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Technology and Innovation in the Legal Department

A conversation with Mario Menéndez, General Counsel of the Legal Department

What is the role of the Legal Department for Ferrovial Construction?

First and foremost, the Legal Department is a profit center. Just last year, we recovered over 40 million euros in claims just in Spain. In other markets, like North America, we actively and aggressively pursue recovery rights whenever possible. These include claims against clients, subcontractors and other providers under our contracts as well as third parties for damage to our equipment or work product.

Profits are made not just via the recovery of money damages, which are very good, but through risk assessment and mitigation. From the pursuit of a project, through award, execution and completion, we provide the knowledge, expertise and critical insight to ensure that risks are mitigated and managed so that costs and losses are identified and then eliminated or reduced to the extent possible.

In summary, the Legal Department is a profit center that actively manages and mitigates risk. The more that our project teams and other departments engage us from the beginning, the more profitable we are as a company.

 “From the pursuit of a project, through award, execution and completion, we provide the knowledge, expertise and critical insight to ensure that risks are mitigated and managed so that costs and losses are identified and then eliminated or reduced to the extent possible.”

How are you using technology to transform the Legal Department?

They say that transformation of the law is evolutionary not revolutionary. That is mostly true. In common law, most lawyers still study the Hadley v. Baxendale case from 1854 to understand certain core legal principles.

That said, it is clear that Legal Departments are changing very rapidly. As lawyers, we’ve gone from spending our time in libraries reading case law to immediate searches of vast databases that provide instant results.

Our contracts have become increasingly complex and voluminous. The question is where the highest and best use of a lawyer’s time should be spent. As a Legal Department, we’ve focused on three corporate tools that have increased our efficiency exponentially:

First, electronic signatures. Merely by promoting the use of AdobeSign for the execution of contracts, purchase orders, employment contracts, resolutions and other corporate documents, we’ve reduced the time it takes to negotiate and sign documents. The time it takes to execute a typical subcontract has been reduced from several weeks to just a few days in many instances

 

Second, Advanced eDiscovery  is a tool that is revolutionizing the way we manage discovery and litigation. To provide a little context, in the United States and other common law countries, when you’re involved in litigation, other parties are entitled to ask you to provide all non-privileged information that is relevant to the case. As you can imagine, in a digital environment where we generate hundreds of emails, chats and other documents on a daily basis, sifting through all of this information can be extremely time consuming. 

Advanced eDiscovery allows us to instantly search all of that information from our servers, collect it and search through it to produce only what is relevant and responsive. We’ve gone from a process that took hundreds upon hundreds of hours, to, in many cases, just a few.  This is a massive step and one that we’ve developed with the help of other departments not just for the Ferrovial Construction Legal Department but for the entire Ferrovial Group.

“Our contracts have become increasingly complex and voluminous. The question is where the highest and best use of a lawyer’s time should be spent. We’re spending time focused on tools that have increased our focus and efficiency exponentially.”

Third, it’s clear that with the tools being developed in the market, the highest and best use of a lawyer’s time may not always be in reading hundreds of pages of contract documents. In our newest US project, NEX in San Antonio, we’re doing a trial run on a product called Document Crunch which allows us to scan client contracts to identify traditionally risky provisions such as liability caps, liquidated damages, payment clauses, and termination. The use of this tool is not a substitute for careful reading of contracts to ensure that all potential risks are identified, but the tool does allow us to make what are large complex contracts more accessible to our commercial teams.

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The use of digital tools also creates an environment for increased risks. As the obligation to produce emails, chats and other seemingly private conversations increases, we as an organization must be cognizant on the use of corporate tools and fully aware that an innocent message to a coworker on a project site may not be read in the proper context in the cold harsh light of a judge’s chambers. We must understand that the electronic communications we generate using corporate tools will one day be used in litigation.

“As an organization must be cognizant on the use of corporate tools and fully aware that an innocent message to a coworker on a project site may not be read in the proper context in the cold harsh light of a judge’s chambers. We must understand that the electronic communications we generate using corporate tools may one day be used in litigation.”

How do you expect the Legal Department to evolve in the future?

W    e’re more integrated today than we’ve ever been. Just ten years ago, it was mostly the case that what happened in Texas, pretty much stayed there. Today, we’re able to leverage the strength of a vast legal department that practices law across multiple continents and jurisdictions. If we’re negotiating a subcontract with the same provider in two different countries, our lawyers will know. We have really taken advantage of SharePoint and have developed a database of work product that is available to each of our lawyers no matter where they practice. We’ve also really optimized Teams such that we’re communicating better than ever before. The lawyers in one country have ready access to the lawyers in every other country within the organization. And most importantly, we’re really taking advantage.

Which skills are essential for future lawyers?

T he skills a lawyer needs to succeed today haven’t entirely changed. You still need to have excellent communication skills. A deep knowledge of your client and strong business acumen remain critically important. You must be highly accurate and pay close attention to details. Lawyers cannot afford to make mistakes. I suppose the skill that has evolved that wasn’t as essential 20 years ago, and which is now a core skill is digital literacy. A lawyer must be able to use technological tools to improve workplace efficiencies. It means our lawyers must stay ahead of the rapid development of technology and capable of using a broad range of digital tools to communicate, collaborate, prepare documents and compile information.

“Our lawyers must stay ahead of the rapid development of technology and capable of using a broad range of digital tools to communicate, collaborate, prepare documents and compile information.”

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