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What type of relationship should Legal and IT teams have?

Posted by Gene Turner on 18-Feb-2024 17:29:46

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Thinking back over many of the projects we have been involved with over the years, one thing that stands out is the importance of, and key dependency on, the legal team's relationship with their IT team.

What happens without a good relationship?

A poor or non-existent relationship between IT and legal has often impacted projects that have stalled.

The legal team didn't necessarily even know who to contact to enquire about a new technology option, let alone how to influence them.

Legal teams need to understand more about how the IT team operates, its strategy and priorities, what technology and support are already available, and whether it could suit their needs.

The way an IT team would be expected to respond to requests for new technology without any prior discussions is not too dissimilar to if someone in the business approaches the legal team wanting to instruct their own external law firm without any background or relationship.

It’s not all on the legal team. We've seen several times where IT teams have little or no understanding of what the legal team actually does, what type of outcomes they are required to deliver, the value that can come from better regulatory compliance or contract management (for example), and whether the existing technology is actually capable of supporting that. Many in IT assume that legal's requirements should be no different to anyone else in the wider business, which is not the case.

So, when receiving a contact out of the blue asking for approval to adopt a new technology, only for the small legal team and potentially for support – at least in evaluating security, potential integrations, and ongoing support, the initial response will likely be no.

Common reasons for declining requests

We've seen requests denied for several reasons, including:

  • Not having enough time to carry out security assessments;
  • An IT strategy to only use tools or suppliers that are already available or preferred;
  • Not understanding what problem the legal team are trying to solve and whether it is important or not;
  • Not understanding the value of the outcomes that the new solution can deliver;
  • Not wanting to get dragged into supporting a solution for a small team that is not a priority; and
  • Feeling threatened that other teams or external parties are straying into their domain.

Most of these issues could have been avoided or significantly simplified if a pre-existing relationship existed with a greater understanding of each other's interests and priorities. This needs to be developed over time, not just when you want something.

When things go well

We have often seen things move quickly where the relationship is already developed and sound.

In such situations, the legal team has introduced us to their key contact in the IT team, who already understands the problem the legal team is trying to solve, the importance of solving the problem to the overall organisation, and why it appears that existing solutions are insufficient. The legal team has already thought ahead about the IT team's priorities and key questions they will have and is prepared - with us - to answer them.

When each stakeholder feels they are part of the process and are not being stitched up, things tend to move much more quickly and easily.

Planning for 2024

If you're making plans for 2024 that include new technology for your legal team, a good first step would be to consider your relationship with your IT team. Reach out to them and share your thoughts about the problems you'd like to address, how it will help the overall organisation, and the solutions you're interested in investigating.

One particular area that you may be able to jointly explore is pilots of Microsoft’s new Copilot AI. Legal teams stand to benefit more than most from these tools, being heavy users of Word and Outlook in particular. IT teams may be interested in legal use cases that can be tested to evaluate benefits.

There's little to lose and a lot to be gained from a good relationship between legal and IT teams. The IT team may even be excited to talk to a new part of the organisation about interesting and meaningful opportunities for IT to add value to the business.

For more suggestions on how to overcome a “No” to a legal automation project request, you can see this post on What to do if my boss says no to my legal automation project.

For more insights on how to implement a successful legal automation project, ensuring success and avoiding the key mistakes most lawyers make, see our Lawyers Guide to Implementing Successful Legal automation.  

If you'd like to talk about your current situation and what options may be available, please get in touch. Alongside our trusted partners, we help people at all ends of the spectrum from getting the most out of the M365 tools you're already paying for, through to some of the most advanced solutions available. 

Topics: Document Automation, Procurement, Legal Technology, In-House Legal, Legal Automation, Legal Operations

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