It’s not a secret that breaking habits in the legal sector and successfully piloting new technology aren’t the easiest things to accomplish.
NJORD Law Firm has just finished a successful three-month pilot with Avokaado: 3 countries, 22 templates, which are automated and approved for usage, and 17 more templates under development. More importantly, a conservative mentality shift is already happening and further collaboration is well under way.
We’ve talked to Silja Elunurm, attorney at law and CEO of NJORD Estonia, to reveal NJORD’s managerial approach to a pilot that led to such success.
NJORD Law Firm is one of the strongest international law firms in the Nordic region. The firm offers advice in more than 30 areas of expertise and serves clients in more than 25 languages through 260 employees.
Managing four offices in the Baltics and the Nordic region with different practice groups and jurisdictions makes technology implementation and innovation management more challenging but not less impactful.
The first reason why I wanted to do the pilot is to put things into perspective: to evaluate what documents and templates are in use today, and where the best clauses are or where the structure needs to be updated.
Evaluation and structuring are important to keep our law firm’s knowledge always updated, capture the best practices, and ensure constant knowledge sharing among lawyers and also offices, to be able to provide clients with the most effective solutions.
From a project management perspective, I am a rather flexible leader, so I always hope that people will get inspiration by themselves or from the vision that I am sharing. When deciding on how to approach this pilot, I was choosing between a strict plan with fixed deadlines and KPIs or a more flexible one with different offices deciding for themselves how to pilot Avokaado in each respective country. I chose the flexible approach and I think it was a good decision.
As contract automation was a new thing for all of us, I didn’t want to overload the offices or lawyers too much and make them feel as if they were obliged. I introduced to the country offices what the tool does, what this project is all about and what it could do for us. My main mission was to put lawyers on the right track of finding the real value for themselves. Freedom, however, had one limitation – Avokaado should not be considered simply a database of nice templates. It needed to be a tool to amend and simplify the process of document drafting.
With this, I left each team open to decide how they would go on with the pilot and which specific goals they would set up. For example, the Estonian team wanted to test out Avokaado in different practice groups. The employment team, corporate team and internal admin team were our office pioneers and the documents most used by these teams were chosen for the pilot. The Latvian team focused on the everyday management of a limited liability company, so corporate law documents were chosen. The Lithuanian team also took a wider view. It would have been too difficult to combine all the different needs and goals and manage them in a centralised way.
Even if this project plan didn’t seem to support the common goal of the firm at first, in the long run it actually gave us the possibility to test different routes and Avokaado functionalities. Also, it allowed us to engage the most active lawyers and they inspired others to join.
“We took this pilot to test Avokaado: what we could gain from it, how we would communicate with the software, and how natural it is for lawyers to use automated contracts. It was really important to remove the psychological barrier and establish legal workflow automation as a habit before moving further to the fixed deadlines and actually starting to use Avokaado.”
The initial plan was to prepare, automate, and approve 5 templates in Avokaado: Employment Contract, NDA, Client’s Agreement, Management Board Member Agreement and Internal Decision-Making Agreement.
While already testing, we realised that in Estonia we have more documents that are standard and often asked for by our clients, and which we could easily automate such as the General Memo for foreign clients about the Estonian corporate law system. In this way, we ended up automating 12 templates and having 5 more under development, and this is only for the Estonian office. The employment contract has already been used.
Corporate decision-making documents turned out to be the most time consuming as we decided to go with one template containing all the different types of corporate decisions that are possible in one assembly, including many alternatives and even languages. Now I think a better way to automate those documents is to slice them up into different templates on the basis of decision categories. Quite often you may also need a template for only one concrete decision and it would be time consuming to delete all of the irrelevant clauses.
Another lesson learned is that the narrower your target is, the more quality templates you will get automated. For example, the Latvian office took only corporate agreements as their main focus and succeeded in all their goals.
We’ve created pilot teams for each office that included a partner and junior lawyer who owned the project and approved the templates. Younger lawyers were responsible for drafting and automating the master templates. For instance, the Estonian team included me, my super-assistant Kadi Tarand and a few lawyers from different practice groups.
It was not an unexpected outcome, but the pilot itself has triggered more collaboration between the international teams and also on the junior level. Also, the discussions went wider than just the automatisation of templates. We are now brainstorming on the provision of legal e-service as such. It was a pure pleasure to observe such collaboration organically happening in NJORD.
“Another insight we’ve seen is that piloting is a great proof of concept, and a lawyer’s mentality is all about looking for the proof – if we can’t see the evidence, then we don’t trust it. That’s why it’s important to generate trust by having a pilot before the actual implementation of a tool.”
After three months, we did a wrap up together with the team from Avokaado where we reflected on the process and summed up the results. We needed to see what we managed to achieve in such a short period, present it to the rest of the team, get feedback and map out the next steps together with the team and our technology provider. The customer support at Avokaado does a great job in supporting each lawyer with automation in a personal manner, which makes automation a really pleasant and frictionless activity.
The pilot program and implementation of Avokaado is definitely not the end stop for us. This kind of tool requires constant involvement and process improvements. Once documents are automated and reviewed they go into use: feedback from clients has to be collected, and new cases, problems and solutions have to be added. We want to see constant upgrading of knowledge and an enrichment of our knowledge hub, which would give benefits to all lawyers around the offices in different countries.
“The way we want to move forward after the pilot is to go group by group and set up project plans and measurable KPIs for each. However, those KPIs still should not be a burden – they should be inspiration for adding more value for the clients or making the lawyers’ lives easier. We are not aiming at automating hundreds of templates; we want a mental shift and increased quality of legal services provision.”
For the practice to be fully automated, it would depend on the needs of our law firm, the resources available and the enthusiasm inside the team. For the practical need, GDPR practice sounds really promising but from the “enthusiastic” point of view it is good to finalise corporate agreements or go to the banking and finance group.
The next step after the internal harmonisation of the templates and having some practices fully automated would be a client-facing solution in some practice groups. Strategy-wise, the next steps will certainly be more complex and require more time for the initial preparation, more thorough team management and a precise targeting of clients’ needs. The foundation for this is still the motivation of the team and assurance that the new tools are turning into a habit for our lawyers and meeting their needs and expectations. We have long journey before us and this pilot is just the beginning.
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