I was 24 when I landed my first job as a lawyer, as a junior associate within a corporate. Within 3 months, I knew I wanted to build my own team someday. You see, Suits was airing, and I was convinced I was going to be Harvey Specter, minus the god complex - amazing cases, breakthrough ideas, poignant one-liners, and whatnot.
I’m older with a few years of in-house work behind me and I understand Suits isn’t a documentary. More importantly, I’ve also picked up some wisdom of what keeps the best teams running, regardless of function:
- Automating as many things as you can
- Excellent processes for everything you cannot
Usually, these require investment in terms of time, money, technology, and implementation. But these aren’t always readily available. Any General Counsel, especially one who is just setting up their team will know all too well what I am talking about.
So how do you solve for automation and processes when you don’t have the resources? In this blog, we will cover 4 crucial tasks for an in-house legal team, and general- purpose tools for GCs that will help improve the process.
Task 1: Contract intake and triaging
We are legal - it goes without saying that contracts will continue being the center of our daily tasks. As the first order of business, I am sure you’ve already created standard contract templates for your sales teams, HR team, what not.
While it might be tempting to hand off the templates and let the individual teams manage the contract creation bit, here are some potential challenges to consider:
- They can technically edit any part of the contract. An accidental deletion of a clause here or there could be potentially catastrophic.
- To mitigate this, post creation, contracts would end up coming back to your team for review. Reviewing template contracts is time consuming and tedious but necessary: basically, not the best use of your time or anyone else’s.
Here are two solutions to automate contract intake and triaging.
In this system, contract creation still rests within the legal team. But the time to create, time to review, and chances of error are brought down significantly by using a survey/form collection tool along with your contract templates.
Google Forms, Typeform are both great options for this. And setting up a form is super simple as well.
I’ve outlined how the process could look like on Google forms here. Once you create the questions, this is how it would look for someone who is requesting a contract:
You can convert these inputs into a spreadsheet, in 2 simple steps:
1. Click on the Spreadsheet icon right here:
2. Click on “Create”
And voila! Here is the spreadsheet, with all the details you could need for a contract:
- Higher control over reviews
- High-quality end output for contracts
- Easy to learn
- Contract creation will still take up time from your team
- The onus of ensuring the contract details are correct is on external team members
Here, creation is done by the external teams, and there is no need for a review process. eSignature solutions such as SignEasy, DocuSign allow you to upload a standard contract document where you can have a few custom fields editable (such as contract value, name of the person, etc.) while the rest of the document is locked.
- Lesser time on creation
- No time on review
- Low margin of errors
- Not free
- Less access to contract information
- Not very customizable
- Contracts will be stored in different repositories
Task 2: Project Management
The biggest points of friction between legal teams and other business teams start with one simple question:
“What is the status of _____________”
By the nature of what we do, the legal team is constantly inundated with tasks. Helping your team manage and prioritize this would not just make their lives easy, but would build you great goodwill with other teams as well. It forges transparency and facilitates understanding the value that your team brings.
The easiest way to do this is with project management tools. There are several free ones, such as Asana, Trello, Notion, etc. You can build customized Kanban boards that have details of all the tasks and their status.
Notion is a favorite at SpotDraft, and I put together this Kanban board quickly for your reference:
If you click on any of the cards here, this is what it looks like:
You can assign these tasks to different members of your team, set priority, even add custom reminders like this one, where I’ve set a one for a week in advance:
- Super easy to use, quick to set up
- Free for personal use
- Templates available within different tools
- Everyone should be on board to use this system: doesn’t work if any other team isn’t comfortable with it
- Time-consuming: someone has to be responsible for updating and cleaning it up
Task 3: Managing storage
This is probably the most important and possibly the hardest one on this list. Managing storage is all about organization and when it comes down to it, everyone has a very different style/way of organizing information.
The first step should be to move your contracts to cloud storage (seems basic, I know, but still needs to be said) so that different versions of contracts don’t exist in 600 different folders within the hard drive of 40 employees. Storage needs to be centralized and uniform - so you have clear and immediate access to critical information at times you most need it.
That said, contracts can be organized in several different ways. Just to name a few:
- According to the year of expiry, renewal
- By team
- By nature of the contract: incoming vs outgoing
Many tools can help here as well: Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, are a few of the best ones.
Here, I’ve put together a guide to storing your contracts on Google Drive. The approach I’ve taken is segregating the contracts by teams because my biggest concern is access. I want to ensure that access to contracts and information is tightly controlled and there is no room for any breach.
1. I’d create a centralized folder for all contracts as such, with individual folders for each team, like so:
2. Let us take the HR folder as an example. It has the following types of contracts:
While the VP of HR and the CEO can have access to all this, I’d like to restrict access to the individual folders themselves. For instance, the Employee Offer Letters can be accessed by recruiters, but they would not be able to access ESOPs.
3. Here is how I would control the access for the same:
- Editors can add, delete, edit and change any document within that folder all the subfolders
- Commenters can view and comment on documents within that folder and all subfolders
- Viewers can simply view the documents within that folder and all subfolders
4. If I want to ensure the other editors do not change permissions for new users, I can simply click on the settings icon shown in the above screenshot and uncheck this box:
This is a super basic setup, and you can make this as detailed as you desire. You can take it a step further by adding tags to files. Check out this fantastic blog on how to tag your files and folders in Google Drive.
- Easy to use and learn
- Hard to search and find specific things in contracts
- Not scalable at all
- Needs buy-in from all members of the team
Task 4: Tracking crucial contract dates
Deadlines carry a different weight when it involves revenue. This is why tracking and staying on top of important dates is crucial for any legal team.
You can automate reminders for contracts in many different ways. In fact, we’ve written an entire blog on this topic. Head there and read about how to manage contract reminders with tools like spreadsheets and Kanban boards.
- Easy to learn and set up
- Time-consuming and manual
So that sort of rounds up the general-purpose tools that should be in the arsenal of every GC building a lean team. Before we sign off, here is what we’ve learned from experience: general-purpose tools are great, but they still require a lot of maintenance and follow through for the specific use case of GCs. And maybe you will not be manually reviewing contracts, but your time will definitely not be going into legal counsel and business strategy either.
That is why it is smart to invest in a purpose-built tool (like SpotDraft) earlier than later. It not only takes care of your challenges around contract management now - it also scales with your company.
To find out how you can take control of your contracts and accelerate your business click here.