Dear LegalTech Providers,

I love a lot of your work, I really do. But I do have a bit of an issue that I need to get off my chest.

I, along with nearly a quarter of the profession in New Zealand, work as part of an in-house legal team. And I don’t feel that the needs of in-house legal teams a considered enough by the LegalTech market.

To those that haven’t considered how your LegalTech product might suit the needs of in-house lawyers, you’re possibly leaving a big chunk of potential customers on the shelf. And to those that say things like “well, you just wouldn’t use the billing module”, you’re probably actively antagonising a big chunk of potential customers. 

Some LegalTech vendors may see law firms as having a fixed mindset and reluctant to try new technologies; there are certainly plenty of articles around querying why lawyers aren't flocking to the latest technologies. But at the same time, I've worked with many in-house legal teams that are crying out for LegalTech solutions but either don’t know where to start or can’t find a product that meets their needs. If you’ve got a new or innovative LegalTech product, I’d urge you to think about how it might be useful to in-house lawyers - it might just be a win-win situation.

Step one is understanding in-house legal teams. They aren’t just like little law firms embedded in a business that only have one client and don’t issue bills. They also don’t all follow a single model or pattern. In-house legal team functions can range from legal advice, to project management, through governance, board and company secretarial, and usually ending up somewhere north of “it’s not really a legal question but you’re a safe pair of hands”. Even within a single legal team roles may vary greatly. Understand the prospective client your talking to!

Step two is then obviously to consider how your LegalTech product could meet the needs of those in-house lawyers. Some LegalTech providers might find this more straightforward than others. For a start, I'm sure all lawyers could do with help managing their knowledge better. Others might need a little more thought or creativity as to how they might help in-house legal teams. But many products I’ve used or reviewed that were designed only with legal firms in mind can have surprisingly useful applications for innovative in-house legal teams: 

  • You’ve got a product that helps lawyers manage their clients’ company administration and filing requirements? Great, I can use that to help me generate, circulate and record board minutes and resolutions for my company.
  • Your software automatically assembles a contract based on answers to particular questions? Cool! Can I dumb down the questions and let my business clients use it to self-generate common legal agreements? This will be a real time saver and free up legal resources to focus on high-importance legal issues.
  • Time tracking and billing software? Might not suit every legal team, but I want it! I don’t issue monthly invoices, but that dashboard report you’ve got looks like a really great way of managing internal workloads and identifying areas of legal risk. And I’m trying to put together a business case to employ another lawyer. Your monthly metrics will be crucial for that.

Once you’ve got your use case for in-house legal teams, you then need to think about some of the more ancillary aspects of your product or model that may be a barrier to adoption for in-house teams.

Billing models often feature here. A self-help portal for internal business clients may be great in theory, but charging me a per user per month licence fee will result in an exorbitant total cost by the time I’ve bought a licence for all 600 employees in my organisation (many of whom may only be occasional users).

Next, I've encountered issues regarding compatibility with other corporate or enterprise IT systems. A law firm may be perfectly happy to shift some of its IT systems or practices if it means getting the full benefit of your awesome LegalTech system; upwards of 90 per cent of its employees will use it, after all. But the in-house legal team (population: 8) isn’t going to be dictating the IT policies for the rest of a government department or major listed corporation. LegalTech products that are flexible enough to integrate with other existing systems are much more attractive to in-house legal teams.

Also remember that the typical corporate IT team is pretty sophisticated. Expect questions about your data protection and personal information policies. Things like “where do you host your data?” or “what third party data processors are you sharing my information with?” shouldn’t require me to chase your sales rep for a week to get answers. As an aside, you also will lose points in my book if your website's legal terms and privacy policy sections are riddled with typos or labelled “to come”. Yes, I know we’re all conditioned to just hit “I agree” on TL;DR legalese, but when you’re targeting lawyers as clients you are going to find at least one or two who will read (and judge) your legal terms and conditions.

Finally, the New Zealand government actively encourages agencies to adopt cloud computing and SaaS solutions, but does require those agencies to carry out risk assessments. If you’re pitching to government clients, you should be familiar with the Government’s Chief Information Officer’s (GCIO) cloud computing risk and assurance framework.

Lawfest is just a few weeks away and has sessions dedicated to in-house legal practice. I hope to see many LegalTech products there to match!

Yours sincerely,

Matt Farrington
LegalTech Junkie