Q&A: In-house Legal Department Strategies During a Crisis

Q&A: The Best Strategies for Your Legal Department During a Crisis

4th June 2020

Q&A: In-house Legal Department Strategies During a Crisis

By Jerry Levine, General Counsel at IPsoft

As there is in just about any other sector - and in life, itself - there is always room for improvement in legal. Within legal teams and other company departments, changes can always be made to improve overall work processes, increasing productivity and profits.

In the following Q&A, IPsoft’s Jerry Levine shares some of the best strategies for in-house legal departments from his experience as a general counsel and how IPsoft’s legal department works together. Levine also discusses his individual experience with ContractPodAi and the ways that IPsoft has ensured business continuity during the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic.

What has IPsoft’s legal department done well during the COVID-19 crisis?

Our team at IPsoft - like every other company during this time - has improved communication between members tremendously. We had to keep communication open even more so than before. In fact, whenever we had an issue in the past, it came as a result of not communicating properly. So, we have drastically changed this, setting up ways to talk to one another constantly and to be available during work hours, whether it is through Microsoft Teams or using ContractPodAi’s collaborative tools. I, too, have daily calls with my employees and use Microsoft Teams to keep in touch, generally, and reach out if any issue arises.

Using more internal tracking tools improves organization within your company

Thanks to better communication, turnaround time has been cut down significantly. Our distributed workforce is now able to respond in real-time to any issues, too. Generally, in-house legal departments have been better at communication than external counsel. But even lawyers in smaller companies need to be open to communication. Everyone needs to be involved in making decisions and creating processes for overall success.

We also knew that while working from home (WFH), we needed to be able to maintain work progress within the legal and contract teams. By using available technologies, whether its ContractPodAi’s contract lifecycle management (CLM) system - along with e-signatures or Salesforce - we’ve been able to keep everything digital and online. This has allowed us to access files - whether to review a contract or make changes and edits to the same - regardless of where anyone is located. This really aided in business continuity and prevented us from falling behind amidst the pandemic.

Have any best strategies emerged while your in-house legal department works remotely?

The improved communication has given us the ability to really put in place additional workflow requirements, and more checks and balances on the entire contracting process. We can look at negotiation rules and are now planning automatic approval matrices.

Just as importantly, we have focused on documenting where we can make changes. This is to better build out our playbook and analysis structure in the contract management and contract analysis field.

Thankfully, to date, there hasn’t been a real crisis-level problem that’s forced anyone to go back to the office. We’ve even managed to onboard a new employee during this time. And this was rather simple because we now have the right technology to work collaboratively and remotely. All of our tools are accessible through SSO or VPN.

Overall, I’m very pleased and grateful for my team. And there’s that sense that we are all ‘in this together’ and will continue to do what’s best for IPsoft and each other. That’s even after we get back to the office.

What are other examples of in-house legal department strategies during the COVID-19 lockdown?

Another best practice has been prioritizing issues and making plans for what needs to be done. For example, if a contract is closing in two weeks, we now treat this as a priority and begin discussions on how to best solve this problem.

Also, there are many tools that can make the legal profession easier and lawyers more business- or client-friendly. But these won’t replace them altogether. Many in the legal industry are in the process of working with machine learning and artificial intelligence technologies. These are all rapidly evolving material changes that assist legal teams and departments, especially during a period when they’re working remotely. Once more, internal and external teams need to make sure everything is accessible to everyone out of the office. And that’s what our CLM is doing for us now, by aiding us in better strategies for our in-house legal department.

What are some of the greatest challenges around contract management right now?

Force majeure has definitely been a hot topic. Some of the issues around this have been industry-specific, such as landlord building management. Because we cannot use our office at the moment, we need to think of what we need at our fingertips - right now. And because our legal department is smaller, it needs to go through all of the lease-related contracts. This means that it has completely different sets of discussions with other people, such as our real estate lawyer.

Internal and external teams need to ensure all tools are accessible to everyone out of the office.

As a B2B SaaS company, IPsoft has been affected by force majeure clauses in yet another way. We’re still performing our services and expect people who we help to pay us. These are challenging times, indeed, but going through all of our contracts and clauses would have been more of a challenge without a CLM solution.

Overall, though, it has been difficult finding opportunities for growth. But in our contract analysis, we’re now looking for things that we never thought of before and areas that people have forgotten about entirely. Getting back to force majeure, I always thought it was really outdated, for instance, to not have force majeure clauses concerning viral pandemics. So, by working on this now, we should be prepared for more crises in the future.

On the CLM side, what is the most useful feature that you have used?

We have gotten more use out of the AI analytics at the end of every contract period. This has helped a lot. Also, we’ve been using more internal tracking tools to improve our organization within the company.

But moving away from our old practice of storing contracts and related documents on SharePoint - or other non-accessible places - has been the greatest relief. Now, we’re in a records-first system and can work with the most recent versions - or updates. This has been key.

As mentioned, another extremely useful CLM feature has been eSignatures. This is in addition to functional integration with tools like Microsoft Teams.

Ultimately, I was happy when I realized that the issues that we had with our previous system were gone. In a tremendous way, our new CLM’s core features have helped to solve these prior concerns. The future of our company looks all the more promising now that we have this CLM system. And it’s great to know that we’ll have a team like ContractPodAi continuing to assist us along the way.

What key strategies will your in-house legal department take away from this COVID-19 crisis?

With all of the uncertainties around when and how things will go back to “normal,” the key learning here is using technologies to our fullest advantage and communicating easily and immediately through them.

Surprisingly, during this time of WFH, I received no complaints that someone was unreachable. Although we can longer simply walk down the hall to talk to a colleague, we can certainly rely on these other forms of communication. So even if we have to work remotely for quite some time, I’m rather confident that we’ll still be okay.

Read more about IPsoft's experience with a contract lifecycle management system. See how ContractPodAi helps you to do more with less – especially during a large-scale crisis.

AUTHOR:

Jerry Levine

Jerry Levine
General Counsel at IPsoft
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