At some point in your in-house career, you’ve probably thought about how to improve internal workflows so your team can work more effectively. You’ve also probably come across a lot of buzzwords, like ‘automation’ and ‘no-code’, but are at a loss to understand exactly how to leverage some of this new technology into your department.

We recently teamed up with Neota Logic for a workshop where legal technologist, Sonia Hadjadj and Shaz Aziz, Director of Markets and Growth (EMEA), explored the world of workflow automation, where they set out a picture of how legal teams can develop bespoke digital workflows without needing support from overstretched IT departments.

Read more for some key takeaways from the session.

Challenges for legal teams

There was a brief discussion about some common problems that In-house teams face: being under pressure to do more for less, being seen as a cost centre, being deprioritised by the business.

The majority of legal requests are still received through email. Without a defined process, this can lead to broken communications, inefficient business workflows and high volumes of repetitive work.

When legal is seen as a cost centre, legal teams aren’t seen as a priority for resources and IT departments, despite the increasing volume of work. Many legal teams struggle to make a business case for buying a new piece of legal technology – partly due to the business not understanding the value legal provides. It ends up being more difficult than it should be to embark on a digital transformation.

The rise of citizen development

Citizen development is an idea which sees the power of programming sit in the hands of non-programmers. Outside of the business landscape, there is a swathe of new tools empowering non-coders to create incredible digital experiences.

We are now seeing the proliferation of citizen development in the enterprise landscape, with business teams taking ownership over technology and building custom applications for business processes for their own purposes; without relying on IT.

They are empowered to do so with the rise in low- and no-code platforms. These tools have existed for a long time: since the inception of financial and accounting software like Lotus 123 in the 80s. But now, this trend is accelerating rapidly: roughly 60% of custom business applications are built outside IT departments – with a large proportion being built by those with zero programming experience.

No-code tools enable and empower end-users without programming experience to build software solutions that work for them. With hybrid working environments, there is increased reliance on cloud based applications, and having a no-code platform can help departments manage their digital transformation journeys.

Opportunities for in-house legal teams

With low- and no-code platforms, the opportunities provided to business departments, including legal teams, are endless. But a blank canvas is never a helpful place to start. What do these opportunities look like for in-house legal teams? How exactly can a no-code solution help compared with other technology solutions?

The main benefit of creating and implementing a tool like this is it solves the age-old ‘more for less’ dilemma. Using a tech solution can give in-house teams time back to ultimately provide more value to the business. You can create “asynchronous” tools for the business, so that stakeholders can self-serve for legal needs, without a lawyer having to review or comment on their proposed actions.

It also allows legal teams to demonstrate value more easily. No-code tools let you build software in a fraction of the time that traditional development takes. So a team can produce a working prototype of their envisaged solution in a matter of hours, and therefore build powerful ‘show and tell’ business cases (for example using Neota’s ‘Canvas’ prototyping tool).

Being across many parts of the business, the legal department is well positioned to develop tools with the view of seeing how it fits into the wider business picture. No-code solutions create a better environment for lawyers because they are able to use a tool which works for them, and the wider business. It therefore provides an opportunity to connect with stakeholders and collaborate with other departments – a vital step if in-house legal teams are to be seen as a key business partner.

Choosing the right solution for you

If you’ve started down this path and are considering a low- or no-code platform, how do you choose the right solution? Some of the key considerations discussed were:

  • Pre-built templates. Does the technology have ‘building blocks’ of preconfigured, easy to implement generic solutions, so that you can avoid starting with a blank canvas?
  • Integrations. How well do the tools integrate with other technologies? Is there a long configuration process and if so, how much does it cost? Or is the integration made easy to manage and provide free of charge?
  • Data management. It’s important to understand how the tool organises data. Is the data readily structured and usable? Is it easy to plug into other tools?
  • Functionality. How much can you actually do with this tool? Sometimes, no-code tools sacrifice depth for accessibility. Is there a ceiling of complexity where the tool will struggle? To work out if there is, look at customer case studies, and carefully investigate how powerful these solutions really are. How does it match what you want to do?

Commercial model. Is it a SaaS (software-as-a-service)? Does the licensing model encourage adoption or does it inhibit you? Do they charge per user, or in some other way? What would work best for your business?

The challenges that legal teams face haven’t changed a great deal, but the tools with which they can be resolved have changed greatly. There is a shift to ‘citizen development’ an approach which empowers non-programmers in the business to develop software using intuitive, visual development tools. There are a lot of benefits to this approach, but also some pitfalls to watch out for.

If you want to take the no-code approach, then make sure you ask the right questions of any vendors, and understand exactly where the limitations lie. Many no-code tools will sacrifice functionality for the sake of gleaming visuals, so ensure that whatever tool you choose has the depth to solve your business challenges.