Last week, Priori and LawGeex teamed up for a breakfast panel event, Scaling Legal: Strategies for Efficiency, to help lawyers at fast-growing legal departments begin to implement legal operations best practices into their departments. An Trotter from Hearst, Patty Driscoll from WeWork and Lucy Bassli from LawGeex (formerly at Microsoft), all three leaders in the legal operations field, offered in-house counsel at small and medium legal departments actionable advice about how to use technology, metrics and outsourcing to accomplish more with fewer resources.
Here are the top takeaways:
1. When beginning to implement legal operations best practices start with your biggest pain point.
Whether you’re a legal ops professional who is just starting at a new company or a lawyer who is taking the initiative to make your in-house team more efficient, finding the right place to start can be a daunting task. Lucy, who pointed out that there is no magical transformation into business-people for lawyers who move in-house from a firm, suggested that everyone just start with their biggest pain point. Another strategy is addressing the lowest-hanging fruit, which will give you an easy win and gain you trust in the department as problem-solver.
Patty shared her personal example of implementing an e-signature tool within the first few months at one of her previous roles. It was simple, inexpensive and solved many problems for the department. That win established her credibility and fostered good will, which in turn enabled her to tackle more complex problems.
2. Talk to all necessary team-members and create a roadmap of how you will address all the pain points.
According to An, the three steps for taking on new efficiency projects within your legal department are “observation, conversation and persistence.” While everyone on your team may have a different idea of where to start, you may only be able to solve one problem at a time. By taking the time to listen to all parties involved and set out a plan for implementing changes, you’ll be able to set realistic and transparent expectations to make clear that you will eventually be able to help everyone.
Patty also suggested to those who are bringing on a legal ops person to allow them the time to do the research and understand the processes so they can can come up with a well-conceived plan before implementing changes. Further, communication needs to be a constant priority for those implementing legal operations practices. An said, “When you think you’re over-communicating, that’s just when you’re getting enough out there.
3. Utilize your existing technology tools to their fullest extent.
All of the panelists strongly advised against simply implementing “shiny new tools,” but rather suggested looking at the tools you already have and seeing if they are being used to their fullest extent. As An said, “People usually are dissatisfied with their tools, but really it is the way the tool is being used. You don’t want to throw out something that would be perfect if it were built properly just to go after some shiny new thing.”
First, this reduces the switching cost associated with implementing an unnecessary tech tool. Second, getting buy-in from the rest of your in-house team will be easier if you are suggesting changes with systems or softwares that they are already familiar with. According to Lucy, “There is this tech-phobia and tech-aversion among lawyers. Start by making small tweaks within what they already have.”
4. Data is the key to implementing legal operations.
As you work on getting buy-in for taking the time and resources to implement legal operations best practices from the rest of the department or the business at large, data is crucial in helping you make your case. Number of contracts reviewed by each lawyer, number of contracts requested by each business-person or team, amount of time it takes to turn around a contract and outside counsel spend per firm, practice area and month are relatively straightforward data-points that most in-house teams already have access to without implementing a new software. Deriving actionable insights from pre-existing data can increase the department’s appetite for more data. Lucy said, “Data is like a gateway drug to operations. Just a little bit of data and attorneys are like, ’How many? How much? How often? What type?’”
As an example of point three, many existing tools can provide basic data points that are fundamental to understanding the operations of a legal department. Spend, for instance, can be an easy place to start because its data that most departments have in some form. An suggests that you don’t need a data management tool until you start holding any data other than budget in a spreadsheet.
5. Bring in a legal ops person when lawyers are spending more than 20%-40% of their time doing non-legal work.
More start-ups and small companies are bringing in legal ops professionals earlier in the department’s growth. If your legal department is growing, it can be challenging to determine whether the next full-time hire should be a legal operations person or another attorney.
According to An, lawyers at a startup who are spending less than 60% of their time doing legal work should consider bringing in a legal operations position as their next hire so they can spend their time doing more sophisticated legal work. At a large company, the lawyers should be spending even more time doing legal work, around 80%. Any less, and they should advocate for a full-time legal operations person.
6. When selecting a technology tool, know exactly what the tool does, how it works and how it fits into your business processes.
While it may be tempting to go to a conference, find a product that sounds good based on the sales pitch and buy it, you should first understand exactly how it will fit in with the way your department does things. An said, “Start with mapping your business processes, understanding how it will all work and putting together a pretty detailed RFP where you ask the vendor to walk you through those exact steps.”
Further, you should see every functionality that will be crucial for your department to ensure that it is as simple as the vendor claims. As Patty said, “Ask, ‘Can you do this?’ And, ‘Show me.’ Every. Time.” An cited a time that she wanted to know if two billing systems had approval redirects for out of office lawyers. While both said “yes,” one tool allowed users to log in and set their own dates and indicate who would approve in their absence but the other required users to contact the administrator by phone for them to redirect the system which could only be done during non-business hours to allow the tool to keep running. To know if a functionality will truly work for you, make sure you walk through the step-by-step process and understand how it will work in real time.
7. Find legal technology solutions that will work long-term.
With innovation becoming the norm, the definition of “short-term” and “long-term” have changed significantly in the past ten years. In the context of legal technology onboarding, Lucy described short-term as 6-8 months and long-term as 3 years, meaning that any tool that you choose should be able to easily onboard in the short-term and able to last through the long-term.
To ensure this, lawyers should pay attention to all aspects of the tool they are thinking of bringing on, from the ability to easily configure the tool to your department’s needs to the responsiveness of the customer care (Lucy suggests 48-72 hours as a standard), to see if this is a company that you are prepared to work with for the long-term.
Thanks to all the panelists for their thoughts and to LawGeex for being such great partners. Priori is the legal marketplace changing the way in-house teams work with outside counsel. To learn more, click here.