Legal Automation: 7 Ways Law Departments Get More Done with Legal Tech

While legal teams of all types need relief from mounting pressure to do more with less, corporate law departments face additional pain points.

Businesses no longer treat their legal costs as fixed and immutable, exempt from budgeting efforts. Rather, they now expect law departments to reliably forecast their spend and stick to their estimates, all while meeting the traditional requirements of exemplary legal work and rolling with the unpredictability of litigation.

What corporate legal teams need is a way to get their work done faster, without sacrificing accuracy. That’s where legal technology comes in.

With legal technology, corporate legal teams can automate, streamline, and simplify basic repeatable tasks to get more work done—quickly, accurately, and cost-effectively.

Legal technology can complete tasks dramatically faster and more accurately than humans can.

It will not miss a keyword that it has been programmed to recognize or—in the case of artificial intelligence (AI)—that it has learned is important. When a single error can have dramatic consequences, as when a sensitive document is incorrectly tagged as non-privileged during review, automation can help legal teams avoid those risks.

And by freeing up time, legal automation gives legal teams more time to add value for their clients.

So, where can your corporate law department get started with legal automation?

While there are numerous opportunities to implement legal automation, these 7 use cases are a good place to start your law department’s automation journey.

  1. Legal research

Automated legal research systems automatically scan the text of tens of thousands of legal opinions, allowing legal teams to quickly identify case precedents based on keyword searches and easily determine whether those cases are still good law.

Some more sophisticated legal research systems use AI to analyze a legal or factual dispute and identify cases that are similar to it.

Automating legal research saves hours of monotonous, slow work. It also frees legal teams from the physical constraints, not to mention the cost of maintaining and using a library of hard-copy law reports, online legal research systems allow lawyers to do legal research anywhere—even in court. Automated legal research is also faster and more thorough than manual research approaches.

  1. Technology-assisted review (TAR)

One of the most common applications of legal automation is in the never-ending work of eDiscovery. To control costs and manage ever-larger datasets, legal teams increasingly turn to tools like technology-assisted review (TAR), also known as computer-assisted review (CAR).

TAR relies on aspects of automation as well as AI to learn, from a human reviewer, what documents are relevant, privileged, or otherwise important. TAR learns by watching a human reviewer categorize documents and decides for itself what words, terms, and phrases may be of interest. As it learns, the TAR system begins to identify documents that share those characteristics, floating them to the top of the pile for the human reviewer to evaluate. This results in a very accurate, complete review while saving the human reviewer from having to examine each document in detail.

Using TAR in review can reduce the length of review by as much as 40 percent, with attendant cost savings. And it’s been well accepted by the courts since at least 2015, when U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew J. Peck noted in Rio Tinto PLC v. Vale S.A., 306 F.R.D. 125 (S.D.N.Y. 2015), that “the case law has developed to the point that it is now black letter law that where the producing party wants to utilize TAR for document review, courts will permit it.”

ZyLAB ONE applies both automation and AI to streamline the review of documents in over 750 formats, enabling teams to quickly and efficiently complete review within any budget.

  1. Document creation

Creating a new legal document often just means making a near-carbon copy of an existing document, updated to reflect the current client or situation.

Automated document creation removes this workload so legal teams can focus on more important work that requires strategic thought. Automating document creation involves using document templates for standard document types such as contracts, memos, letters, court filings, or any other repeated document. From those templates, the document creation system may prompt the user to fill in a form or may automatically insert text from a library of clauses or other standard text blocks. More sophisticated document automation software can also identify entity names, dates, locations, and other customized fields and update those fields or flag them for review.

  1. eDiscovery data culling and processing

As we mentioned above, the continued growth of corporate data volumes risks driving up the cost of eDiscovery. The way to control those costs is to minimize the amount of data that makes it through each stage of the eDiscovery pipeline. That means culling and processing—eliminating worthless and redundant data and ensuring that all data is in the correct format for review—are some of the most important stages of cost-effective eDiscovery.

Automated systems detect duplicate and near-duplicate files and eliminate them through a process of deduplication and near-deduplication, identify image files and apply optical character recognition (OCR) to render those images into readable text, eliminate meaningless system files through a process of deNISTing, and much more.

ZyLAB ONE’s end-to-end eDiscovery workflow automatically minimizes irrelevant data within a collected dataset and ensures that all data is in a review-ready format.

  1. Contract review and management

Automated contract review and management systems can read and analyze contract text to automatically identify and evaluate contract terms, extract critical information such as dates and entity names, and compare new contracts against a standard library of contract clauses to highlight differences.

  1. Legal holds

Standardized legal hold processes are a key line of defense against spoliation claims. When you have a routine, automatic means of issuing legal hold notices and following up with regular reminders and other communications, you stand a much better chance of defeating an accusation that you’ve intentionally or negligently lost or destroyed electronically stored information (ESI).

Automated legal hold systems guarantee that you never miss a notification or a reminder. With automatic hold notices, easy-to-use workflow templates, and scheduled reminders, custodians will always be aware of their preservation obligations. Better yet, automated legal hold software can also generate audit reports that can help an organization defend its eDiscovery process in court.

ZyLAB Legal Hold uses automation to provide legal teams with a powerful, intuitive, defensible approach to legal holds. Its customizable reminder scheduling, automatic audit reports, and standardized workflow templates ensure that custodians know their obligations and legal teams can rely on consistent and repeatable processes.

  1. Timekeeping and project management

Manually tracking time spent on legal projects is not only inefficient, but it’s also typically inaccurate, resulting in flawed timekeeping data.

Don’t be so quick to dismiss the value of timekeeping for corporate law departments. While the billable hour may not be a staple of corporate life, “in-house attorney timekeeping information can be [a] rich source of relevant law department data,” and failing to track time “deprives law departments of information they could otherwise use to benefit their attorneys, operations, and organizations.” By tracking time spent on various legal tasks and projects, legal teams everywhere can better understand their spend and monitor their costs. Automated time-tracking systems make it fast and easy to keep accurate tabs on what work individual lawyers are doing, which helps supervising attorneys and legal operations staff distribute work fairly and identify inefficient and low-value tasks for further automation.

Regardless of where you choose to begin, the benefits of legal automation are too great to leave on the table. From saving time and money to producing better, more accurate results and providing better client service, automation offers corporate law departments a new way to practice.

If you’ve already implemented these legal automation tools, remember that there are myriad other ways to apply legal automation to streamline and simplify your legal practice. Perhaps you can use an automated system to simplify your matter intake process or expedite your responses to requests for public records. By focusing on legal automation in all its forms, you can help your corporate law department move into the future.