Guest post by Mike McGlinchey, head of client consulting at Pinsent Masons
Trust your instincts. Listen to your gut. Tap into your intuition.
I’m fond of looking at the night sky and contemplating the size of the universe (it’s pretty big), so when Google wrote that there are more possible positions in the ancient game of Go than atoms in the universe, I was sceptical.
My instinct told me that had to be wrong, just think about the number of grains of sand on Planet Earth alone. But having done a little research and looked at the data – sure enough, Google was right.
How, then, should general counsel (GC) approach decision making? Intuition or data-driven decisions? I would argue it’s actually a bit of both but, without the data, those decisions could be built on the instability of those grains of sand.
I’ve worked with GCs whose departments are stretched, are struggling with demand and who are seeking to make their in-house legal department operate more efficiently. In turn an efficient legal operation can have a direct impact on the performance of their business.
Yet identifying where the demand is, what processes can be automated and where lawyer and business time is spent and misspent is a challenge.
We often see GCs and law firms alike being assessed against key performance indicators (KPIs); however, in my experience these are often vaguely described and not accurately measurable.
Overcoming the fear of data
Understanding how structured data could help to drive good decision making may seem daunting, especially when learning to do this alongside other daily demands.
But collating data on, for example, the type of work the in-house legal department is doing and the capacity required could be beneficial in understanding how the department can run more efficiently.
Otherwise, in-house legal departments may continue to struggle with capacity, efficiency and profitability. So they need to start basing legal resource planning decisions on hard data, rather than gut instinct.
In a nutshell, data-driven legal decisions can help lawyers focus on value-driven activities.
The role of the in-house legal department has changed. They are no longer just the legal function. GCs and their team of lawyers are expected to be involved in strategy, be a profitable area of the business and help avoid legal risk.
All these responsibilities are challenging for departments who are also expected to do more with less, and navigate their business through the coronavirus pandemic.
But lawyers needn’t worry, it’s not up to them alone to interpret large sets of data, but more identify where data needs to be collected. Working with legal operations teams and legal technology solution providers can help develop a consistent approach to the taxonomy of legal work.
A common stumbling block to collating data without using consistent terms means it’s difficult to track a legal project’s lifecycle, so this means following that piece of work from the beginning to its completion. Working with data scientists can help collect, distil and review more complex data for in-house legal departments and recommend appropriate solutions.
How collecting data on legal work can help in practice
An example of where there is a mismatch between reality and expectation is the amount of time lawyers spend focused on certain points in contract negotiations that don’t align with what the market will accept.
This only protracts the contract negotiation period, meaning new contracts with customers are slower to get on board, leading to delays of the start of new revenue streams. And that is never good for business.
Tracking what points the department tends to concede, and what they spend the most time negotiating on, will help in-house lawyers base decisions on what has really happened before. This can focus lawyers’ time on the higher-risk areas, on the negotiation points the company is never willing to concede – and it stops the legal team wasting time on the unnecessary.
Negotiation periods become shorter, new revenue streams come in faster – and the legal team has made a positive difference to the business’s income.
Data can change the way lawyers operate for the better. This is an example of how legal technology can enhance a legal department’s output.
Technology has already steered us through the obstacles to communication throughout the pandemic, and using more advanced technology for data collation and analysis can bolster the in-house legal team’s capability and capacity during the difficult times ahead.
Data-driven decision making can make a legal department as future-proof as it possibly can be. GCs will have the contract intelligence needed to react swiftly by knowing exactly what their contract estate looks like.
Rather than basing decisions on what a GC thinks they know and more on what the evidence is telling them will help them make more effective decisions for their in-house legal team. And maybe allowing a little time for studying the universe or learning how to play Go.