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An Interview with Sarah Airey, Head of HR at Biffa

This type of approach is one that is echoed by Sarah Airey, Head of HR at Biffa, who led the automation of their offer letters and contracts with TLT and Clarilis.

She notes that gaining support from the wider business and other in-house teams was relatively straightforward as demonstration of the benefits in time-saving and efficiency were clear to all.

“When we demonstrated how quickly you could produce an accurate offer letter and contract, we had little to do to sell the concept to the HR administration team and the Group HR Director.”

The process of review and ensuring all documents and processes were in place before automation was key to its success at Biffa and resulted in a lot of welcome simplification of contracts and templates. The result is a more efficient, time-saving process that allows the HR team to now concentrate on their value-add and strategic activities for the business.

Automation is a specialist skill – leave it to the experts “Automation is not something many lawyers know how to do. It is a specialist skill,” Sarah 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, Sarah 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 advises. “Automation that is packaged up and given to you in this context does not come without its challenges. However, having access to ongoing support to design, test and build as part of the package is hugely helpful.”

Great input results in great output!

What you get out of automation is directly related to the quality of the content you put forward.

Sarah says, “We really value the PSL-led managed service that Clarilis offers. Their PSLs effectively serve to bridge the gap between tech and law on our behalf. They do this by bringing 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.”

For Biffa, the process resulted in a lot of welcome simplification too. “We reviewed everything,” Sarah explains. “You have to in order to automate, and that was a huge benefit. TLT helped us condense the number of clauses and reduce some of the complexity around the contracts. But from our perspective, the most valuable benefit is about allowing us the time to spend on value-add activities, rather than any cost savings.”

Building trust from the business – 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!” urges Sarah. “They will do a large amount of the testing for you, allowing you to do more dip check style exercises and be assured 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.”

Adding value to the business “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”