For decades, the legal industry had been slow to embrace the digital technologies and virtual tools that have reshaped other industries. The provision of legal services is often considered bespoke and technical.

In the same way that we think of highly trained surgeons and architects as providing specialized services tailored for specific needs, the legal profession has often been thought to be too sophisticated and complex for standardization.

The reality is much more nuanced. Of course, there will always be complex contracts and intricate negotiations that will require us to start from scratch, but for many in-house counsel, the truth is that there are many more run-of-the-mill legal services we are regularly called on to provide that could greatly benefit from standardization and technical innovation. That’s especially true in this new era of accountability, where we are all striving to become more efficient and effective in order to better serve our companies and their customers.

This is just one example of why we can no longer rely on old practices to achieve new goals.

To be successful and keep pace with a digitally driven society, law practices have to think outside the box, look to other technologically savvy industries for guidance, and adopt new virtual tools that allow us to meet the needs of our rapidly changing businesses. We have to eschew some of the profession’s outdated worries about standardization and modularization and look for ways to become more nimble and responsive. In short, we have to get out of our comfort zones and get on board with the digital revolution.

“To be successful and keep pace with a digitally driven society, law practices have to think outside the box”

For example, in a cutting-edge and closely watched industry like healthcare – where technological leaps happen every single day – in-house legal department have no other choice than to embrace innovation as a matter of survival. As the sector shifts towards performance measurement, value-based care delivery and a greater focus on consumer convenience and satisfaction, so too must law practices evolve in an effort to realign their objectives to match the demands of their business partners.

Arguably, one of the biggest game changers in legal innovation has been the development and expansion of work flow management tools, like contract management databases, that promise to improve efficiency and provide quicker results for those requesting legal services. In the same way that services like LegalZoom democratized some forms of customary legal documentation, in-house counsel are increasingly seeking ways to give employees easier access to frequently requested information that doesn’t necessarily require a lawyer’s input every time.

But in a highly regulated industry like healthcare, where legal work flow can easily involve risk or become complicated and cumbersome, and we are pulled in different directions by the various organizations with which we work – doctors, patients, vendors, pharmaceutical companies and so on – change can be daunting.

At Memorial Hermann Health System, our department looked beyond the obvious challenges of transforming our processes, and instead partnered with the Six Sigma team to reevaluate our work flow and identify areas for improvement. Through that cooperation, we developed online legal forms for items such as standardized vendor contracts, easily accessible FAQs that help answer some routine legal questions and online request submissions for legal services, among other resources.

These are low-cost solutions that can reap tremendous benefits in a short period of time. Not only do they streamline the workload of the legal department, they also help enrich the overall experience for business partners by putting tools at their fingertips, allowing them to quickly and easily identify the right answers and solutions they need when they need them.

Like most organizations, we are continually working to reduce our costs and expenses. As such, we regularly benchmark our performance against similarly sized organizations across the country, and hold ourselves to high standards and the industry’s best practices. For our department specifically, we developed a set of key indicators to measure our performance, keeping detailed analyses of our throughput, volume and cost. These indicators give us a precise measurement of the overall value our department delivers every year to Memorial Hermann.

None of that data analysis would have been possible without matter management software, an increasingly popular tool in the legal profession that allows practices to keep tabs on projects as they move through the system. A whopping $1 billion has been spent on matter and spend management solutions in the past 20 years, according to the Association of Corporate Counsel, the professional association for corporate counselors across the world. The return on investment is obvious: Attorneys are able to better communicate with each other about projects, thus reducing unnecessary duplication in services. And legal departments can easily provide status updates for business partners, which helps them expedite their operations – making for an easy business case for innovation in any industry.

While the legal industry has made tremendous progress in a short period of time, there is still much work to be done toward truly becoming a twenty first century business enterprise. The pressure is growing on all firms, not just those in the health sector, to take the bold steps that mirror what our business partners are doing. We have to demonstrate value. We have to deliver results. By doing so, we can firmly establish ourselves as critically important to the organizations that we serve.