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Future-Proofing the Local Government Legal Department
Too many government legal teams try to predict their futures with incomplete data (think spreadsheets and individual memories). Legaltech offers three ways to better prepare for what’s next and drive smart, data-driven change.
Government lawyers often are cast into the role of fortune-tellers.
Indeed, the need for smart public policy often outpaces relevant case law; government lawyers are called upon to determine which trends and technology merit regulation (think drones or electric scooter shares) and which will fizzle (remember Google Glass?).
But what about their own legal operations?
Unfortunately, without a central form of matter management, too many government Legal Departments are left to predict their own futures without complete or reliable data – or any data at all. Instead, they rely on the hazy images conjured by incomplete (or outdated) spreadsheets, dispersed and inconsistent to-do lists, and the collective memories of the legal team.
Legal technology can bring a better approach – and offer local government teams three concrete ways to prepare for the future and drive smart, data-driven change.
1. Spot Trends
With a modern matter management system, members of the legal team create a robust set of data every time they open a matter. In less than 60 seconds, lawyers and professional staff classify the details of each project, including:
- Client: Which unit of government is requesting this work?
- Legal Issue: What type of work is this?
- Risk: Whether financial or reputational, what is the risk at hand?
This data then automatically populates reports that can provide real-time looks at the Legal Department’s workload – and shine a light on problematic areas early…ahead of angry constituents or negative headlines.
Armed with real data, the government legal team can be empowered to take proactive measures. For example, if one unit of government is shown to be a “frequent flyer” with employment issues, that can prompt an investigation, training, or policy change. If a certain legal subject – say, premises liability – spikes, the lawyers can take action to rectify the hazard. And with a real-time dashboard on risk, the Legal Department can ensure the highest-stakes matters are handled with the attention they deserve.
2. Budget Better
Regardless of industry, budgeting for a Legal Department is never an enviable task. However, city and municipal legal teams face a variety of complicating factors, from funding ebbs and flows to political shifts to opinionated citizens.
A modern matter management platform provides the data necessary to construct a smart budget – and the evidence to defend it.
First, by providing insight into the team’s workload over the past fiscal year, the Legal Department is armed with meaningful intelligence to construct the budget for the next year. This includes addressing any problematic trends, as discussed above, but also ensuring the team is “right-resourcing” its legal spend, both internally and externally.
Given the public scrutiny that municipal legal spends can face, it’s imperative to have a thoughtful process for what gets outsourced, and to whom. Modern matter management can provide the necessary data to, in just a few clicks, guarantee that work is properly aligned given the complexity and risk involved – and that the Legal Department is a responsible steward of taxpayer money.
3. Build in Fail-safes
It’s very common for local government legal teams to rely heavily on institutional knowledge. Team members have often been there a long time – and it hurts when they leave.
Modern matter management provides a critical failsafe for these legal teams in two ways: The legal operations software grants full visibility into “who’s doing what,” and it also empowers the team to start capturing (and sharing!) some of the mission-critical knowledge that lives inside colleagues’ heads.
Visibility is essential to keeping a legal team functional in the wake of a surprise departure, a retirement or – of note with recession threats looming – a reduction in force. Having a centralized, up-to-the-minute log of each team member’s matters and deadlines reduces the risk of any issue falling through the cracks.
Moreover, modern matter management can help capture, preserve and distribute the wisdom that, for now, is often isolated by an individual. Consider a certain type of contract that had always been handled by Maria; she knows the key terms by memory, and the documents all reside on her computer. With modern matter management, the team could automate work assignments so these projects go directly to Maria every time – but the team also could capture key clauses and build an archive, so that if Maria suddenly leaves, there is no emergency.
When it comes to preparing for the future, government and municipal legal teams already have enough to worry about (see: self-driving cars and traffic laws). While modern matter management cannot alleviate every stress, it can drive positive change for these Legal Departments by empowering them to spot trends early; to build more prescient, defensible budgets; and to safeguard the team from losing important institutional knowledge.
Are you ready to learn more? Xakia’s e-book Modern Matter Management can help you assess your needs, evaluate software options and build successful implementation plans.
Xakia also will be on hand at IMLA’s Annual Conference. We’d love to meet you there.