Many companies talk about going paperless, making the change sound as easy as clicking a button. But Char Dalton knows better. For example, Dalton had a look at five providers before choosing the cloud-based system she has now. If going paperless could be summarized in one concept, Dalton says, it would be due diligence. As the vice president and general counsel at SEKO Logistics, she’s spent the better part of two years researching, implementing, and maintaining a cloud-based system for the legal department—much of which has been in preparation for a majority, private equity sale.
With this sale looming, SEKO knew that going paperless would be a critical part of preparation. So when Dalton pitched the change to the executive team, they knew they had the right person.
Transitioning any team into a paperless system is daunting, but it was especially so for Dalton, as she had only been with SEKO a few months by the time she made the pitch. In the year before the sale, Dalton made sure that everything was in order—preparing her team and gathering all of the documents, agreements, and legal and business information together. Her ultimate goal? Creating a data retrieval and document management system that was secure, more efficient, cost-effective, and in one central area.
Completing this project has been one of her biggest accomplishments, and the feedback she received was even better. However, the project was by no means easy: The retrieval process took several months, and she needed everyone’s full support. With buy-in from her CEO, she was able to get the resources for the project. While she didn’t outsource her research, the results of the arduous and time-consuming implementation has paid off in spades.
By going paperless, SEKO has managed to find redundancies and reduce them. Going paperless has also significantly quickened its legal processes. If Dalton gets a request for an amendment to an agreement, she no longer has to wait two hours before she starts a draft, like she did before the transition.
“We’re moving in a very fast environment, and our business team expects us to be very quick to respond.”
It’s that efficiency that’s making people increase their ownership of retrieval and review. The effort to go paperless has eliminated that extra step of e-mailing someone on the legal team, and that has affected the company as a whole. SEKO has also saved on outside counsel by increasing its efficiency, as it has increased internal communication.
All of these results aren’t easy for any legal department, no matter the size.
“Due diligence is a beast,” Dalton says. “You’re always striving to be ten steps ahead of the game. This is a major undertaking that affects everybody’s lives. It affects how the deal turns out.”
Thanks to these efforts, SEKO can say it has all of the corporate books and records organized, which gives it the ability to share that information with outside parties in a secure fashion. Although information-sharing may seem simple now, Dalton describes the implementation stage as an arduous and time-consuming period, one in which she had to oversee a lot of resources and temp attorneys to assist her for a better part of the year. It also required contracts and different offices and stations with full support from everyone for several months.
Her biggest challenge through all of this was consistency in the naming conventions among her team. She found that it became problematic if a person went into the system to edit a case and close it out without marking it edited in the folder name. The lack of labeling can become evident when discussing these folders with colleagues. Dalton has ensured that her team knows that before closing the folder out, all the subfolders should have the caption “CLOSE” before the case heading. That way, when Dalton logs in, she immediately knows where something is within its life cycle. She’s developed a filing system that’s consistent and has limited the number of people who have full access. According to Dalton, it’s all about name, file, and categorization.
Another challenge is security. Even before she started on the project, Dalton knew that there will always be a risk of hacking and a threat to their cybersecurity. She eventually chose a system that catered to many law firms and legal departments. She says it all goes back to due diligence and conducting research. She reviewed the hosting infrastructure and firewalls, and was involved in every aspect of the process—which included what the company could do if, in the long term, it decided to terminate the service.
“I had to ask, ‘What would happen to the integrity and security of my documents in the cloud then?’” she explains. “‘How is the data going to be returned to me and in what way?’” She went through multiple tests, including penetration-testing to ensure that she could sleep at night, comfortable with the chosen tool.
Yet not all threats to SEKO’s cybersecurity are external—internal security is also front-of-mind. The company realizes that there’s always a risk when more than one person has full access to the system. Employees could potentially grant access to a folder that was confidential to someone who had no business looking at it. To manage that, only Dalton and one other colleague have full access.
Dalton says the biggest investment for a project like this is resources. She needed help, because maintaining this as an ongoing measure is much different than going back through years of company data. So she set her sights on selecting a tool that was cost-effective for them. “It was important to me, but not the most important thing,” says Dalton. Once she had the tool, she had to get the support staff for it, and make sure that she was parsing out her time so she was still able to perform her job while managing this massive project. For her, then, the biggest investment for SEKO was resources in the form of people.
Even if everyone doesn’t have full access, Dalton wants to ensure that the system doesn’t collapse with the departure of a key team member. Many departments see the benefit of a paperless system. She’s seen improved tracking and self-policing for deadlines. If a member were to leave, SEKO’s legal team could pick up the work without missing a beat. So, to continue this line of success, Dalton is working on ongoing managing and training of users in different business teams. Now, it’s all about maintaining the system.
HOW GOING PAPERLESS IMPROVED SEKO PROCESSES:
- Faster retrieval of documentation and information
- Increased productivity and turnaround time
- Automatically generated reminders of key terms that have led to cost savings
- Permits and state certifications and registrations are in the system, leading to the elimination of late-penalty fines and missed deadlines
The next initiative is to roll out the project on a more global scale, starting with the United Kingdom office. In the future, Dalton would like to harness technology to have a more visible tracking device for contracts in a queue. If a Minneapolis office submits something for her to review, for example, she wants that internal client to be able to see that there are seventeen other documents ahead of them. She wants to put metrics around the turnaround review time with visibility of what else is in the pipeline, while still protecting client confidentiality.
She’d also like to see global expansion of the document management system in the next three to five years.
“I believe that it’s worth the work, investment, time, and pain that it takes to go into it because it does make us more efficient and secure in a lot of ways,” Dalton says. “A file cabinet could be lost, or you could have a natural disaster that wipes them out, so these initiatives linked to tech are imperative.”
Lastly, she’d like to introduce a matrix or key performance indicator for the legal department as they serve their internal clients—whether that’s a notification of a receipt of request for contract review or a “please rate us” feature.
Outside of this system, SEKO has leveraged technology within the legal department on a macro level for brand protection. Dalton has implemented policing mechanisms by setting up reminders of when various domain names, trademarks, or registrations will expire. Instead of leaving these to an IT team or external consultant to manage, the legal department has gotten more involved. Parties involved will get an automatic reminder when it’s time to apply for renewal, and that helps with reinforcement and proactive registration of brand protection and intellectual property.
In the end, technology and analytics is what will propel SEKO Logistics in moving forward with increased productivity and new initiatives. By leveraging today’s technology, Dalton has created an efficient, organized, and better legal department for SEKO.