4 immediate (zero cost) steps to improve your contract management

Legal teams at high-growth companies need to be dynamic in nature. No longer is their job limited to managing risk, but also to drive strategic commercial decisions. From dealing with contracts to anticipating potential conflicts, a legal team has to interact with multiple stakeholders within the organization.

Traditionally considered a cost centre, legal teams aren’t always equipped with the technology or budget to manage their increased workload. Especially if you are a part of a small legal team in a growing organization, you’ll have to do more with less.

They say creativity is best tested when constrained. This is certainly true for legal teams.

While researching best practices for such legal teams, there was a strong case to be made for adopting a contract management software/solution. Yet, there is a lot you can do with the existing tools you already use and are familiar with. Of course, it won’t be perfect but it will get the job done - albeit with a couple of tweaks. In this blog, we’ll look at some of those tweaks.

#1 Self-serve contract creation

There are template contracts and then there are bespoke contracts. To save time, creating custom contract templates seems like the obvious first step. Take it a step further and introduce a contract intake form.

If you’re using GSuite, you can check out the GSuite Marketplace where you’ll find a whole host of tools. One such tool is “Fillable Document” that you can use for your contract intake.  This opens your Google Doc as a live fillable form. It then stores the data into Google Sheets and generates merged documents.

For example, if you have a Master Services Agreement to execute, you can download a template of the internet and then customize it using Fillable. The dynamic fields within the document are marked with $, the values of which you can enter in the Fillable Document. Fillable will then merge the two documents together which you can then download in any format of your choosing. Pretty nifty right?

As versatile as Fillable and other such tools are, they still have a few shortcomings that you should be aware of. For instance, you won’t ( be able to create standardized contracts tailor-made to your company’s needs) have the benefit of standardizing your contracts based on your company’s needs. The entire standardization process will have to be manually done.

In addition, you will also not be able to collaborate as effectively with your team members on the contracts - adding comments, seeing version history and other aspects are a lot more time consuming and tedious. You could assign tasks using various project management tools (which we will discuss later) - but you will not be able to collaborate within the document itself.

All in all, this is a temporary solution that will just about get the job done. Once you get the ball rolling and business picks up, you and your team will be better suited to adopt a Contract Management software service.

#2  Automating contract workflows

A large part of your everyday work will involve tracking contracts at different stages of their execution. Project management tools can come in super handy in this scenario. There are a host of tools like Trello, Airtable, Asana, Notion, etc. that can bring some level of organization into managing your contracts.

With these tools, you can create a workflow for a contract as a project and add the steps involved in execution (such as creation, adding details, negotiation and more) as tasks. You can assign priorities and owners for tasks, customize timelines and add notifications for important deadlines.

With a task management setup, you can move away from emails or google drive to a more centralized view of all your contracts.

As handy as these tools are, it can be challenging to integrate them with other systems. The workflows in place will have to be updated manually. All tracking and assignment of tasks within the contract lifecycle will have to be done manually - which means it’s one extra thing on your plate. Make sure to weigh your potential return on investment before making a decisive move.

#3 Using Excel for data extraction

Any lawyer can tell you the pain involved in trying to search for details in a specific contract among the existing pile of contracts. Organizing information better might consume time initially, but will save hours of your life later. For this, the solution is the grandparent of all organization tools - Excel.

Contract Metadata is structured information about a contract stored against the contract record. Typical contract metadata includes data points like counter-party name, contract type, expiry/renewal date, jurisdiction, governing law, etc. You could search through an entire contract database with the help of metadata. Contract performance can also be tracked over time via data points.

As a young legal team at a fast-paced startup, it’s very important for you to capture contract data sooner rather than later. You can enter data in the form of rows and columns on Excel and keep a centralized database of your contract metadata.

You can go a step further and create a pivot table that allows you to see comparisons, patterns and trends in your data. You can also use the Filter function to filter your data based on your specific criteria. Once you play around with it a little, you’ll get the hang of it and how many things you can do with it.

That being said, Excel still has many limitations. For starters, Excel is a generic tool that is designed to store data. It is not something that is built for lawyers or your legal team. So any and all customizations or tweaks you make will have to be done manually.

Interaction with the main contract also becomes challenging. Since the contract is stored in another place and data points and reminders are set up via Excel, you have to go back and forth between the two. This is extremely time consuming and error prone.

#4 Setting up notifications and reminders

This is probably the most obvious, least effort and highest impact improvement - the holy trifecta, if you will. Renewals and expiration dates are crucial in contract management and setting up reminders simply on your Google Calendar can save you a lot of trouble down the line.

But if you want to make it do just a bit more, make it just a little cooler, you can always turn to tools such as Zapier. If there is a contract that hasn’t been opened yet, or hasn’t been signed yet, when it should have, you can use Zapier to set up monthly reminders.

You can set up a Zap that integrates with your Google Sheets for example. You can create all kinds of permutations and combinations and create a trigger event - and Zapier will make sure you’re on top of things.

The trouble with this system is that it’s too basic. You would still need to individually look up renewal and expiry dates and enter it manually into Google Calendar or Zapier. As you can probably imagine, this process is extremely time consuming and labor intensive.

On top of that, Zapier is a fairly tech-heavy tool, which means you would probably need some help from your engineering team. There’s a steep learning curve involved which means you will not be able to use it right away.

So be sure to make an objective assessment of your requirements and see if these tools will help take a load off your shoulders.

A combination of such tools, even though might not replace an actual contract management software, will certainly help manage your workload at fast-paced startups. It might not be as sophisticated as legitimate contract management software - but it’ll certainly help you in getting the job done.

An integrated, symbiotic interaction between these tools will create an independent, automated system that can handle a bulk of the tasks of your legal team. These are relatively simple to use and easy to set up.

The barrier to entry to innovation is at its lowest - it would be a shame not to use it.