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While low-code and no-code workflow automation technology solutions are not new, 2023 has brought a distinct shift in legal departments embracing workflow automation. Hyperion Research, an Epiq Company, undertook a benchmarking study revealing that 71% of respondents planned to invest in a workflow automation (WFA) tool in the next 12-18 months either as a first-time investment or to replace an existing WFA tool.

Legal Departments Starting Small and Simple – and Going Big

A common starting point for Legal Departments is a “Legal Front Door” wherein legal service requests are made and questions are answered. Equally important is how that use case unlocks opportunities, such as:

  • Operational data capture begins and eventually accumulates to provide insight into demands on the legal function and operational performance (e.g., request categories, how long it takes to meet clients’ needs, time intervals for each step, where bottlenecks lie, etc.). 
  • Some needs can be met immediately. Questions are answered, policies are provided, training videos are obtained, and low-risk contracts are fulfilled. 
  • Work can be triaged or diverted, matching the right issues to the right individuals or filtering out requests falling outside the law department’s mandate.
  • Necessary information and documents can be collected, alleviating the burden on legal staff to ask the right questions and gather relevant artifacts to address matters and draft or negotiate contracts. 
  • Workflows can be triggered, reducing manual effort and following standardized processes, improving efficiency and compliance. Data points obtained may be aggregated or augmented to facilitate and expedite specific workstreams. 
  • Value can be demonstrated. The work that came through the Legal Front Door and got addressed can be shared via dashboards, helping Legal tell the story of what and how much it does.  

After a legal department has implemented a Legal Front Door, we have found that the automation of processes often quickly expands. Hyperion Research benchmarking data shows that 54% of legal departments implementing WFA have upwards of six automated processes, and 23% have more than ten automated processes.

Practical Guidance for Your Workflow Automation Journey

Given the fast evolution not only of WFA tools but also in how they are used in corporate legal and compliance departments, workflow initiatives often rapidly expand beyond their original intent. It is important that legal departments maintain disciplined management practices, including:

  • Establishing a roadmap that sets the sequence of workflows to be developed based on a rigorous department needs assessment. Given easy build and adoption, once a few processes are automated, gatekeeping may be needed to ensure that additional projects are tackled in a deliberate order.
  • Leveraging the data generated by WFA tools to showcase Legal’s contributions to the corporation or pinpoint practice areas needing additional resources.
  • Keep track of product developments by proactively engaging with the WFA vendor and participating in update calls to ensure the tool is fully leveraged over time, especially as LLM and Gen AI-based enhancements are added.
  • Formalize as you scale. Expansion can occur rapidly, and employee turnover happens. Don’t wait too long to formalize roles and document protocols. Having standard operating procedures on hand enables agility and effective oversight.

No-code WFA technology is beguiling, and some organizations find themselves quickly lost in a maze of interconnected, automated processes. Careful planning is needed in both what solution you choose and what use cases you pursue, and how you design and architect not just your first use case but the broader suite of potential opportunities -- including how those fit into the existing legal and enterprise tech stacks.

Catherine J. Moynihan is Senior Director, Strategic Intelligence & Advisory for Epiq’s Legal Business Advisory Group, overseeing Hyperion Research, Epiq’s legal market intelligence program, as well as spearheading legal advisory intelligence programs for global legal executives focused on legal operations transformation.

Region: Global
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