employing the technology.

So if these four leading tech types aren’t already on your shortlist for adoption or upgrade, it’s worth asking whether your circumstances are truly unique enough to merit an exception to the rule.

What’s Trending Differently Today?

Openness to new solutions and adaptability to new scenarios are two essential qualities for success in legal operations. That means all roadmapping exercises need to account for the latest changes to the legal tech landscape and overall business climate.

On the technical front, ACC’s Chief Legal Officers Survey suggests that we could be entering a critical period for contract management. Seven out of 10 responding CLOs marked it as the top focus of their legal tech investments over the next 24 months—30 percentage points higher than any other option.

The findings from Hyperion Research’s Legal Operations Benchmarking Study offer similar but less emphatic support for that storyline, with 50% of its respondents planning contract management investments. In that report, however, eBilling (52%) and document management (46%) stood in close proximity.

Zooming out to broader business trends, cost control mandates seem poised to dominate the conversation. After a temporary reprieve at the height of the pandemic, 82% of respondents to Blickstein Group’s 15th Annual Law Department Operations Survey expect their overall law firm rates to increase yet again in 2023.

That’s one big reason 63% of Blickstein’s respondents are projecting a year-over-year increase in annual legal spend — with one-in-four bracing for double-digit growth. And it may also be why Hyperion’s respondents had “controlling and reducing spend” as their most commonly cited transformation priority.

Where is Legal Tech Likely to Fail?

Legal tech adoption and legal department progress are two separate metrics — and they haven’t always been correlated. So as unpleasant as it is to consider, it’s only prudent to study where your peers have historically struggled.

In the aforementioned Blickstein Group report, respondents were asked to rate the effectiveness of various legal technologies. Here’s how our four spotlighted categories scored on a 1 (not effective) to 10 (extremely effective) scale:

  • 8.6 – eSignature
  • 7.3 – eBilling
  • 6.2 – (Pre-execution) Contract management
  • 5.9 – (Post-execution) Contract management
  • 5.5 – Document management

What’s immediately noticeable is the level of variance between ratings, suggesting that some tools may inherently offer a simpler path to success. (Note: We’ll discuss difficulty vs. impact later.) The most striking research finding, however, is that only one of the 25 listed tools surpassed a 7.3 rating.

So why are legal tech solutions collectively struggling to win over their intended audiences?

Findings from the aforementioned Bloomberg survey point to issues beyond features and specifications. Insufficient training, poor workflow integration, and unclear change management were among the most commonly cited barriers to legal tech use.

And that’s one more reminder to vet customer support offerings as strongly as the products they stand behind. The right partner could ultimately provide the decisive push toward success.

How Will We Judge the Success of Legal Tech?

If you took my first three prompts as thought-provoking suggestions, please mark this one as an absolute requirement. Because the truth is no legal tech implementation can be considered a success unless it impacts results that your business actually values.

From the outside looking in, business stakeholders tend to view legal department success in primarily financial terms. When Bloomberg survey respondents were asked how their organizations measure the value of legal operations, five of the six most common metrics related to spend management and cost control (“Number of matters handled internally” was the only exception).

In-house legal leaders tend to react accordingly. When Blickstein Group survey respondents were asked to consider their personal key performance indicators, six of the top eight responses had a financial dimension. The only exceptions were “timeliness” and “contracts negotiated/executed.”

Whatever your success criteria currently are, though, clarity is more important than content. Because although you may aim to transform the perception of Legal’s value over the long term, that’s only likely to happen after advancing priorities you know your colleagues hold today.

Final Thought: Momentum Matters

Legal tech roadmaps, much like legal ops transformations, take multiple years to deliver. You can’t possibly address all the priorities you’d like to within the next six months—and nobody is expecting you to!

But how quickly your company reaches those later phases and, frankly, what role you occupy at that time is disproportionately dependent on your early investments. So when it’s time to finalize the sequence of your roadmap items, be sure the first one fits this profile: Achievable enough to ensure initial momentum yet ambitious enough to impact high-profile problems.

And if you’re looking for a great place to start, consider spend management. It checks all the aforementioned boxes, and using Brightflag’s Start with Spend guide, you’ll be able to quickly secure internal stakeholder buy-in and set your team’s legal tech rollout up for success. Be sure to check it out, and see if it resonates with you.

Image of Emma Bradfield Skelly, Sales Development Manager at Brightflag, in front of a gray backdrop.

Emma Bradfield Skelly

Sales Development Manager at Brightflag

Emma Bradfield Skelly is the Sales Development Manager at Brightflag. Emma joined Brightflag, a comprehensive cloud software solution for managing global legal spend, in 2019. Emma received her Bachelor of Arts (BA) Degree from Trinity College Dublin and is a certified Personal & Business Coach from the Irish Lifecoach Institute.