How Legal Teams Determine What They Can (and Can’t) Automate

how legal teams determine what to automate

Our Head of Business Consulting explains the best way to identify and define legal automation use cases for your company.

If you’re like other legal and compliance professionals, you likely face pressure to innovate, save money, and operate at the speed of the rest of the business. You’ve probably heard about automation as a solution for these needs, but it can be tough to determine where to get started. Luckily, you’ve come to the right place.

Five years ago, I moved out of the practice of law and into the world of technology. During this time, I’ve worked on over 100 projects with corporates and professional services firms to identify where technology can add the most value to their own organization, as well as their clients.

As Head of Business Consulting at BRYTER, the no-code automation platform that enables anyone to build enterprise self-service apps, I work closely with organizations of all sizes and across industries and jurisdictions. As different as the organizations may be, the approach to identifying high-value opportunities for automation is often similar. I want to share my approach with you to help you figure out how to optimize your processes, save time and minimize risk.

Automation isn’t the answer to every problem, but the approach outlined below will help you identify where your work processes can be optimized and where automation can help you work smarter and meet the needs of your business.

Table of contents

A 6-step process for identifying automation use cases

  1. Identify pain points
  2. Discuss identified pain points
  3. Get feedback from an expanded set of teams
  4. Discuss requirements for a solution
  5. Discover automation potential (with example automation use cases)
  6. Understand urgencies and create a shortlist of automation use cases

Putting your automation use cases into action

A 6-step process for identifying automation use cases

Before we dive straight into automation use cases, I want to encourage you to zoom out a bit.

The best way to solve a problem is not to immediately come up with a solution, but to first take the time you need to fully understand your pain points and problem statements. The better you understand your needs, the easier it will be for you to prioritize ideas and select the right technology that will ultimately help you succeed.

So, while this process will indeed lead to valuable use cases for automation, it’s best to let go of the idea of automation or any specific technology for a moment and think about what it is you’re trying to improve.

By following the steps outlined below, you might discover opportunities to optimize your team, processes, and workflows totally separate from automation. And that’s a good thing! Remember — technology is often a crucial part of the solution — not the whole solution itself. So, as you begin this process, keep an open mind and pay attention to all problem statements you encounter along the way. Technology should always be used to solve a real need and is only part of the solution to create effective and efficient teams.

1. Identify pain points

To begin, you want to have a clear idea of the problem(s) you’re trying to solve. You’ll need to gain a very granular understanding of your team’s pain points.

Ask yourself and the teams you work with the following questions:

  • What tasks do you spend most of your time on?
  • What part of your job would you like to dedicate more time to?
  • What tasks would you ideally want to do less of or get rid of completely and why?
  • What are some of the most frequent questions and requests you and your team receive from internal and external stakeholders?

2. Discuss identified pain points

Once you and your team have responded to the questions, continue by visualizing the identified pain points on one large whiteboard or shared digital space.

Ask yourself:

  • Are there any commonalities between the different answers?
  • What processes cause the most frustration to the team?
  • What seems to be blocking progress, efficiency, or output?

Create an open forum with everyone who submitted responses and discuss your findings together. Ask for additional detail and context where needed to ensure the full scale of each pain point is clear.

3. Get feedback from an expanded set of teams

In this step, you’ll include additional context and learn the full impact of each pain point. Take a look at your findings and consider which other teams form part of the identified pain points and inefficiencies.

Remember — Generally, improvements can only occur when individual participants want them to occur. Get other teams’ feedback to involve them in your process early on and add your findings to the whiteboard. At this point, you’ll likely already begin to notice some areas that are ripe for improvement.

4. Discuss requirements for a solution

Now that you have gained a clear understanding of pain points and opportunities for improvement, start thinking about the requirements a solution would need to meet to be successful.

Remember — we’re still not thinking about automation specifically yet. We’ll get to that in the next step. For now, just think generally about what components are necessary for any solution to effectively improve one of your pain points.

Consider these key questions:

  • What does the solution need to be able to do?
  • Write out the exact task, decision or process the solution needs to perform
  • Are the requirements you identify critical to solving the original pain point?
  • How would you measure success to ensure the individual requirement is met?
  • What positive business outcome do you expect if the requirement is met successfully?

Below, I’ve shared an example table commonly used to set out the required capabilities for each solution. Start by translating your findings into required capabilities and then start filling out the remaining columns. Click the image to expand it and view some example requirements and success criteria for legal automation use cases.

Solution requirements for legal automation
Click on the template above to expand it and see how we think about solution requirements and success criteria.

Once the first draft is complete, share this table with your team and other teams involved to get feedback and fill in the gaps.

5. Discover automation potential

So far, you have identified some of your team’s core pain points and understood the required capabilities needed to solve them. Now it’s time to select the right approach to ensure a successful solution.

This is where you start considering automation opportunities. Some of the pain points you identified may lend themselves well to automation, others may be solved differently, e.g., with a change in the make-up of the team or a shift in responsibility.


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Select the right opportunities for automation

When considering what to automate, consider tasks and processes where the (legal or compliance) rules are clearly defined.
This doesn’t mean that the lawyer, compliance manager, or business expert won’t still be part of the workflow or decision itself. Their expertise is essential and they will remain at the heart of the process, even if they are removed from the more tedious, lower-complexity tasks. For example, they’ll still need to evaluate and assess collected information or to approve decisions.

Below is an example of how a business expert (a lawyer or compliance manager), a business user, and an automation layer interact in a data breach reporting workflow.

data breach reporting workflow with automation
Automation is a key part of workflow optimization, but there are still complex areas where the business expert needs to remain involved. Automation helps focus the expert’s energy where it’s needed most.

What we are looking for when trying to identify automation opportunities is the type of scenario that happens with a certain repetitiveness and frequency. Mundane and time-consuming tasks that occur only once or twice a year are less likely to justify tech investment than tasks and processes that are not only time-consuming but also happen with a certain frequency (at least a few times a month) and are a low value add to the overall business.

On the other hand, where highly individual cases and scenarios need to be assessed, building out an automated solution would not justify the resources required to do so.

Therefore, there needs to be some level of standardization in the process or decision that is being considered for automation.

To start, consider these examples of common workflows that are fit for automation:

  • Intake management and triaging of common requests and questions to ensure teams receive the information they need to get started on any given task
  • Standardized approval and handover workflows to eliminate email back and forth
  • Generation of standard documentation to enable self-service across departments
  • Risk scoring and prioritization based on internal playbooks

For more inspiration, take a look at the graph below (click to expand it), which charts automation potential based on complexity and frequency.

Chart: Automation potential in corporate functions
Automation potential for corporate functions, mapped by complexity and frequency.

Building a business case and cost-benefit analysis

As with any project that requires investment, you need to build a business case for the solutions you want to put in place.

Consider the following questions when building your business case:

  • What is the time commitment needed to set up and maintain the proposed solution?
  • What is the cost of the automation software?
  • What benefits, efficiency gains and other positive business outcomes do you expect as a result of a successful project? E.g., time savings, risk mitigation, client satisfaction, reputational benefits, impact on the business’ revenue

To build a strong business case, you need to have a very good understanding of the status quo. This is important because it will allow you to compare existing metrics such as time spent or risk not mitigated, to the potential benefits that the automation solution may be able to offer.

Some of the questions you can answer with these metrics are:

  • Does the solution free up your business expert’s time to focus on higher-value work? If so, by how much?
  • Does it improve transparency into workflows that will facilitate risk mitigation in the future? How can you measure this?
  • Does it improve collaboration and communication with internal or external clients? How does this impact the overall business?

6. Understand urgencies and create a shortlist of automation use cases

With an in-depth understanding of your team’s needs and solution requirements as well as an understanding of the costs and benefits of potential solutions, you are now in the position to set priorities.

It is important to consider the urgency to solve a specific pain point for two main reasons. First, urgency makes it much easier to gain internal buy-in on a solution. Second, urgency also supports a successful roll-out and adoption of the new solution.

Go over the individual pain points identified and consider which of these happen most frequently and create the biggest inefficiencies for the team.

Then take this list and ensure that each proposed solution for these pain points forms a strong business case.

Once you have the business cases listed in order of urgency, you have identified your shortlist of solutions with strong automation potential! Now all that’s left is to pursue those solutions with the right technology provider.

Hopefully, now you see how deciding what to automate starts with understanding your organization’s needs. I want to emphasize that it’s crucial to take time to fully examine your current workflows, processes, and resulting pain points. To ensure all stakeholders are aligned, this process requires team members and departments to work together and provide constant feedback.

Once you have identified high-value use cases and prioritized them in order of urgency, it is time to select the right technology for your proposed solutions.

Finally, it is time to assign responsibilities within the organization to plan for the smooth adoption of your new solutions.

If you’re looking for help navigating where automation can solve problems at your company, please book a demo and ideation session with us! We’d be happy to help you explore where workflow automation might save you time, improve compliance, and minimize risk at your organization.

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