Deep dive

The Legal Front Door: Revolutionizing In-House Counsel Workflows

October 24, 2023
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Streamline AI

Table of Contents

The business landscape is constantly evolving, with demands for swifter resolutions, more transparent processes, and efficiency at every turn. In-house counsel are not exempt from these expectations. Enter the “legal front door” concept – a strategic solution designed to streamline legal inquiries, offering more control, clarity, and coordination. But what is it exactly, and how can it reshape the way in-house legal teams function? This article covers everything you need to know about the legal front door, how it works, and the problems it solves.  

What is the legal front door?

The legal front door is the centralized intake process for any legal question or request from the business. Think of the legal front door as the first impression of Legal for the business. It’s the primary gateway through which any type of legal request funnels. This includes anything contracts-related, such as sales agreements and vendor agreements to legal requests without direct contract involvement — such as product and marketing compliance review, open source license reviews, or invention and IP disclosures. A legal front door system is necessary for in-house counsel teams who deal with these kinds of queries from different departments because it ensures a structured, organized, and efficient response system. Setting up a consistent process that the business stakeholders are used to using when starting any request for legal ensures smooth engagement and coordination to complete the request efficiently and successfully. It ensures that the ball doesn’t get dropped, and Legal can be responsive. 

Legal front door software solutions, such as Streamline AI, refer to digital software solutions designed to streamline the first point of interaction between internal business stakeholder clients and the in-house legal team. Think of legal front door software as a more sophisticated ticketing system, similar to customer support but tailored specifically for legal requests (with a bunch of additional features added in). The primary objective of this software is to simplify the intake process for legal requests, reduce administrative burdens, and improve the business stakeholder experience right from the initial touchpoint by providing a modern, user-friendly interface. 

How does a legal front door work?

  1. Centralized Intake: This system starts with a platform, portal, or application designed to capture legal inquiries. Users will detail their needs, concerns, or questions in a structured format, usually via a legal intake form
  2. Categorization and Triage: Once submitted, the system automatically categorizes the legal request based on their type. Critical requests, such as those that are time sensitive or above a certain dollar threshold, can be flagged and routed for immediate attention.
  3. Assignment: Post-triage, the system assigns the request to the relevant legal team member based on expertise, availability, or other predefined criteria.
  4. Tracking and Feedback: Robust legal front door software provides status tracking features, allowing business users to know the status of their request and offering a way for the business stakeholder to provide feedback or information input. 

Why do you need a legal front door?

The traditional approach of managing legal queries can break and become chaotic for in-house counsel teams. Multiple requests coming through via Slack, Microsoft Teams, emails, meetings, calls, and sometimes even physical notes can be hard to manage manually and lead to overlooked tasks. A legal front door offers a solution to bring method to madness. It ensures that no legal request goes unanswered, prioritizes tasks, and fosters a culture of transparency, which in turn builds trust with business partners.

Managing and triaging legal requests from different teams and channels shouldn't feel like this.

What problems does a legal front door solve?

  1. Overwhelming Influx of Requests Centralization means no more sifting through numerous emails, Slack or Teams messages, or messy meeting notes. Everything is in one place and easy to track, reducing duplicative work.
  2. Prioritization Issues: Urgent legal matters won’t be lost in the shuffle. Front door software solutions can highlight the priority of team and individual tasks based on preset criteria, ensuring that the highest priority legal tasks get tackled first.
  3. Lack of Transparency: With tracking, business partners can check the status of their legal requests, leading to fewer check-ins and increased trust. This changes the perception that Legal is a black box and a bottleneck to getting business deals done.
  4. Resource Allocation: By seeing the types of requests coming in and volume trends, in-house legal teams can better plan and allocate resources, build scalable self-serve resources, or identify areas where training might reduce the influx of certain types of repetitive questions. For example, a recurring issue with marketing compliance might indicate a need for a workshop on advertising laws for the marketing team.

What are the benefits of a legal front door?

  1. Efficiency: Streamlining legal intake means faster responses and resolutions — efficiency gains for the business that can mean more revenue and/or reduced costs.
  2. Transparency: Everyone knows the status of their legal requests, reducing uncertainty and creating more trust between legal teams and their business stakeholders. 
  3. Data Collection: By capturing all legal requests through one software system, you’ll amass data on common issues, response times, and more, offering insights for continuous improvement. For example, automatically capturing and tracking time taken at each step of review and approval with software might show that Dave always delays the process of closing a sales agreement by three days. This presents an opportunity to refine the process, figure out how to equip Dave with the tools to review and approve faster, or route to someone else in lieu of Dave. 
  4. Professionalism: It presents the in-house legal team as organized, proactive, and in control, elevating its reputation within the organization.

What are best practices for legal front door intake?

Don’t get too bogged down on trying to ensure everyone adheres to policies and guidelines. Comprehensive wikis, while well-intentioned, end up being left unread, and business stakeholders will seek shortcuts (or just email legal@ with the question or request). While most company employees genuinely intend to do right, their busy schedules mean they’ll often seek the path of least resistance — even if that means circumventing standard protocols, which might jeopardize the company in the long run.

For the system to work efficiently, the intake form — the very heart of the legal front door — needs to be designed thoughtfully. (Learn more about designing an effective intake form and process).

Streamline AI legal request portal
Streamline AI's legal front door portal for in-house legal teams

  1. Illuminate the Path: Make it easy to understand what is needed for each request. Rather than asking a generic, “What is your legal query?” guide them with a list or grid of request types to choose from, followed by options like “Contract review,” “Data protection question,” etc. Customize the form to gather the information needed by the legal team for that type of request. Use drop-down menus, checkboxes, and guided prompts to help users provide the information needed.
  2. Clarity is Key: Use clear, jargon-free language. Not everyone knows legal terminology, and using legalese will just result in more, not less, pings with questions. 
  3. Short is Sweet: While you need comprehensive information, ensure forms aren’t overly lengthy or complicated. Provide the ability to add attachments so users can attach relevant documents directly.
  4. Leverage Workflow Automation: Streamline routine processes so that the Legal team can focus on exceptions and intricate matters. Automated solutions can aid in high-volume, repetitive legal tasks like NDA review and approval. Build in dollar value or priority thresholds to automatically route other legal requests to the right people, automatically. By furnishing your legal teams with the right tools and resources, it becomes easier to uphold both the company’s and legal standards.

What is a shared legal inbox?

A shared legal inbox is an extension of the legal front door concept but more in line with traditional communication tools. It’s an email system accessible by multiple members of the legal team. Instead of individual in-house receiving emails directly, inquiries are sent to a shared inbox or email alias (such as legal@acmecorp.com), allowing for better organization, delegation, and tracking. It ensures continuity (especially during vacations or illnesses) and aids in collaboration. In essence, the shared legal inbox, combined with legal front door software, paves the way for a more systematic, efficient, and professional approach to managing legal requests.

What is a legal workflow?

A legal workflow refers to a structured sequence of tasks and processes tailored to address an organization's specific legal needs and challenges. This workflow outlines each step, from initiation to completion, ensuring that legal matters are handled consistently and efficiently. Such workflows are essential for in-house legal teams to manage various tasks like contract approvals, compliance review, or internal investigations, ensuring that all actions align with the company's goals and regulatory requirements. 

For example, a typical legal workflow might guide the process of drafting, reviewing, and approving vendor contracts, with defined steps such as initial draft creation, Procurement and Finance review, edits based on feedback, final Legal approval, and secure storage of the completed and executed vendor agreement in the cloud. By adhering to established workflows, in-house legal teams can navigate the complex interplay of business objectives and legal obligations with greater precision and efficiency. Automation introduces significant advantages to legal workflows. By automating repetitive tasks, such contract generation or marketing compliance review, the legal team can save time, reduce the risk of human error, and allocate resources to more complex, value-added activities. Automation ensures consistent adherence to established procedures, leading to more predictable outcomes, reduction of risk, and enhanced compliance. With the integration of technology software solutions, in-house legal teams can transform traditional workflows into dynamic, self-adjusting systems that respond proactively to the organization's evolving needs.

Conclusion

The legal front door isn’t just a tool; it’s a strategic shift in how in-house counsel can function in a modern corporate environment. As legal departments grapple with growing expectations and an ever-increasing workload, systems like these aren’t just helpful — they’re essential. Embracing such innovations ensures we remain effective, transparent, and valued partners to organizations.

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