How contract automation delivers benefits at National Grid

Is contract automation a shoehorn project, or a no-brainer?

April 9, 2021

Clarilis Administrator


It’s fair to say that many companies do not always see automation as a ‘go-to’ when investing in tech. The need for automation is likely to be highlighted by the legal team first, to address specific challenges they face. The wider business may support this, based on a motivation to get better legal engagement and support. There is a view that automation is not an exclusive legal issue, but instead delivers significant ‘whole of business’ benefits. The ROI of automation can be widespread, with empowerment and efficiency as a natural bi-product, if done well.

We asked Zoe Morrissey, Legal Business Partner at National Grid, to share her experience of automation which started in 2015, with the Clarilis intelligent drafting solution.

What were the drivers?

Zoe explained how she wanted to empower the wider business to do more themselves and not have to keep coming back to time-constrained lawyers. Not only would this reduce the legal team being seen as a bottle-neck but it would also enable the lawyers to spend more time on more value-add, strategic activities.  

We were spending hours on some contracts removing square brackets just to get them into a good position to share with a counterparty and start negotiations. We were also struggling with consistency as understandably, individuals would often go back to the last similar contract they did rather than necessarily go back to a precedent, presuming there is one.” 

It’s not always love at first sight

In spite of the possibility of removing pain points such as these, Zoe recalled some wariness in her legal team when it came to accepting automation as a part of BAU. She suggests team leaders have a role to play when it comes to supporting their teams in being open-minded as to how automation could support them and the business. There remains for some a fear that automation may impact on their roles. Zoe feels quite the opposite:

“I asked the team if they considered taking out 300 square brackets was a good use of their time. Of course, they didn’t, but prior to automation was just part of the job. I also asked them to consider what you could achieve by taking out the noise - give yourself more thinking time and do more of what you enjoy doing and where we can really add value to the business” 

Don’t boil the ocean, be selective

“Find a pinch point and use it as a test ground,” Zoe advises. “Make sure you choose a contract that is right for automation and you will quickly realise the benefits and can grow and build from there.

This approach can self-perpetuate automation adoption as the wider business realises quick wins and looks for further opportunities. 

How much hassle will this be?

Automation is not something many lawyers know how to do. It is a specialist skill,” Zoe explains “Some solutions we considered would provide the technology and ‘automate’ our contracts but we would then be left having to test and check all the numerous possibilities and outcomes. We just don’t have the time or resource for that.”

That being said, Zoe cautioned that a full service automation company doesn’t mean that you won’t have any work to do, especially if precedents need tidying up. You need to accept that your team are going to have to spend some time upfront creating good precedents. 

Ask about support,” she advised. “Automation that is packaged up and given to you in this context does not come without its challenges. However, having ongoing support to design, test and build as part of the package is hugely helpful.”

Pylon Assessment Maintenance

Great input results in great output!

We really value the PSL-led managed service that Clarilis offer. Their PSLs effectively serve to bridge the gap between tech and law on our behalf. They bring best-practice experience to constructively challenge the precedent, which ensures the automation delivers the greatest benefits. This comes at no extra cost, so lawyers are less daunted by the number of questions they may wish to ask and feel comfortable picking up the phone at any time. It’s an incentive to engage which is great for testing, adoption and maintenance.”

What you get out of automation is directly related to the quality of the content you put forward. After that, of course, it’s not just about launch, it’s about testing, updating and maintenance. 

Test and then test again

The value placed in testing should not be underestimated. Consider a contract with hundreds of variations – for many lawyers it is not going to be an attractive concept to test that yourself or try to fit it around your day job.

“Talk to the PSLs!” urged Zoe. “They will do a large amount of the testing for you allowing you to do more dip check style exercises to assure yourself that the contracts, when automated, are doing what you want them to do. Having someone to talk to adds huge value. It also speeds things up! The ability to hit deadlines and overall turnaround times for answers to questions have been impressive -  this is so important when building trust and buy-in from the business for both testing and adoption.

Don’t take risks

Automation enables consistency when either the lawyers or the business are sending out the first cut of a contract. It is also a way to ensure contracts can quickly reach customers to enable either a contract to be put in place or negotiations to start. The business sees the value of automation and the benefits it can bring to the relationships with their customers.”  

What about ROI?

Feedback has been very positive. Cost is not always the key driver for us but when we have carried out a cost/benefit analysis we have found that the benefits outweigh the cost of the licence. A commercial lead in the business told me how it used to take three hours to get a commercial contract into a good starting position. Following automation it took less than 10 minutes meaning that the business can spend more time on the real value-add activities, such as making sure the services are right, and less time on administration of contracts.”


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