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What can we learn from emerging legal best practices from London?

Posted by Allen Li on 26-Apr-2017 08:59:41

“Not surprisingly (in hindsight, at least), his first initiative was to implement document automation.  This was almost eight years ago!”

Over half a year on from leaving London, I ask myself:  what did I learn from my time in London?  Perhaps I can best answer this question by first asking myself: what did I expect?  Global market-leading bank, hundreds of years old, based in London - everything must go faster and run more efficiently than in little New Zealand, right?  Well, sort of.

Westminster Bridge at sunset, London, UK.jpeg

London is miles ahead in terms of the discussions around, and implementation of, the strategies required to continue to be relevant in the new world.  There is a real focus on using technology to augment existing practices.  While London sees the rest of the world as a potential marketplace, it also realises that it is also a source of competition.  For those at the top (such as CEOs and COOs), there appears to be a genuine alertness to what is coming around the corner.  However, this does not appear to be shared by everyone.  Many mid to junior level employees across all industries seem to have an apathy for change and a sense of entitlement to work.  With increasing globalisation and advances in technology, this mindset will have to change (even after Brexit). 

Fortunately for the bank I worked at, the (then) Global Head of the Legal Hub (Pedro Reis) was a forward thinking, results-driven leader and he managed to implement some very effective initiatives.  While advanced technology was a driver for some of these initiatives (such as document automation), many of them were not.  Some initiatives not driven by advanced technology included standardisation of documents and more considered insourcing / outsourcing.  These were all backed up by targeted management information and reporting, so that our improvement over time could be easily viewed and understood by everyone.  Our part of the legal team was routinely referred to as the “poster-child” of the function.  It was no surprise to me that he moved from Legal to Strategy a few months ago.    

In terms of initiatives driven by advanced technology, the bank I worked at took technology very seriously – we had our own legal automation team within the Legal function, headed up by Darren Jones.  With his finger on the pulse and having been part of the tech community for years, our bank was arguably ahead of the pack when it came to the use of technology to improve our legal practice.  Many years ago, Darren started off as your usual in-house lawyer at the bank, but became frustrated with the work he was doing – work that he felt could be done so much better with the aid of technology.  Bold enough to voice his frustrations, he approached more senior members of the team.  Thankfully for the bank, the senior members could see the potential.  They asked Darren to set up his own team, especially for the purposes of seeing how technology could improve current processes.  Not surprisingly (in hindsight, at least), his first initiative was to implement document automation.  This was almost eight years ago! 

In my time at the bank, I saw the progression of automation of standard derivative documents from the early brainstorming stage to the go live dates.  While the end result was a real time saver, my personal view is that it took too long to get to the end result.  So why did it take so long?  What lessons are there to be learned here?  I have a few thoughts, which I share below. 

If you would like to discuss these in more detail, and understand how these lessons can be applied to your organisation, please contact me. 

My first observation is the importance of planning and doing things in the right order.  A particular problem we encountered was the time spent fixing up errors in the templates when we were supposed to be solely testing the automation.  While this is perhaps not an issue in isolation, when it is grouped with slow approval processes and automation carried out by non-lawyers (see below), it can slow things down significantly.  Where automation is carried out by lawyers using flexible automation technology such as HotDocs, amending an already automated template is relatively simple. 

At large global organisations, changes to existing practices can require several sign-offs.  This was certainly the case where I worked.  Changes to existing templates would require sign off from the relevant stakeholder/risk owner of the provision as well as the global heads of the negotiation team across Americas, Europe, Middle East, Africa and Asia.  Perhaps for many New Zealand organisations, we can be a bit more agile. 

In an ideal world, automation should be carried out by people who understand the documents being automated.  For the automation of derivative documents at the bank (at least in my first couple of years), the project lead was not a lawyer.  This meant that the bank was heavily reliant on the focus of the legal team to test the automation to ensure that it worked as it should.  With heavy workloads, the time of the legal team was not always readily available.  When feedback was given on changes required, it was not necessarily always understood well.  There was not the same appreciation for the importance of attention to detail – something that is ingrained into a lawyer’s psyche from day one.  The focus of the document automation provider should be to provide the most useful and accurate tool that works for the users, rather than the narrow brief to automate documents.   

For example, try finding a non-lawyer (or even an average lawyer) who can automate the key New Zealand Government procurement documents, building in the relevant advice into the interview questionnaire at the relevant time, while providing the flexibility to change from an ROI to an RFP or RFQ (even mid-way through) or create additional documents using the same information at a click of a button.  We have successfully done this, without needing to take up anyone’s up-front time.  Yes – they still need further refinement through use and feedback by those who work day-to-day in procurement (see below), but this can be done quickly from here.  To get to where we have would ordinarily take many months.   

Linked to the above comment that the time of the legal team was not always readily available, I think more focus would be given to progressing such initiatives, if employees are rewarded for improving the way they work.  Refreshingly, in the last investment bank “town hall” I attended, I was very pleased to hear the emphasis placed on improving the way we worked.  Prior to that point, it was difficult to ask for an investment of someone’s immediate time, even in the knowledge that it would reap longer term benefits.  

As I noted in the second paragraph, I think New Zealand is miles behind London in terms of the discussions around, and implementation of, the strategies required to continue to be relevant in the new world.  In saying that, in terms of document automation, I don’t think New Zealand will take too long to catch up.  With some careful planning and realignment of priorities, agile New Zealand organisations will be able to catch up to, and even do it better than, our friends overseas. 

Do you work in Government Procurement? If so, would you be willing to help us to test and refine our RFx and GMC documents?  You can see the start point here:

 COM00012 - ROI, RFP or RFQ - Video Image.jpg



Topics: Document Automation, Procurement, Legal Technology, Document Assembly

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