Gimmie a K! (An Exhibit K on Teams, that is)

As a top 100 ENR construction company with over nine offices across the east coast, the construction company I work for processes thousands of subcontracts every year. In an effort to streamline the process years ago, the Legal Department implemented the use of a subcontract rider, or the Exhibit K. That is, edits to our contract’s Terms and Conditions, or Exhibit A of the subcontract, are handled in the Exhibit K. The subcontractors are meant to use the same Exhibits A and K on every project within the year and, therefore, only modify the remaining exhibits (Exhibits B – J) on a per-project basis. Though keeping Exhibits A and K consistent throughout the year helps to reduce some legal time and expenses, the process of reviewing them and indoctrinating new subcontractors is still an extremely time-consuming task — in fact, the previous process involved approximately seven versions of the same Exhibit K, over ten emails, multiple filing systems, and zero transparency — but, with the optimized use of Teams and the Tasks app, I’ve help my team reduce legal spend on this important task and streamline the process.

Previous Exhibit K Process

II. Background on Microsoft Teams “Tasks” Application

At the start of the COVID pandemic, the company made the strategic decision to purchase a license for Microsoft Teams. While the Legal Department and the Subcontract Administration Department had both been utilizing Microsoft Teams for videoconferencing and general chats, neither department had utilized the platform’s full functionality, including the “Tasks” application.

The “Tasks” application functions like a virtual cork board, with sticky notes that a designated “Team” has access to. “Team” members (like those in the Legal and Subcontract Administration Departments) can create a “Task” (like “Negotiate Exhibit K with ABC Construction”) and set certain parameters. Those parameters can include assignee, deadline, and priority. For example, if you wanted me to Negotiated an Exhibit K with ABC Construction, you would create that “Task” and tag it with my name, the deadline, and the priority.

Screenshot of “Tasks” application

III. Benefits of the Microsoft Teams “Tasks” Applied to the Exhibit K Workflow

With Microsoft Teams, employees are provided with an easy-to-use and all-in-one-place platform that boosts collaboration and efficiency, thereby improving productivity, reducing costs, and boosting cultural engagement amongst employees. The “Tasks” application in Microsoft Teams neatly packages all these perks of the platform itself into a one-stop-shop for the Exhibit K process. Integrating the “Tasks” application on Microsoft Teams, improved efficiency of our Exhibit K process and business communication by:

(A) cutting the Exhibit K document versions from seven to one

Instead of various members of this work flow saving their own versions of this document, in their own various filing systems (as discussed below), the “Tasks” application will allow us to keep one live version in an easy-to-find location. This in and of itself saves time by reducing the effort it takes to save the file, attach it to an email, write out the email, and relocate your earlier version when an updated version of the Exhibit K is emailed your way. The version history feature in Microsoft Teams allows users to track the changes made on the document and keeps it “live” so that everyone could, if desired, edit at the same time. We have already started moving in this collaboration-focused document approach with SharePoint and this simply amplifies the capabilities by placing the file on the virtual corkboard.

(B) cutting the number of related emails from ten to one,

Each version would come along with a separate email, plus emails requesting modifications, executing or negotiating such modifications, and following-up to check the status or the whereabouts of the Exhibit K. With the “Tasks” application, there is only one email: the one from our external subcontractor requesting a new or updated Exhibit K. Comment features in the “Tasks” application, as well as visible status-check-identifiers, do away with all of the various emails that come along with the Exhibit K process.

(C) reducing the number of filing systems to one

As discussed in part (A) above, with various versions of the Exhibit K comes various file-saving mechanisms. It is unclearly where some team members are currently saving their version of the Exhibit K, but no such problem exists with the implementation of the “Tasks” application. In “Tasks,” all Exhibit K’s and accompanying contract documents are saved in one shared folder.

New Exhibit K Process

(D) creating full transparency of the process amongst the Legal Department, Subcontract Administration Department, and the project teams

As discussed in part (B) above, various emails are a result of a lack of transparency. Team members are rightfully curious about the whereabouts of the document and some are unclear as to how they should prioritize one Exhibit K over another. With the “Tasks” application, the team member creating the task can (i) assign it to the appropriate team member, (ii) set a clear deadline, and (iii) set clear priorities of the “Task.” In turn, the assigned team member can share her status on that particular Exhibit K (thereby rendering follow-up or check-in emails moot) and incidentally sharing her workload with the rest of the team (so that everyone knows how much a team member has on her plate, which can help with scheduling, etc.).

Possible Parameters to set in “Tasks” so as to Create Full Transparency

IV. Topping Teams

Now I’m faced with the task of out-doing this Teams initiative and using digital advances to more efficiently run the Legal Department. I think the key lives in what the Tasks app is based on: the functionality that comes with collaboration-focused platforms, like Microsoft SharePoint (which allows for live document sharing and other cloud storage options). Microsoft Teams works hand-in-hand with Microsoft SharePoint, and takes it to another level.

The problem is, as mentioned in my last post, we’re also dealing with different generations that welcome these collaboration-focused platforms. The challenge will be striking the balance between efficiency and practicality. All thoughts are welcome.

8 comments

  1. Love to see the power of cloud come through;! One huge benefit you missed though is realizing the space save on the legacy on-premise infrastructure. You mentioned the cost save for not having to attach a document to an email every time there is a change made. That is a great benefit, especially when you can collaborate in real time, but you also save a lot of space on your network by not saving the same document multiple times and sending it across your network via email.

    I’ll be interested to hear how you like sharepoint…in my experience, sharepoint is not as user-friendly as people think it will be, although I have not used it in sometime.

    You also mentioned generational adoption of technology…is the legal sector a bit slower to adopt digital transformation? When I think of lawyers and the legal sector I think stacks of paper, no computers, and lots of single stream operations.

    1. Oh, and clever title given your extra-curricular undergrad activities at BC.

      1. Lol! You can take the girl off the squad, but you can never….

    2. Thanks, Brett! You’re right – I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on what the quantifiable benefit of this cloud storage you mention. I’m all ears!

      Sharepoint is alright. The way our IT department has it set up is that it doesn’t really feel like Sharepoint. However, I, too, have found the more typical Sharepoint features (literally sharing the live doc, which you can do from Teams), to be a little less user-friendly than I’d anticipate. I have the impression that Sharepoint is something you can work at to make it work for you.

      As for generational adoption of technology in the legal sector, I think the answer is – ready for it? – it depends. Paper has been cut back, everybody uses computers (although, some old school partners still have their secretaries type for them…), but I’d say operations (single stream, as you mention) is definitely an area for improvement – hence this post!! So, in short, I’d say digital transformation has been adopted, but not to its full extent.

  2. Hello Lexie,
    My company had started 2020 lightly using the Planner application that Microsoft offers, which allows people to organize the Teams Tasks into swim lanes of work, but when we were sent home mid-March I found that we were leaning more and more on this function. I also even created my own Planner to create and organized my traditional paper ‘to-do’ list into Tasks with subsequent ‘Checklist’ items. Although, I have found Tasks helpful for individual items that can be assigned to one person, how do you handle if there are multiple people assigned to do work on a contract at one time?

    1. Hi! I love that your team used Teams Tasks as well – and your swim lanes analogy. We also only use the Tasks app for individual items that can be assigned to one more than one person. I think the way to handle if there are multiple people assigned to do work on a contract at the same time is by using the comments feature in the document — you can “assign” someone to a particular comment within the document. Again, however, we use it one at a time because the workflow we set up only is like an assembly line in that someone has to complete some item on the contract before passing it along/tagging the next person. Curious to hear what else your company has been up to in terms of digital transformation amidst COVID!

  3. Hey Lexie,

    Great post! I found it very informative for someone like myself is still getting used to Teams. My company recently made the switch from Skype to Teams for our internal communication tool. The more I get used to it the more I like the advanced capabilities it can bring. We run into the some of the same problems you mentioned in your post like getting bogged down by a constant barrage of emails and then the uncertainties of what document to edit. Teams has allowed groups in my company to collaborate more efficiently on RFP responses which has been a major plus. No more email with 35 responses. A quick note in the Teams app from the team lead gets everything in motion!

  4. Good on ya for adding value by tackling a redundant and tangled workflow head on. An observation I had over the summer was that bankers often had to wait longer than they would like for legal teams to make turns on deal documents. Obviously, legal professionals are essential for maintaining the integrity of multi-million dollar deals, but for senior bankers in particular time is money…BIG money. Therefore, reading about your efforts to maximize the efficiency and velocity of your team’s workflow was motivating. I have no doubt that this mindset will set you apart from your peers and competitors.

    Have you come across other software solutions outside of the Microsoft ecosystem?

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