As companies grow, in-house legal departments are charged with navigating various legal issues, ranging from contract reviews to IP protection to employment questions. As these legal requests’ complexity and volume grow, a systematic legal intake process becomes crucial for efficiency. Here are some best practices when setting up or refining a legal intake process for your in-house legal department
Rather than having legal requests come in through emails, Slack, calls, or casual office run-ins, set up a single entry point for legal intake. Bringing all intake for any legal request to one centralized place ensures that the requests are captured and tracked correctly and the team has visibility to reduce duplication of efforts. However, change management can be challenging — Sales teams love to work in Salesforce, and sometimes people just prefer Slack or emailing the legal@ alias. When considering a centralized intake tool, consider how the tools integrate with existing software or communication platforms your company already uses. This way, business stakeholders can choose to use the tool or continue to use their preferred tools to submit requests, but the software brings all those requests together in one centralized place.
First, is someone coming to us about a sales contract, a vendor agreement, a copyright issue, or just a generic legal question? While it might make sense to Legal what the different legal request types are, it may not be intuitive for a business stakeholder. Add a short descriptor of what each request type entails. By making it easy for requesters to figure out what they need right from the start, we can ask them clear and straightforward questions, making it easier for everyone involved.
Understanding the crux of a legal request starts with asking pinpointed questions. Instead of a broad “What do you need?” try more specific queries like, “What kind of agreement are you looking to establish?” or “Are there any sensitive details involved?” By drilling down to the specifics early on, you can tailor the subsequent parts of the form, ensuring you capture all the necessary information while giving requestors a streamlined experience.
Long, complex forms can be intimidating for requesters to fill out. They’re thinking, “maybe I’ll just send an email instead,” which results in more work for Legal to review. It’s common sense that requestors are more likely to fill out a form with 10 fields than one with 30. But, how do you capture everything you need?
Leverage conditional logic to show or hide fields based on responses to design one dynamic form for different subtypes of requests. This way, requestors only see information relevant to them. For example, you don’t need one vendor agreement request form for large purchases over $100,000 and another form for purchases under $100,000. Instead, build if/then conditionality to personalize questions.
Using conditional logic can also be an easy way to guide requesters to the right place. Many legal teams invest significant resources building self-serve comprehensive wikis for frequently asked questions (FAQs) to reduce workload. Still, business stakeholders don’t always take the time to self-help for straightforward tasks. By surfacing relevant information in response to form response, conditional logic can serve as a dynamic “choose your own adventure” wiki that business stakeholders are willing to use.
Arrange the included fields in order of difficulty or complexity. Start by asking for the simple stuff on your form. For instance, let users first fill in familiar details like counterparty names and deal amount. Then, once they’re in the flow, you can ask for trickier bits like the payment terms or discounts. By easing them in, people are more likely to stick around and finish up the form without getting bogged down trying to remember specifics.
It’s tempting to ask for all possible information just in case it might be useful. However, this approach can be overwhelming for requestors. Instead, only ask for the questions that you need. Streamlined forms with only the most pertinent questions are more likely to be completed fully and accurately. If additional details may be needed, they can always be gathered later.
Organize the fields into groups that make sense to the user. For instance, when collecting the vendor’s name and contact details, it’s logical to group the street address, city, and state since they’re all about location. When the user is focused on one topic, getting all that information at once is easier.
Allowing requesters to attach relevant documents can be incredibly helpful. It not only aids in giving a comprehensive view of their needs but can also eliminate the back-and-forth that often happens when legal teams need more information. Whether it’s third-party paper, a screenshot, or an RFP document, attachments can speed up the processing of their request. Plus, it offers the requestor a way to share intricate details that may be hard to put into words.
Now that you’ve established the right intake forms, it’s important that the information gathered is not only sent to the right person, but triaged correctly. A triage framework might sort the request based on urgency, importance, and complexity. Urgency refers to how soon the legal request needs to be completed, while importance gauges how critical the legal request is to the business. Complexity refers to the intricacy associated with handling the request. Factors to consider include scope of the issue, legal expertise required, interconnectedness with other matters, stakeholder involvement, or potential risks. For instance, a material breach of a large sales contract for a major enterprise customer might take precedence over a generic sales question.
Software can be the solution to automating this triage process — and more in-house legal departments are embracing software solutions. According to Gartner’s 2023 Market Guide for Corporate Legal Operations Technology, by 2026, “40% of legal departments will have implemented workflow technology to support systematic intake and triage.” Streamline AI can intelligently and automatically route requests to the right person based on form inputs and then automatically route to subsequent approvals necessary for the specific type of requests. Legal teams can set up no-code conditional routing rules, eliminating the need for manual review and triage and ensuring a faster response.
The benefit of capturing legal intake with software is the ability to track key metrics such as time taken for each step as matters move between Legal and its business stakeholders. With a clear understanding of the duration of each step, it’s easy to identify potential choke points and areas for process optimization. For example, with Streamline AI, legal teams can access a dashboard of legal requests and their associated data and metrics, such as average time in review, request within SLA, who is working on what, and more. Team members can access a clear picture of the who, what, and how often when it comes to legal requests made and even pinpoint where slowdown happens to refine processes. With data on request volume trends and projected requests, it becomes easier for legal teams to bring visibility to team impact, make data-driven resource decisions, and preempt bottlenecks.
Rolling out a legal intake form isn’t a “set it and forget it” kind of deal. Even after launch, it’s vital to monitor how legal intake forms are used. By tracking request trends and other key metrics, we can spot patterns that can guide us to add or refine intake form questions. For example, in a contract review, it might turn out that it’s better for Legal to ask for a document in the intake form vs. later in the review process. Because of this, when considering intake and workflow software, look for no-code or low-code solutions that make it easy not only to maintain, but also update, legal intake forms and workflows.
Businesses evolve — points of contact change, and the company processes will shift as it scales. Periodically checking in with stakeholders for feedback ensures that legal intake forms are relevant, efficient, and aligned with the company’s ever-changing priorities.
Designing an effective legal intake process might require some trial and error, and certainly some refinement along the way. However, the right focus and tools can lead to improved efficiency, enhanced cross-functional collaboration, and a proactive approach to legal requests. Remember, legal teams are not just the “gatekeepers” of an organization; they’re enablers, helping drive strategy, ensure compliance, and foster growth. A well-thought-out legal intake process will enable them to do just that more efficiently.