“Doing more with less” - the most overused euphemism for drowning legal teams

"Doing less with less" - for legal teams who want to empower their business functions to receive legal expertise on demand, reduce workload, manage risk, and work smarter. How to put this into practice is illustrated using the example of automating supplier agreement reviews on third-party paper.

“Doing more with less” - the most overused euphemism for drowning legal teams
Photo by Janosch Lino / Unsplash

In today's business climate, legal teams are constantly being asked to do more with less. This article is challenging this notion and instead, we explore the concept of "doing less with less" by empowering businesses to handle some legal tasks themselves. We'll present insights from industry experts, discuss how to decrease workload using specific tools, address risk management, and highlight the resulting benefits. The article concludes with a real-world example of empowering procurement teams to self-serve supplier agreement reviews demonstrating this new approach.

The mantra of “doing more with less”

Especially in scaling b2b tech companies, the growth of legal teams is not keeping pace with the expansion of the companies they serve. Layoffs are a harsh reality in the legal sector, and the workload continues to increase with the demands of a growing business. “Doing more with less” unequivocally refers to meeting those increasing demands with the same team (or sometimes even smaller teams) and virtually no additional budget.

But what if instead of doing more with less, you could remove some of the work from the legal team altogether and still have the same (or even more) impact supporting your organisation? In other words, what if your legal team simply could do less?

Most legal teams react to these developments by striving for more efficiency and trying to streamline processes. Some are procuring legal tech software that promise an increase in productivity and faster legal service delivery. While these strategies may provide temporary relief, they often lead to burnout, increased turnover, and potentially costly mistakes. The harsh reality is that legal teams are pulling longer hours and business teams are waiting days, weeks or months to get a response from legal. And without a doubt, some business teams are bypassing legal entirely (in other words: they’re going rogue) which equates to the the company having to accept an increased risk.

The mantra of doing more with less is now almost a cliché – a euphemism for drowning legal teams. It doesn’t work.

How about “doing less with less”?

While this sounds pretty demoralising, it’s not the entire story. In a recent conversation I had with Yuvi Aravindan from Teya, he said:

Having less in the legal department is just a reality that we have to deal with but instead of just handling the increased workload that is constantly landing on our desk, we’re actually trying to do less of that ourselves and help the business handle some of these things themselves. So, in a way we’re not doing more with less but we’re looking to do less with less.

What he means that as legal operations specialist, he is trying to actually remove some of the workload of the legal team. This doesn’t mean that they are just cutting tasks but rather that they are looking at ways to empower the business to self-serve some of those legal requests that are coming in frequently and relentlessly.

Henry Warner from Juro speaks about a similar topic in a recent LinkedIn post:

Some of the most impactful teams are taking the opposite approach; doing less, with more…[…] Doing less comes from intelligently designing workflows, enablement, and processes such that business teams can and do self-serve on routine and predictable matters.

While he uses the phrase doing less with more, more is simply referring to using tools as your “more” and therefore, we can assume that the notion of doing less with less is basically hinting at the same strategy as doing more with more.

So, how exactly can the legal team decrease their workload with increasing demands from the business?

The trick lies in using tools that are not aimed to make the legal team more productive and/or efficient (generally referred to as Legal Tech) but rather using tools that empower the business to self-serve the necessary legal work. These tools leverage the expertise of the legal team but make it available to the business at scale. Instead of responding manually to each and every legal request, most requests will be handled by the business user self-serving the expertise.

An example could be high-volume questions around data privacy, security and general compliance that are coming in from your organisations’ customers through vendor forms during sales negotiations. While there is documentation available to respond to these questions, they still land on legal’s desk most of the time. This is due to several factors, among others a lack of knowledge of the documentation, an unwillingness to read the documentation or a general insecurity to respond to these questions.

A simple solution to this is setting up a LLM-powered chatbot that has access to this documentation and can both understand the questions that are coming in as well as the documentation. The legal team sets up the bot once and sales teams will be happy to now have a bot that responds within seconds rather than having to wait for legal.

The Balancing Act: Risk and Control

A common fear of using automation over manually handling all these requests is losing control over the risk that the organisation is exposed to. However, it's important to understand that control doesn't have to mean doing everything yourself.

Because there's also the risk of having too many things on your plate. The risk of doing more things (and possibly doing them worse) with less is real. Accepting risk is part and parcel of business - nothing new there. The trick is to understand where, and what type of risk, you can accept.

The goal is not to eliminate all risk, but to manage it effectively. Control doesn't have to be sacrificed for efficiency. You can leverage your team’s expertise at scale without changing what your team wants to achieve or modifying the fact that legal is responsible for legal processes. Your legal team remains in charge of legal processes, and the core values your team wants to communicate remain unchanged.

The Benefits of Shifting Gears

So what will happen if you embrace doing less by empowering the business? There will be greater potential for impact work, such as taking time for the few deals that are really important or valuable and should still be handled by a human. You will see yourself taking more time to develop strategies and establishing guidelines rather than firefighting. You'll experience faster onboarding of new legal team members because of clear and documented expertise within the team.

Maybe most importantly, the work that nobody really likes to do is now reduced to a minimum as you are now only monitoring instead of running after each requests when it comes in.

“Outsourcing” repetitive legal tasks to business teams through software also means that your team becomes more visible because fewer tasks are undertaken without legal intervention. This results in a better experience for the legal team’s customers. Business functions prefer quick yet correct responses, and they appreciate swift support. They don’t necessarily seek a human connection for most requests.

The end result: happy business functions and faster deals leading to faster growth of the organisation.

A Practical Example: Supplier Agreement Reviews

To illustrate the shift in approach, let's consider the example of supplier agreement reviews, a task that is often time-consuming and labor-intensive. Procurement teams generally don’t feel empowered to handle these negotiations entirely by themselves so they involve legal. Legal teams also want to be involved to manage the company’s risk and ensure compliance with the organisation’s policies. Let’s look at the 4 stages of empowerment for dealing with high-volume supplier agreement reviews.

Most teams will be anywhere around Stage 1 or Stage 2 – few make it to Stage 3. But the real value lies in Stage 4.

The first stage involves manual reviews. Each agreement is reviewed by the legal team, word by word, line by line. It’s labor-intensive, time-consuming, and prone to human error.

The second stage often involves the use of playbooks. These provide documented guidance on the standards that agreements should adhere to, which can aid in consistency and aid in the onboarding of new team members. However, this process is still manual, slow and can be a drain on resources.

Some legal teams are leveraging tools like Microsoft Co-Pilot or ChatGPT. It may help them find issues swiftly, but they aren't reliable for redlining documents. Most importantly, they are still very much a way for the legal team to handle these things rather than the business. For good reasons, legal teams wouldn’t trust non-legally trained professionals to handle document reviews using a generic AI.

The fourth and final stage - fully automated supplier agreement reviews - means that procurement teams can self-serve document reviews. In practice that means, they can send supplier agreements to a doc review bot and within minutes, they receive a response that includes a fully redlined document, further guidance as well as a generated email to the counterparty. All off this is based on the legal team’s guidance and therefore compliant with company policies.

This is not a distant future but a present reality. The legal team is still in control, but they now focus on monitoring rather than reviewing and therefore doing less with less.

Work smarter - not harder

This isn't about working harder; it's about working smarter, leveraging technology to manage workload and risk. The future of many legal departments and their team’s sanity hinges on this. By shifting your mindset to think of ways to empower your business to self-serve and automate many of the tedious tasks you’re facing, legal teams can lessen their workload while improving the impact they have for their organisations’ business outcomes.

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