Legal departments should consider service and methodologies, as well as the technology itself.

When corporate legal departments consider their options for enterprise legal management (ELM) systems and providers, it’s easy to focus on dazzling product demos. However, an ELM technology provider is more than just a software manufacturer. A provider should also be a partner that understands and works toward your goals. The approach it takes to service is therefore a key indicator of the likely success of your relationship.

Starting on the Right Foot

The implementation experience is a legal department’s earliest indication of how the ELM provider will work with the department to help it achieve organizational goals. The provider should have a well-planned and time-tested approach to implementation – one that helps ensure that new clients get up and running quickly while achieving cost and time savings.

An implementation that allows users to utilize the system as soon as possible offers the opportunity for a more tailored client experience. By giving clients earlier access to the system and its workflows, the provider is able to make timely adjustments based on their feedback. Many ELM providers have extensive meetings and requirements-gathering sessions with new clients to understand their needs and preferences. From a user perspective, however, talking about a new software product is very different from actually using it.

In theory, legal departments know precisely what they are looking for from a new ELM system. However, real-world user experience always elicits new insights and a deeper understanding of how the new tool will serve them best. It also helps identify improvements early on. That’s -important, because the later that changes are requested, the more expensive and time-consuming they can be. In addition, when users are engaged early – and if they see quick improvements based on their feedback – they have a more positive view of the new tool and are more likely to adopt the system quickly, making the project more successful.

What to Look for in a Provider

I recommend choosing an ELM provider that can demonstrate that its implementation process does the following:

  • Gets spend management up and running first. Using an e-billing system to accept, review and approve invoices has a direct positive impact on a department’s spend–management -capabilities by streamlining invoicing and review, -improving -collaboration with law firms and providing insight into legal spend. This critical aspect of an ELM system yields the greatest benefits when launched as early as possible.
  • Uses an agile approach. When the implementation process is broken out into several shorter sprints – a core concept of agile development methodology – features and configurations can be rolled out more quickly, based on client prioritization and feedback.
  • Allows flexibility in user requirements. As users work with a new solution, they begin to better understand how its functionality intersects with their needs. Providers should be able to adapt to rapidly changing corporate priorities as the implementation timeline progresses.
  • Uses best practices to guide configuration. ELM providers should have extensive experience with a variety of clients. They should be able to offer a baseline of common best practices and processes to help you determine the best configuration options for your needs.
  • Offers a head start on billing guidelines. A basic set of first-tier guidelines should be readily available for your implementation, based on the provider’s experience with legal departments. The provider should be able to customize these to meet your needs.

At Wolters Kluwer’s ELM Solutions, we embrace these aspects of implementation in our SmartLAUNCH program because we know it’s an effective way to quickly deliver value to clients. Value and return on investment should be a focus for any legal department when considering ELM providers. Naturally, those concerns don’t end with implementation. A robust change-management program centered around end-user education and adoption is also critical for success. A provider’s ongoing service, education and support are key elements in ensuring it can deliver value over the long term.

The Importance of Staying Current

The effort involved in making sure your department is always using the best available version of your ELM solution will depend on the nature of the system you choose. Providers that use the Software as a Service (SaaS) model host the solution centrally and license it to clients through subscriptions. This represents the simplest end of the spectrum, because it means that law departments are always accessing the most up-to-date version of the system without having to take any action on their own to upgrade. When considering the SaaS approach, be sure that providers can show you how they communicate to users about new versions and features.

On the other end of the spectrum are solutions that reside on the legal department’s own computer systems behind a firewall. In these situations, you need to coordinate with your ELM provider and your in-house IT team to be sure that you stay up to date with the current version. Look for providers that offer innovative programs to help you keep up with the latest software releases.

Why is this an important best practice? Because it ensures that you continue to get the maximum value from your solution, with ongoing access to new functionality and the latest technology.

For example, at Wolters Kluwer, we conduct in-depth customer research, gather feedback and consult with industry-leading usability experts to continuously improve our user interfaces, workflow and navigation. Clients that are always updated with the latest versions of our solutions see better user adoption and realize greater value. To facilitate this return on investment, we offer clients who use our Passport® ELM system a seamless way of remaining current on the solution. Our Evergreen program ensures that our clients are positioned to take advantage of the latest software updates. ELM providers without such programs may not be aware of the impact that upgrades have on clients or may seek to impose high professional–service charges for their updating efforts.

I would advise asking providers whose solutions you are considering -whether they can offer a path to staying updated with minimal disruption and expense. Have they thought through how they can help you stay current? Do they have a program in place that will help ensure that you are kept up to date? If not, this may be a red flag.

Keeping Your Data Safe

It’s important to understand that staying current isn’t simply a “nice-to-have.” It can actually keep your data safer. The security landscape in which enterprise software providers operate is constantly and rapidly evolving. As we often hear in the news, hackers continue to find new ways to bypass older security measures, gaining unauthorized access to sensitive data and executing ransomware attacks against companies across industries. Ask potential providers how they address these threats and keep their solutions safe.

In recent software releases, Wolters Kluwer’s ELM Solutions has added stronger encryption and updated libraries and runtime components and introduced additional security headers to meet current data privacy expectations. Overall, the implementation and updating considerations discussed here are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the service side of the ELM provider-client partnership. But they afford a view into a provider’s commitment to delivering value by way of service. If a provider doesn’t clearly meet these minimum requirements, legal departments should be wary of that provider’s ability to deliver the level of service they need for this critical solution.