Web based contract management: the evolution from teenage angst to high school graduation

Over the past few weeks, social media posts about senior pranks, and college plans, and scholarship awards, and military commitments, and trade school admissions, and gap years, and prom dresses, and new jobs, have forced me to focus on the great accomplishments of the children of our friends and family members as they graduate from high school. In a reflective moment, I recalled with amusement that those same kids, not so long ago, were filled with attitude and teenage angst as they tried to figure out how to navigate the sometimes-rocky journey through the murkiness of high school.

And, because I spend a lot of time thinking about the similarities of unrelated groups (because I believe we are better off focusing on our similarities than our differences), my amusement turned to an interesting thought: what if legal technology as we know it today is like those high school kids? Is it possible that just a few years ago it was trying to figure out what it wanted to be when it grew up?

Take web-based contract management, for example. In 2001, around the time today’s high school graduates were being born, and around the time I was being recruited to become the first lawyer at a tiny tech startup with the crazy name, Go Daddy, legal tech was in its infant stages. Terms like "legal ops" and "legal project management" hadn’t been coined. The demand to operationalize and optimize in-house legal functions was only starting to see the light of day. And, the notion of web-based anything was mostly unheard of.

Fast forward a dozen years, around the time today’s high school graduates were entering high school, and the Internet had become nearly ubiquitous. Terms like "cloud-based" and "web-based" had basically become household words. And, in-house lawyers were well on their way to understanding that they needed to investigate and discover some way to measure their usefulness.

Today, as high school graduates move on to wherever the next chapter in their journey takes them, legal tech is moving out of the awkward teen years, as well. In-house lawyers are critically focused on solutions like web-based contract management. Indeed, entire conferences have cropped up to discuss web-based contract management exclusively.

The entire community of legal ops professionals is now focused on how solutions like web-based contract management systems will save time, money, headcount, resources, and talent. So, if web-based contract management is about to graduate from high school, what will it look like in the future? Will it go to college? Will it get a scholarship? Will it have a great date to the prom?

This may not be the most artful analogy I’ve ever contrived, but to be sure, legal ops professionals, especially those who manage legal departments, would do well to understand where tools like web-based contract management have been, where they are now, and where they are going in the future. I submit that, as with the children of our friends and family who are graduating from high school, we are only seeing the beginning of really great things coming in the future for legal tech. As a person who has spent nearly the last two decades parenting legal technology and technology policy, it gives me great relief to think that the years of attitude and teenage angst may be behind us.