Deep dive

A Comprehensive Guide to Evaluating Legal Operations Software

October 6, 2023
Streamline AI

Table of Contents

The digital transformation wave has brought software innovation to many busi, including in-house legal teams. The emergence of technology built specifically for in-house legal teams is changing how those teams operate for the better. These in-house legal software solutions help streamline workflows, automate repetitive tasks, and make legal more accessible to internal business clients.

But buying new software is a big step. Any legal operations manager looking to purchase software must carefully weigh the benefits vs. cost and build an airtight business case. So, if your legal department is considering new legal technology tools, here's a legal operations software 101 guide — what in-house legal software can do, critical factors for success, and advice to make the procurement process go smoothly. Legal tech doesn't have to be complex if you know the right questions to ask. 

What is legal operations software?

At its core, legal operations software are digital solutions designed to streamline and optimize the tasks and processes of a legal department. It encompasses various tools and functionalities that assist in-house legal operations professionals and in-house counsel in matter and data management, documents, budget and spend, and communication and collaboration with business stakeholders or clients. 

Simply put, imagine the vast amount of intake triage, scheduling, budgeting, and reporting tasks a legal department handles daily. These manual and administrative tasks can take up valuable time and slow critical processes. Now, software designed for legal operations can tackle these tasks at scale, automate repetitive processes, and even provide actionable insights for improvement.

What are the benefits of legal operations software?

There's more to legal operations software than just digitizing tasks. The benefits of such legal software can include:

  1. Efficiency and Time Savings: Automation is a significant facet of legal operations software. Routine tasks, like legal intake processes, can be streamlined and set on autopilot, reducing the time legal professionals spend on administrative duties. For example, legal software can automatically categorize, prioritize, and route them instead of manually sifting through legal intake form responses, allowing legal operations professionals and lawyers to focus on strategic, high-value work. 
  2. Data-Driven Decisions: Legal departments can derive real-time metrics and insights from their operations with integrated analytics and reporting tools. By understanding legal department KPIs and having a sample of relevant KPIs to measure against, decision-makers can refine strategies for better outcomes.
  3. Cost Savings: By optimizing processes, reducing redundancies, and eliminating manual errors, legal operations software can lead to significant cost savings. In addition, workflow automation can surface duplicate tasks or unnecessary steps, which, when eliminated, can save both time and money.
  4. Enhanced Collaboration: Many legal operations platforms offer collaboration tools that allow legal and business teams to work cohesively, share documents securely, and collectively track legal requests or task progress.
  5. Scalability: As a legal department grows, the volume of legal requests and associated files and documents increases. However, fast turnaround times without sacrificing quality are still critical. Legal operations software helps legal departments scale accordingly, ensuring growth doesn't equate to chaos.

What are examples of legal operations software platforms?

While the market is replete with various legal operations software solutions, the key lies in understanding which features align with your department's needs. Here are some types of legaltech software you might come across, supplemented by relevant examples:

  1. Legal Intake Management Systems: This feature aids in capturing, organizing, and managing new client information. For a deeper understanding, you can refer to this guide on what legal intake entails.
  2. Workflow Automation: As the name suggests, workflow automation tools can automate various processes, ensuring tasks move seamlessly from one step to the next without manual intervention. For example, after a legal request intake form is filled, the software might automatically store the request details and attachments in a database and route and ping the right reviewers and approvers, ensuring no delay in moving to the next task.
  3. Analytics and Reporting: These tools not only track metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs), but also generate detailed reports. For instance, a department wants to understand the average time in legal review for a particular month or where the holdup is in any legal workflow. Legal operations software can compile this data automatically, effortlessly, and in real time.
  4. Document Management: Think of this as a centralized, digital library where all legal contracts and agreements are stored, categorized, and easily retrievable.
  5. Matter Management: This offers a holistic view of each matter, from matter details history and associated documents to upcoming key dates.
  6. Billing and Finance Tools: These facilitate invoicing, payment tracking, and financial reporting, ensuring the financial health of a legal establishment.
  7. Integration Capabilities: Modern legal operations software often integrates with other tools like email, calendar, and CRM systems. For example, the Streamline AI platform offers various integration capabilities with contract lifecycle management (CLM) and customer relationship management (CRM) systems to ensure all tools work harmoniously.

Incorporating legal operations software can be a game-changer for legal departments. By recognizing the benefits and understanding the features available, in-house legal teams can make an informed decision on the right solution for them. As the legal industry evolves, embracing technological advancements like these can position a department at the forefront of innovation and internal client satisfaction.

How to choose legal operations software that works for your organization

To determine if new legal tech tools are suitable for your in-house team, identify pain points in current processes. Where do bottlenecks occur? What causes confusion? This clarity will help define what you want the software to achieve. Research options, gather testimonials, and ensure the legal operations tools and their features align with broader goals around responsiveness, efficiency, and risk mitigation.

When choosing a solution, don't just look at the software itself. Some other things to consider include: (Learn more in our Intake and Workflow Software Buyer's Guide)

Ease of Use: The legal technology platform should be intuitive for legal and business users without extensive training. Does the legal operations software offer templates or best practices to get set up quickly? Is the software no-code or low-code? This can be helpful in making updates or changes without the need for expensive external consultants, IT, or a dedicated resource. 

Scalability: Evaluate whether the software can scale with your needs as your organization grows. This is important because migrating data and workflows to new systems can be painful, expensive, and disruptive. Before buying, understand how the legal ops software will grow with you. Invest in legal operations platforms suitable for today's requirements and tomorrow's opportunities. 

Integrations: Integrating workflows across platforms is a must for efficiency. Seamless integrations between legal tech software platforms maximize efficiency by connecting data flows. For example, legal intake management software can take in all legal review types and connect the data to your Ironclad CLM if the legal request relates to contracts. Rather than piecing together data and information from disjointed solutions, software integrations can facilitate a more streamlined workflow, avoiding productivity loss from repetitive manual transfers or misaligned tools.

Implementation and Ongoing Support: Consider the vendor's implementation time-to-value, training, and support. Even the best software requires effort to configure properly, integrate with existing tools, and drive adoption at your organization. Seek software vendors focused on making you and your team successful. The right implementation partner will offer hands-on support during rollout and help with change management best practices. Ongoing customer success should include ongoing product updates and training and proactively identifying growth opportunities. Software success requires more than just signing a contract to purchase a tool — it's realizing the full platform value thanks to an implementation and customer-centric vendor relationship.

Pricing and Costs: Understand how the software is priced. Is it per user or by usage? Understand the model and how it fits your usage needs. Is the software contract monthly, annual, or multi-year? Shorter terms may offer more flexibility, but longer terms may lock in considerable cost savings. Look at implementation and ongoing costs. Some vendors charge additional fees for implementation, training, or data migration. Will an external consultant be needed for implementation or making any changes? This is another hidden cost to consider, as any delay in modifications or updates or even finding the right consultant can make use of the software bumpy.

Scalability isn't just about software features — how will pricing change as your organization and corresponding users and use cases grow? Will a legal operations tool that is reasonably priced now be prohibitively expensive once your sales, marketing, or other business users grow?

How to make the business case for legal operations software

Maybe you've identified a need and a software solution that addresses that need. How do you convince decision-makers to allocate enough budget for the tool? (Learn more in our guide to Making the Business Case here.)

Engage stakeholders who will benefit from and advocate for the software, including internal business clients. Bring them into product demos so they understand the value and see how it helps them meet their goals. Show them how this software enables the legal team to serve their needs more efficiently. For example, automated legal intake can provide status updates directly to sales account executives, saving them time from constantly Slacking or emailing Legal for updates. Contract generation tools can automatically create sales contracts with deal and discount guidelines in place, reducing manual review work for Deal Desk. Getting stakeholder buy-in upfront has multiple benefits: it can win an advocate for the purchaser, present an opportunity to split the funding for the purchase, and secure an implementation and change management partner.

Develop a cost-benefit analysis, calculating time and cost savings compared to the current manual processes. Let's think about the time savings. How many hours do folks on your legal team currently spend on these manual processes each week? Multiply that by their implied hourly rate for the total current cost. Then, compare that to the cost of the new tool. The difference is your potential time savings and ROI.

Of course, it's not just about hard cost savings here. The benefits of efficiency and improved service for internal clients are real, even if they're tough to quantify. So make sure to factor those "soft" benefits into the equation, such as the ability to close deals faster, build better trust between departments, or improve business department satisfaction with legal delivery. The goal isn't just to save money and time — it's to transform how legal delivers value.

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