When I first thought of a solution that would help legal and non-legal professionals better interact in their respective works and subsequently improve the entire process, one thing popped out regularly - framework.
In each stage of this thought process, the concept of a framework (sometimes more clear, sometimes more blurred) seemed to linger in the background. This is another key term important for the story as everything that we do we do on the background of something, either a tool, policy, approach, strategy, need, feeling work, or social context. This specific background influences the way we do a specific thing and plays an important role in another key concept - environment. The environment can foster innovation or repetitiveness.
Innovation is characterized by the need to improve something, which for various reasons of effectiveness, triggers evolution and a better way to do or approach the specific thing or state of affairs subjected to innovation. This can range from a simple process to larger scientific breakthroughs which permeate the constant human drive to outpace itself.
Repetitiveness, on the other hand, is locked in its own mechanism of doing the same thing over and over and over again, in the same manner it was initially put in place and which ironically, at that point in time, represented an innovation. In the life cycle of innovation, repetitiveness is where innovation dies.
At the beginning of its lifecycle, innovation is solving a specific thing for us, and maintaining that innovation in place for some time, it allows us to continue to further build on that innovation. Maintaining that innovation for more time than necessary and you have repetitiveness - a state of affairs where initial innovation was locked in its first form or state is denied its normal development, which is to contribute to new innovations similar to the steps on a stair allowing for new heights to be reached.
Repetitiveness is not in itself a bad thing, it can continue to support various functions and needs for which it was initially put in place as long as those functions and needs maintain their characteristics freeze in time. Think of a very simple bread-and-butter example for lawyers, such as paper-based documents, which initially were an innovation for lots of reasons, but in time in certain jurisdictions, due to their inability to adapt to the surrounding environment, these paper-based documents became a belief that something better is not possible and thus a millennial repetitive process based on paper was implemented which must be done in the same manner (fluctuating based on the objective of the paper pusher) and with the same tools (pen and paper) over and over again even if it's outdated and not achieving its initial innovative function (at least in this example we managed to move away from stone and papyrus based ones).
Removing the gold standard was an innovation, the moving assembly line, vaccines, paper money, etc.. to list a few other examples. All these innovations have a precondition built in them to continue to qualify for an invention - to be the foundation for future innovations. If to the contrary, these innovations become a one-off type of innovations where repetitiveness is the only highlight of their lifecycle.
Repetitiveness is the validation in time of the success of innovation, but there is a thin line that, when it is crossed, makes the repetition bad.
Therefore, if we drop the five am philosophy about innovation and repetitiveness, let’s come back to our story About Goodlegaland how the idea took shape based on the three elements mentioned above: framework, background, environment,and their relation with innovation and repetitiveness. These three factors played an essential role in the development of what Goodlegal is in our mind today and what can become tomorrow with your help as readers and, hopefully, users.
From my very early professional days, I noticed how important a framework could be to ensure the work is done as well and as efficiently as possible. Part of the framework is templates, processes, standardization, and the tools used in conjunction with these elements. The background was also important as I had to fulfill different legal and operational needs in different time frames from a legal point of view.
It was a different background of work in a large corporation compared to a startup while I was fortunate enough to have in both settings (to a certain degree) an environment open and friendly to innovation, experimentation and new ways of doing things for the benefit of the company. I believe the same type of experience is probably shared by many legal professionals working in one or the other setting - an enterprise or a startup.
There are always some opportunities in any organization to improve the way it works irrespective of the environment it is fostering - one open to innovation or one dedicated to keeping things as they are. We just need to find the right high-impact low, implementation cost opportunity. This can be identified in the (i) templates structure implemented and used by the company, (ii) workflows and processes, (iii) policies and guidelines, or (iv) technology stack.
(i) Templates and template structure: offers a very good opportunity to assess the type of contractual framework implemented by the organization
- rigid or flexible
rigid general terms and conditions to which the other party must adhere (such as bank-related agreements or online terms and conditions for various apps) or
flexible various standard contract templates used per specific situations;
- simple or complex
simple terms and plain language used in contracts to describe both party's rights and obligations versus a more
complex approach with a high level of legalese where even the notices section is novel;
- digital or paper-based
digital - the contracts are processed (generated, edited, agreed, signed, managed, stored) fully digital (FDP) versus traditional
paper-based process (PBP) where the entire lifecycle of the document is either entirely done on paper offline or partially digital, meaning certain steps may be digitally focused, but because they are not meaningfully linked, the process is negatively disrupted, and the benefits of the fully digital document processing lost.
For example, when the document is FDP, there is no disruption in how the document is electronically generated, edited, agreed, signed, managed, stored, and audited - all of which ensures real digital legal compliance and integrity of the document and related process:
who generated what template;
who modified what;
who approved what and why;
who was in the approval chain;
who signed what;
how many versions were circulated before signatures;
what was agreed and when;
where is the document ultimately stored;
who can access it, share it, analyze it, and audit.
This cannot be said about PBP, which is by definition outside the realm and benefits of the digital environment irrespective of the specific PBP having certain elements digitally done, such as the electronic signature applied to a document or the fact that a document is created or negotiated in Word via email exchanges.
As we can see in these two examples, which are the most common ones across the industries, we are in the presence of a PBP with certain digital elements but which are insufficient to say that it qualifies as FDP with all the FDP-related benefits, some of them detailed above.
PBP is a thing of the past done under a repetitiveness mentality that goes unchallenged for so long that it has become a contentious point even to raise the possibility that these processes are not answering the initial needs that triggered their adoption in the first place (initial innovation). It does not matter if we talk about company PBP regardless of size or geography, which impacts the employees and contractual partners of those companies or public authorities PBP, which impacts the lives of all of us. This repetitiveness is where innovation died, as I said earlier, and a revival of anything resembling innovation at scale needs to start with micro innovation, meaning any opportunity we see for improvement we should take it to head on to set up the framework for large-scale improvements.
(ii) Workflows and processes are the blood of the company, and if they are cluttered with useless roadblocks or PBP, they delay the potential growth of the company, damage customer relations and internal stakeholders interaction - all of this has the negative outcome of preventing the company reaches the heights to which it would otherwise have access if it would have in place a technology and standardization first approach.
Simplifying and standardizing the processes (with help of technology) of which we are a part creates the premise for improving the existing framework of doing the work, removing background clutter, and fostering an open to-trial and test, experimentation, and innovation environment.
(iii) Policies and guidelines are essential to put in place the new operating framework, and nothing can be effectively done without ensuring that the law of the company is allowing and detailing with the right safeguards how these improvements can occur and FDP implemented.
(iv) Technology stackis the technical backbone of the infrastructure to make any of the above possible. At the same time, it is essential to avoid implementing a technological bureaucracy by replacing the PBP with FDP.
The goal of going to FDP is to make things better and more efficient, not to replace one bureaucracy with another. This is an easy trap where you can actually implement so many niches or point-specific technical solutions that you end up missing the good old PBP days.
Unfortunately, if we look at how things happen in the legal industry, we are in the presence of exactly this type of legal tech market - point-specific solutions developed for a niche legal business objective.
Even the legal market is currently split into two main parts:
legal tech for in-house legal teams and
legal tech for outside counselsand law firms with their own relevant sub-parts
contract lifecycle management for in-house teams, for example and
e-discovery solutions for law firms to note just these two examples.
This is extremely counterproductive for any business legal or non-legal professional interested in moving away from PBP to FDP and who needs a clear answer to the below questions:
What tools should they look for to address most of their business legal needs and challenges?
Are there any tools on the market capable of providing as close as possible a full suite of legal technology stack meaningfully integrated into a whole product that can leverage both non-legal specific tools such as:
and those more legally specificsuch as:
various compliance packs
industry-standard legal content
What budget should they put aside for legal tools and related legal services?
What integrations to request?
How do you leverage legal and non-legal tech and industry-standard legal content with professional legal advice from licensed attorneys specialized in the industries where these companies do business?
What are the right law firms for them capable of working without customer hand-holding to solve customer issues by simply leveraging customer internal processes, policies, tools, etc.?
As we can see, these are some of the most pressing questions current business leaders and legal professionals alike, irrespective of their experience, are facing. A lot of these questions were also keeping me awake at night when thinking about how to ensure proper legal compliance in the various companies which entrusted me with this difficult task of ensuring legal compliance while supporting the internal teams to ensure the best contractual experience with their external counterparts and the company's customer base.
At that point in time, my approach was mostly focused on solving each problem at a time and taking any opportunity I could get in the company to challenge the status quo and see if there wasn't a better way to do the same things which I was in charge of doing. To some extent, we managed to simplify at a large enterprise the contractual structure and framework while at another one to put in place from scratch the entire framework and legal infrastructure, innovating by using the company's flagship products and apply them in my and my team's work to do the relevant legal work better, moving away day one as much as possible from PBP to an FDP framework although, in this last initiative, we were not fully successful due to the legal tech industry's shortcomings mentioned above.
To exemplify, as General Counsel, I looked at having the entire legal operations and related processes to support the company fully digital, which was not easy to achieve due to a lack of relevant solutions to do this. For each legal team's needs, we were supposed to do an RFP and assess different point solutions, get in place a budget for each one of these solutions, training, internal IT support, etc. - there wasn't an eclectic legal product offering, some sort of a full suite of features or products offered by one vendor to answer a more diverse range of legal needs which would have reduced our analysis from several vendors for each point solution to one vendor and one platform.
The same situation can be observed even today in the legal tech ecosystem. Even though in all my relevant roles, I have done what probably all of you are doing - the team and I used other non-legal tools as a bandage to solve the legal needs we needed to solve (other teams' project management tools, e-signatures, robotic process automation, CRMs, etc.) the need for a comprehensive legal technology platform capable of addressing as many and diverse legal needs as possible never disappeared. To be clear, putting in place bandages to help with a legal process is ok as long as the operations of the company and legal compliance is not negatively impacted (but who can actually comfortably say this).
Thus applying for bandages works in an urgent situation but not in a systemic structural one.
Process bandages cannot and should not become the rule as it is not the right way to structurally solve these issues. The tools used in a bandage situation are not legal-specific, and there is always the need to do some work with them to make them workable for a specific legal scenario, including by asking a lot of other nonlegal and more technical teams to help design processes that would help you (irrespective of the tool, robotic process automation, CRM or a project management one).
This state of affairs brings me to some of my latest experiences, providing advice to startups and helping them put in place their legal operations infrastructure, templates, and overall legal terms. Initially, I thought this type of work would be like a walk in the park, but boy, I was in for a treat. As we looked at what the company was doing, what was its line of business and what product it developed, we started to think about what the legal infrastructure of the company should look like and what type of processes made sense compared to their maturity stage and aligned with their short and medium term business objectives.
In all of these companies, I noticed the same situation as in my previous company, where everything needed to be built from scratch - to reinvent the wheel each time basically and for each company separately. It was surprisingly clear all of a sudden how behind the tech still is when applied to legal and how little evolution occurred from the last time I was in charge of the legal affairs of a company. There should have already been a better way to set up the legal infrastructure of the company, to easily decide which tool should be implemented to hit the ground running and take advantage of all of what the current technologies can offer (especially in content and document management, optical character recognition, text analysis, automation, workflows, blockchain, e-signatures, etc.) to decide what law firm to use and for what type of legal issues and so on to be able to stay on top of any legal issues proactively.
Nevertheless, we are not there yet, and the issues faced over the years are still as valid and applicable for most organizations, including the most vulnerable category - startups.
These companies are so early in their business journey that any major wrong decision could be their last one, and all of this, coupled with a lack of resources and proper funding to tackle the legal and compliance issues with which they are faced on day one of activity. They need to focus all of their time on doing the product work without worrying that they might have legal issues.
The same problems and challenges but to a different extent are also applicable to larger enterprises where even if not everything they do is critical as in the early days of a startup, they do have some structural needs which, if properly addressed, can either make them as successful as possible and leaders in their respective industry or area of business or delay their growth and thus remain behind their more tech-savvy and efficient competitors.
Large enterprises are plagued by the same issues they had when they just started, which matured and transformed together with them if they leave a specific area unaddressed, hoping that time will solve that specific issue. These never disappear unless you tackle them from the moment they occur; any delay just gives them the chance to grow into bigger problems.
For example, if a startup is following the same playbook as any other company was following ten or twenty years ago, they are doomed to repeat the same mistakes as those companies. If a company initially is not serious about legal compliance, it is not an issue if they remain such a small player that they do not even reach the radar of authorities or market visibility (no one cares), but they will most definitely need to get serious about legal compliance once they get market share, visibility, and success. At that point in time, when external lawyers together with the exec team rush to fix the legal issues and put in place the relevant controls and legal compliance processes, it can - in an optimistic scenario - either take huge amounts of money, time, and frustration or - in a negative one - the state of affairs is so badly damaged that certain issues are not fixable and the company sabotaged its own future.
But the mistakes in the playbook and history of others do not need to repeat if a company starts early to look seriously at putting in place their legal infrastructure both technical, content, and process-wise.
If, in the past and even today, this is not possible without a lot of improvisation, non-legal tools, expensive outside counsel legal advice, or a large in-house legal team, we are working now to be able to do this. As we went here through some of the real practical and industry-related challenges that triggered the need for Goodlegal, we are now closing in on the scope and vision of the Goodlegal Platform.
Essentially, we believe that legal compliance can be done easier and better than it is currently done by implementing what we are defining as a Legal Infrastructure Platform - a technological framework that allows leveraging industry standard content and the latest tech features to orchestrate all your company's legal actions from one place across the company.
The Goodlegal Platform is designed to answer the above challenges essentially and needs from early days on so that any startup can be compliant on day one of their operations by using Goodlegal. At the same time, larger companies could also leverage Goodlegal to consolidate all their processes, content, and tools under one platform. It can either use all functionalities or only those missing in their existing processes. By applying a technology and standardization-first approach and mindset in legal, all companies can work towards implementing Fully Digital Processes in legal with the help of the Goodlegal Platform and leave Paper-Based Processes where they belong - history.
Well, at least that's the sales pitch. The more philosophical one is to start using the Goodlegal Platform as early as possible to set your company up for success by avoiding following other companies' mistakes where legal is available only when there is money in the bank, or critical legal issues need to be fixed which takes us again to the first point of having a lot of money in the bank. Create your own playbook for growth based on self-sufficiency, organic growth of legal compliance framework, and learning from the history of the other from a safe distance, not by following in their footsteps.
To make this possible Goodlegal community platform version will be available for free to any qualifying startup and company so that we fulfill that promise of providing free access to minimum legal technology features and industry-standard content to anyone pursuing legitimate business outcomes.
We believe that this way, any company will hit the ground running with legal compliance and will take the first essential step in implementing its very own Legal Infrastructure Platform without the need to look at various different point solutions and vendors to achieve legal compliance and FDP.