Law firms are feeling the heat to keep pace with the accelerating, technology-driven changes overtaking the legal industry. Why should NDA automation be one of their first steps toward Legal Rising and digital transformation?

First, let’s review where those pressures are coming from: Some are being applied by clients, particularly in-house corporate legal departments, who are themselves being pressed to deliver greater efficiency and control costs while reducing risk. More of them are turning to software solutions for these challenges, and expect outside counsel to be part of the client’s digital ecosystem.

Clients are driving this mandate because it provides them with more visibility into matter management and other processes involving outside firms, as well as billing and timekeeping practices. Smaller law firms in some regions are already feeling the pinch as clients increasingly factor cost into the client-counsel relationship. A new Bellwether study of U.K. firms found that:

71% of solicitors surveyed said that their work has been compromised by ‘client demands and their consumerist behaviours’ with a third saying that they experience this type of disruption on a regular basis. 58% believe that price driven clients are impacting on the ability of lawyers to uphold the integrity of the law and provide the best service to clients.

Then there’s the pressure law firms are exerting on themselves to be more competitive and profitable. Yes, the profession has a reputation for rock-ribbed traditionalism, conservatism, and regard for precedent. Yet many firms are pushing forward with legal technology adoption because they realize the intrinsic advantages these tools offer in terms of improved performance and operational ROI. This goes beyond honoring client demands: embracing technology is, for these law firms, simply good bottom-line business.

Overthrowing paper-based NDA processes

NDAs are, for better or worse, growingly prevalent in the business world. Over one-third of the U.S. workforce operates under an NDA of some kind, according to a 2017 Vanderbilt Law Review study. They’re growing in scope, too, to include new extensions such as non-disparagement clauses, requiring employees to never speak ill of their employer or former employer.

There are more than enough non-process stumbles that can create problems with an NDA, let along piling on process-driven mistakes caused by manual, paper-intensive NDA workflows. Where do traditional NDA workflows come up short?

  • The tedium of manual repetition encourages errors and oversights.
  • The sheer number of NDAs in even a mid-sized company can be overwhelming to track and costly to process manually.
  • They’re too slow, especially if it’s a sales or support opportunity where quick turnaround matters.
  • There are often different, even unsanctioned templates in use across the organization (or even the same department).
  • NDAs are often not created, signed, submitted or routed properly.
  • There’s often inadequate instruction to the submitting party on how to fill out and file the NDA.
  • Employees themselves often don’t know how and when to use NDAs or properly manage that process.
  • Legal staff has little or no visibility or control over any in-progress workflow.
  • It’s difficult to track signatures and approvals.
  • Poor routing means the same NDA may see simultaneous (and conflicting) review by different attorneys/gatekeepers.
  • There’s no insight into whether or not an existing NDA is already in place.

NDA automation: A bevy of benefits for law firms (and clients)

NDA automation, using the features of a leading SaaS workflow automation solution, overcomes these issues for law firms:

  • Using a self-service NDA workflow, online portal and standardized forms, users can request and obtain error-free NDAs without any involvement by a lawyer.
  • Self-service NDAs can be custom-designed or use pre-formatted templates, forcing standardization  and consistency.
  • A full template repository can warehouse NDA templates to meet any contingency.
  • Routing of requests to the right internal stakeholders, if needed, can be built into the NDA workflow.
  • Signature authority requirements are integrated into the workflow and can leverage secure e-signature tools.
  • Real-time status monitoring provides process oversight.
  • Stakeholders can collaborate in approval processes and more complex self-service NDAs via online commentary/notation.
  • Notifications, alerts and escalations can be dispatched to stakeholders at pre-designated points throughout the process.

“Today, clients want more than just great lawyering. They expect their outside counsel to invest in the tools of technology to support efficiency, quality and consistency.”

Justin Hectus
CIO/CISO, Keesal, Young & Logan

How do these capabilities translate into benefits from NDA automation?

  • A self-service NDA workflow can be up to 7 times faster and 15 times more efficient than a manual process, with 100% compliance and up to 400% ROI.
  • ROI arrives nearly immediately, thanks to the ease of adoption of best-of-breed NDA automation solutions.
  • Simple standardized NDAs can be obtained any time, any location, without costly internal review by legal personnel, driving considerable savings.
  • Via a single portal, law firms and clients can now manage NDA processes at scale, even across global networks.
  • Automating the process delivers an error-free workflow and user experience that’s faster and more reliable.
  • Each NDA workflow can be automatically backed up to a secure Cloud archive, easily accessible for audit, governance and compliance purposes.
  • E-signature integration standardizes secure approvals.

But the benefits go further…

For a law firm, there are other positive impacts from NDA automation. What are some of these macro benefits?

Ben Bogin, Mitratech’s Director, Solutions and Professional Services, has seen them in practice. First, automating NDA workflows helps a law firm prioritize what’s really important to their clients and their own bottom line. “Automating NDAs means that firms can spend time on the legal work that really matters,” he says, “and NDAs get out the door faster.”

“NDAs are low-hanging fruit for any organization. It’s a great first use case to see immediate ROI.”

Ben Bogin
Director, Solutions and Professional Services, Mitratech

Another plus? That the right platform “can take a big chunk out of the high-volume transactional work that lawyers hate, and allow them to spend more time using their JD,” he points out.

These big-picture benefits go even further, however. As law firms wrestle with decisions about which technologies are their best investments in 2019, legal workflow automation can be a cornerstone technology delivering “quick wins” that prove the value of digital transformation, making Legal Rising achievable.

By applying legal workflow automation tools to NDA automation, law firms can enjoy one of the quickest wins possible, Ben explains. “NDAs are low-hanging fruit for any organization. It’s a great first use case to see immediate ROI.”

A law firm shouldn’t assess ROI only in terms of eventual payback from a workflow automation solution but in time-to-value, or T2V.  Investing in a SaaS product that provides greater ease of adoption, intuitive UX for form and workflow design and publishing, e-signature integration, smooth integration with legacy platforms, and a more complete feature set will drive faster returns.

The two hypothetical workflow automation products in the graph below deliver different T2Vs, with Platform A reaching the “payback point” much faster thanks to exactly the capabilities we’ve just mentioned.

NDA Automation T2V Chart

Implementing NDA automation workflows is, though, only one of three essential processes where it’s imperative for law firms to apply legal workflow automation in the next year in order to leverage the transformation that’s inexorably underway in legal practice. In our next post in this series, we’ll dig into how matter management should be another of their key priorities.