Good contract management is not an accident. For at least the last decade, legal teams have been told to bring more of their contract tracking in-house while their overall budgets have been cut. The ‘do more with less’ mantra is so ingrained in our minds that we examine our annual budget for areas to cut costs while team expansion plans center around keeping contract tracking and other management processes under your own corporate umbrella. Now more than ever, internal legal teams need to leverage technology like contract tracking software and build contract management processes to manage their day-to-day legal operations.
Unfortunately, lawyers are rarely tech geeks. Understanding when and how to implement management software and processes to make daily contract tracking easier can be difficult when you are actively performing those responsibilities. That’s why more and more legal teams include one or more employees dedicated to legal operations.
A legal ops professional spends the majority of their time focused on creating, implementing and managing the operational flow of contract tracking and other legal processes throughout a company. Having legal ops professionals on your team can lead to increased efficiency, improved workload management and better overall reporting.
Unfortunately, legal ops people are oftentimes still seen as a luxury rather than a necessity. For smaller legal departments they may not even be feasible to fit within your budget constraints. So what’s an in-house lawyer to do? Implementing contract monitoring best practices may seem like a daunting task, but the resulting payoff is a more efficient, streamlined workflow that will save you hundreds if not thousands of man hours. If you are struggling with contract management strategies and keeping track of all of your contract data, here are a few steps that you can take.
1. Good Contract Management Is Intentional
The first step is to understand that the creation and implementation of contract management best practices is not done by accident. Defining an operations strategy doesn’t happen overnight. Without a comprehensive operations strategy for managing and monitoring contract data, you will end up taking more time and creating more problems.
2. Define Your Department’s Focus And Expertise
Take stock of what your department really does. No two departments are exactly alike. Although we all do legal, some teams act exclusively as a contract repository with very little work from other areas. It’s also important to keep in mind that not all contract teams have the same focus – a company with a large sales force and dozens of products is bound to have some complex process requirements. A company that purchases a lot may have the bargaining power to require the use of their templates and follow pretty strict policies. Other teams don’t do a lot of contracts but may have a high focus on employment issues and litigation. Other teams are steeped in corporate work, tracking contracts that are dozens or hundreds of pages. Depending on the needs of your company and the strengths of your internal teams, your contract management system will be different than your colleagues by necessity.
3. Make Your Department’s Top Five List
Rank the top five types of issues that your department spends its time on. This is where your initial focus should be. Develop contract monitoring best practices around your team’s core needs. Some areas may be specific to your team, such as tracking contracts and managing contract data. You might think that you have more than five areas where your time goes and you would be right. The purpose of your Top Five list is to focus on the areas of greatest need first. By implementing your contract management strategies here first you will increase your efficiency, leaving you more available time going forward to focus on creating other operational efficiencies.
4. Identify Deficiencies Among Your Top Five Priorities
Step four is probably the most depressing one. Once you’ve identified where your team spends the most time, you have to look at what in those areas is working for you and what is not. Some common issues that occur in your contract lifecycle are workflow bottlenecks and disruptions. Do you have to spend days with your contract tracking down necessary approvals, making it take twice as long to review? Does your integration team move too fast for your corporate team to keep up? More complicated concerns are identified by the smaller issues that add up. Are you still getting hallway requests for legal advice? Do you struggle to organize your contract data? Do review requests or revisions get lost in your email? Do you stress about missing IP registration deadlines?
5. Identify Your Contract Lifecycle Management Software
Now that you have your big issue types and their big flaws, think about tools and processes you can put in place to ease the burden. Ideally, you can use a tool like ALOE™ that integrates all the software you prefer or offers an all-in-one solution that tackles every issue type in your Top Five. Almost every department starts out with group emails and spreadsheets. While these techniques work, they are not scalable with the growth of your team or in the increased volume of clients. Others find using a combination of software or tools tailored to specific issue types can ease the individual burdens. With this approach, there is some efficiency loss in collaborating between the tools, but most things are tracked and potentially automated.
6. Implement Your New Contract Tracking Processes
Finally, you’ll need to define the processes that you will implement using the identified tools. This can be a single point of entry for legal requests via an intranet page or email account, an automated contract workflow with digital signatures, project planning for M&A work, docketing for IP, approvals for litigation settlement, etc. Defining these processes is where most teams get stuck. Even after you’ve purchased that contract management software, implementing the contract workflow can be overwhelming. Take it one step at a time, and if possible take advantage of the commonly used pre-defined processes like the ones integrated into ALOE™. Customization and tweaking can be added as you go and as you grow. Performing this analysis on an annual basis will ensure that your contract management strategies excel.
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ALOE™ automation software by Bigfork Tech can streamline your contract lifecycle management and improve the efficiency of your team. Our all-in-one solution offers tools for project management, personalized security, docusign integration, automated document templates and more. Request a demo today and see the benefits for yourself.