Posted: June 6, 2022 Legal Operations
- The question of how technology can support the Legal Department is driven by the needs of the legal department. This article discusses two key issues technology is trying to solve – hybrid work and knowledge management.
- Hybrid work has been intensified by the pandemic, and presents unique security threats to the organization (both physical and digital), jurisdictional restrictions, and issues around a restricted talent pool.
- Because legal operations is so new, it is difficult to know exactly what works and what does not – there is a limited sample size!
- The questions around knowledge management are: how to acquire and log data, how to convert data into knowledge, and how to maintain knowledge cohesively.
Digital Transformations in Legal Operations
How can technology support Legal Operations? This question has always been asked by the Legal Department, but now it has been amplified by the Great Resign, which has created more emphasis on hybrid work and knowledge management. We have already addressed some answers to the question of technology support Legal Operations in previous articles – in Resourcing and Knowledge Restraints, we discussed how technology can leverage functions, enforce business rules, and reduce the likelihood of human error. In Transparency Through Collaboration, we examined technology’s role in supporting integration with other departments. There are also tools available, such as Onit and Changepoint, which can be used to automate processes and streamline collaboration.
But introducing technology into Legal Operations is not as easy as paying a bill. Implementation requires a thorough understanding of your department. From the onset, you must have set paths, clear responsibilities, and defined expectations. Without this understanding, your implementation will flounder.
The process begins by recognizing what the right digital transformation is for your organization. Once the C-Suite and Board have given this direction, you’ll have to start asking questions. What are the issues that trends and innovations in technology are trying to address? Which of these issues apply to us? Of the applicable issues, how does technology address them? Finally, for the IT team, what does it look like to implement a solution?
This is a discussion too large for a single article. For now, we will address two key issues which technology is trying to solve: hybrid work and knowledge management.
Although hybrid work has been a factor for years now, the issue became solidified with the onset of the pandemic. Now more than ever, employees are working from home, and this is not expected to change. Going forward, organizations are likely to have some employees in office, some from home, and many rotating throughout the week. This new dynamic in the organization presents substantial security, jurisdictional, and talent concerns.
Hybrid Work: Physical and Digital Threats Resulting from Hybrid Work
Technological/digital security is easy to control in an office. The organization maintains the network and can address security concerns concretely. Working from home, however, means that employees will be on computers which are not a part of the organization’s secure system. Access to confidential information will be granted on insecure lines. Solutions to technical security include personal VPNs and strict rules, such as no outside internet, or office-supplied laptops.
Physical security, on the other hand, is the issue of data entering the individual’s home, or place of work. Documentation and paper copies which would normally be secured technologically become available to anyone who happens to be in the area. An office is a restricted area, with restricted access. This does not exist for the employee working from home; even the computer screen can be viewed over the shoulder by people from outside of the organization.
Hybrid Work: Jurisdictional Restrictions and Remote Work
Another issue stemming from hybrid work is jurisdictional – people are free to work everywhere, but legally, this is not necessarily true. If an employee is working from a public location (ie. Starbucks), is the data safe? If your company offers flexible work locations, how are you addressing the decisions/requests of employees to work outside of their home or home office location? Is it legal to do the work in a foreign country/state/city/province? Not necessarily! Different jurisdictions represent different rules, tax implications, and labour laws.
Hybrid Work: The Restricted Talent Pool
Tools and roles today demand specific talents and specialized individuals, and because of this increased demand for specific skills, the talent pool has become limited. There are fewer individuals available with the specific skillset required to address your organization’s needs. Because of the hybrid workforce, individuals are free to work or move to areas outside of your geographic area. While this does mean that you are able to hire outside of your locale, doing so will result in exclusively remote work for that individual.
The Tip of the Hybrid Work Iceberg!
There are lots of other issues arising from the hybrid workforce. There will be communication concerns, undefined work hours, and issues around work tracking. How do you address availability issues stemming from time zone differences? How do you track productivity? Are employees as effective as they are in a closed work environment? Does communication over technology suffice? How do you address non-verbal communication? Is team culture/morale the same as it would be in an office? We will discuss all of this in coming articles!
The Great Resign has also intensified the need for knowledge management. Employees have been leaving their jobs in droves, and as a result, in-house knowledge is not the same, or as reliable, as it once was. This, in addition to the rapid accumulation of data and the relatively new face of Legal Operations, present unique issues for technology to address.
Knowledge Management: What Works in Legal Operations?
Because Legal Operations is a relatively new concept, there are also fewer experts and experienced individuals than there would be in similar roles of a related field, such as IT. This means that there are not a lot of proven methodologies – everything being used is new, and sample sizes of data is relatively small. While we do have an idea of what works and what does not, this knowledge will inevitably evolve as Legal Operations grows.
Knowledge Management: Knowledge Retention in a Fluctuating Environment
This significant fluctuation in people at the organization means that new hires, which include contractors, outside counsel, and new lawyers, will not have the organizational knowledge to rely on that those of the past did. This trend has led to the idea that “knowledge management is more important than lawyers”, and we are seeing this reflected in the numbers.
As people leave the organization, and as projects ends, accumulated knowledge should not disappear. Keeping up with knowledge at the rate it is acquired is extremely difficult to manage – things move rapidly, and if knowledge is not updated actively, it quickly becomes lost. It is not enough to simply log new developments – these changes must be aligned with existing knowledge protocols, so that old information does not fall by the wayside.
Knowledge Management: Converting Data into Knowledge
The other side of the knowledge management issue is the rapid acquirement of new data. To adequately turn this data into knowledge is a major task. If you have backlogs of information and no way to comfortably access it, this information and potential knowledge will essentially be lost. The issues that technology is trying to address here are threefold: how to acquire and log data, how to convert data to knowledge, and how to maintain knowledge in a logical and cohesive way.
Stay Tuned for our Next Article!
In this article we have discussed two key issues which technology is trying to solve: hybrid work and knowledge management. In our next article, we will dive deeper into how technology addresses these issues. Until then, let us know what you think in the comments, and be sure to check out our Blog for other articles on Legal Operations!