For nearly two decades Chek Tsang Foo has supported information technology companies in their push to develop new tools for business. Now senior vice president and general counsel at NTT, he reflects on legal tech's step into the mainstream.
When I moved in-house around 20 years ago I knew
I wanted to work in the IT industry. The pace of
change made it the most exciting place for a lawyer
to work, and I have been in the front row ever since. While
many of the business technologies we use on a daily basis have
evolved rapidly, the technologies enabling support functions
have been much slower to take off. Until now.
Onboarding legal tech used to be a matter of trial and error.
The technologies on offer felt like a solution looking for a
problem, and while there was a lot of interest surrounding
legal tech it was difficult to make a concrete use-case for what
was available. In the last few years, new systems for contract
management and document discovery have appeared on the
market and are now extremely helpful for in-house legal teams.
These improvements have little to do with technological
development - after all, similar systems have been available
to businesses for many years - they result from the growing
recognition in-house counsel are a viable market for software
vendors' products services. With the growing economic
significance of in-house lawyers as a consumer group, the
market has finally moved to develop solutions that meet our
needs, which are very different to those of law firms.
For in-house lawyers technology has to be easy to use. It
needs to work with other systems and align with existing
work workflows, and it has to give functionalities that are fit
for purpose. All this needs to be backed up by high-levels of
support in terms of training and other assistance. In short,
in-house lawyers are not looking for off-the-shelf solutions, we
are looking outcome-oriented vendors who are able to work
collaboratively to meet our needs.
This collaboration needs to begin at the concept and design
stage of a piece of software. Knowing the pain points GCs face,
or what does and does not work within a typical company
environment would help a great deal in making a system that
is fit for purpose. For GCs, the price of a system is not just the
cost of the license fee. It is also the time spent customising the
software, the effort that goes into implementing the software,
and the change management and project management
requirements that come with it. We have gone through this
cycle many times in the past, so we are extremely aware of it.
At all large businesses the legal team works in an ecosystem.
This means when we are purchasing external legal tech, we are
looking for products that can scale out. Contract management
tools, for instance, can be used for other things. That makes a
huge difference in terms of bang for your buck. We are really
looking to leverage company-wide platforms.
The other big development I have seen in the legal tech space is
a growing awareness among GCs that they need to take control
of their team's transformation. Legal tech is not always about
finding external solutions. Often, it is just as important to look
within. Currently we are looking at leveraging company-wide
platforms as a set of collaborative tools that we can use, ideally
with no need to integrate any foreign software or systems into
our own ecosystem. We are also leveraging enterprises systems
and customising them for our requirements. These systems
may not have been designed to meet our needs, but they can
nevertheless be extremely useful. It is all about being creative and
experimenting with the technology you have available to you.
In the same vein, we have also developed tools within our own
function. For example, my in-house legal team created a contract
risk scoring tool three years ago. We use it to provide a numerical
risk rating to contracts, assessed against our internal legal risk
policy and tolerances. We have also built in a traffic-light feature
based on the ratings. The tool has since been incorporated into
the region's enterprise deal assessment system, which takes into
account assessments from other functions as well.
With all these developments, the next few years look set
to a transformational period for legal teams. Legal tech will
not just change how fast we work, but what we work on. As
technology matures, routine and repetitive work can effectively
automated. This frees up bandwidth for internal lawyers to do
more complex work that requires creativity. It will allow us to
spend much more time on things like negotiations, strategic
planning and resolving complex matters. That is cause for
optimism. Perhaps technology will help solve the modern
inhouse counsel's struggle for sufficient bandwidth.