Why Contract Management Can’t Be Successful Without People

I was talking to a team recently who were conducting a survey for an upcoming report about the effects of artificial intelligence and machine learning on business when we got into a discussion about, “what should people be doing in order to get the most out of technology?”

If you do a Google search on automation, artificial intelligence, or machine learning in regards to law or contract management, you are likely to find any number of articles, blogs, or self-promotional pieces (how dare they!) about how this technology is:

  • Growing and changing the way we do things;
  • Putting people out of business;
  • Aggressively competing with traditional lawyers; or
  • Becoming sentient, acquiring an Austrian accent and hunting us all down.

At least three of the above statements are true. In fact, if you expand your search beyond legal/commercial/contract management, you’ll see a lot of doom and gloom how AI will take our jobs, influence our children and become our bartenders–all real articles published in August 2018. My point is, buzz about AI-related tech is sensational to say the least, even if it does make for a punchy headline.

I too am guilty. I have written thousands of words on how companies need, must or otherwise would be remiss not to use AI as it pertains to contract management. Despite all that, I feel as though there is a lack of information regarding just how important it is to have the right people using the technology. This can be oversimplified into the trope, “which is more useful, the hammer or the hand that uses it,” but that–while pithy–doesn’t tell the full story.

There are two ways that humans are fundamental to the use of AI or other Contract Lifecycle Management technology:

  • As the Ancient Greeks, Shakespeare and Reddit all note, the importance of knowing thyself (i.e., staying in your lane). This is not hyperbole, but at least once a month someone asks me about blockchain when their current “as-is” for document retention is a guy named “Bob” or a homegrown tool containing about 50% of their contracts. AI is awesome, but if your search function is “Control+F,” or your internal contract research activity is an email to “ALL LEGAL NA,” with the subject line: “have you seen X?” you may not be ready. Let’s focus on making searching and knowledge management easier before we bring in the heavy equipment. It may come as a surprise (not least because there are 100+ tools to help you with this!), but people and process will be your best friends in the near term. In short, there is a lot of space between “Bob” and full-on AI. The key here is to know how to leverage human expertise in order to make AI useful.
  • The need for basic, human improvement before turning to the right technology for the job. If you have bad processes and clunky, unclear activities, then tools won’t help, just like buying a top of the line bicycle won’t help you lose weight if you keep eating too much. So before investing in the most expensive tool, get yourself in order. A tool can be an accelerator, but it’s vital to get the core processes in place first. Often, there’s a lot of space for basic, human improvement before we put a tool on top.

Now let’s be clear–I love innovation. We have to start (and continue!) to think differently–if people didn’t think differently 100 years ago, we’d all be riding around on genetically modified superhorses in 2018. A little disruption is a good thing; the CLM tool market is great, and it’s a smart buyer’s market. So, let’s be smart about it! Humans are great too–let’s not forget that. Some of my best friends are humans!