This article was originally published by Legaltech News.
Smartphones may be small, but they represent a large opportunity for corporate legal departments to become more efficient. According to a recent report from Wolters Kluwer’s ELM Solutions, legal professionals are looking for online legal applications to up their mobile capabilities. But it’s important to look at the promise of business applications on smartphones in a broader context. The move to mobile is just one avenue—though indeed an important one—through which corporate legal departments can improve efficiency. While legal professionals, per the survey, are eyeing mobile in particular, what they really want and need are tools that slide seamlessly into their workdays. Even the sleekest tools won’t improve productivity if no one uses them.
Efficiency, which comes through usability, is especially relevant as many legal departments cut costs, expand responsibilities and aim to move beyond operational thinking. According to the report, 48% of legal departments ranked becoming a strategic business partner as the number one priority for the next three years—not only the top-ranking response, but the one that gained the most ground since the previous survey. To call technology central to this goal would be an understatement. Offering tools that meet users where they are might mean giving them the ability to complete a task via a smartphone app while in line for the airport—but it also might mean using cloud-based solutions like Office 365 or integrating into tried-and-true apps like Microsoft Word. That’s why mobile is just the tip of the iceberg.
With that in mind, here are three specific considerations for corporate legal departments working to increase efficiency by improving accessibility and usability.
Mobile Invoice Review
The main task, beyond basic things like looking up contact information, that gets tackled through mobile currently is invoice review and approvals—but the distinction between the two tasks is important. It’s crucial to make invoice approval easy without making it too easy—otherwise, legal pros will be tempted to just hit “approve” without doing the crucial “review” step, as is often the case with expense reports.
Currently, 27% of respondents in the report said they had mobile tools to support invoice approval, while 16% have the mobile capability of invoice review. By growing those figures, more legal professionals will be able review invoices on the train, on their couch at home, or even during a meeting break where they don’t have a laptop—an easy way to squeeze out some extra productivity.
It is possible to overstate the amount of time employees spend on-the-go or working from a smartphone, though. Despite the fast pace of technological progress, the desktop is still where most of the magic happens. Thus, productivity means reducing friction and upping the convenience factor from this home base as well.
To that end, legal pros spend the majority of the time within Microsoft applications (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook). Switching between applications—especially when usernames and passwords are involved—is time consuming, yet common. Plus, those switches often happen as employees are looking for information that they may not actually find. Talk about inefficient! Integrating tools directly into Microsoft Office is an easy way to ensure those tools are actually adopted and to cut such wasted time down dramatically.
The Rise of Tablets
Tablets are just starting to be adopted by legal departments, as only half of all lawyers use tablets for law-specific tasks. But the possibilities are even greater than with smartphones, as they offer more real estate for crucial tasks. While a smartphone may be sufficient for reviewing existing documents like invoices, a tablet has the space needed to actually create one on the go or efficiently take notes in a meeting.
Soon enough, it should be standard operating procedure for solutions legal professionals like to be easily accessible on multiple devices, tablets included. Office 365 is a great example of a solution that has been optimized for tablet use while maintaining the robust set of features that its desktop version provides.
The Bottom Line
Mobile is the mega-trend that tends to get the most attention with regard to tech investments in corporate legal departments, perhaps because being able to seamlessly switch from mobile to desktop was more or less unheard of mere years ago.
But usability—the key ingredient to efficiency—doesn’t just mean smartphone apps. It means considering devices like tablets that are better-suited for more hands-on tasks and remembering that the majority of work still gets done at the desk. Friction must be reduced there as well if corporate legal departments are serious about freeing up time and energy for more strategic thinking.