I’ve been discussing structured dialogue between law departments and law firms focused on continuous improvement in the use of process and technology to deliver legal services. A point I have yet to make, however, is the importance of nontraditional stakeholders to the success of such initiatives.
By nontraditional stakeholders, I mean anyone other than the law department’s managing counsel and the law firm’s relationship partner. Typically, those two roles are filled by subject-matter experts. This is as it should be. But their focused expertise and elevated positions often remove them from the more routine, laborious efforts that are most amenable to process improvement and innovation. There is no reason to automatically assume that they are multi-talented (though many are) and their expertise extends beyond their domain. Allied professionals are vital to proper client representation.
Who should talk to whom depends on the situation. Because of my personal background, my instinctive response includes the head of law department operations talking to the law firm CIO, and the head of legal sourcing talking to the law firm pricing director. Additional pairings might include frontline lawyers, paralegals, paratechnicals, project managers, or IT staff from the respective parties. For example, in the exemplar findings I posted, I recommend that the project managers from the client and law firm discuss ways to harmonize the respective workflows and better share KPI’s.
But it is important to get beyond the notion that the law firm and law department should mirror each other and dialogue must occur between direct peers. BigLaw may service lean law departments, and mammoth law departments may rely on boutique law firms. The fundamental question are, “What are the objectives?” and “Who are the subject-matter experts with respect to the objectives?”
For example, an in-house counsel may be concerned with the high percentage of a firm’s bills allocated to research costs. While the in-house counsel recognizes that the case types the firm handles demand some research (simply prohibiting research costs is not a viable option), her impressionistic sense is that the associates spend far too much time reinventing the wheel. Tired of cutting information-poor invoices by arbitrary amounts, she initiates a Service Delivery Review.
The SDR demonstrates to her that (a) the bespoke research her cases require is more substantial than she believed, but, still, (b) the practice group handling her work does not take advantage of the firm’s knowledge management offerings, and (c) the associates staffed on her matters do not rely on the firm’s research services because her predecessor refused to pay for them. The in-house counsel will reverse the policy on paying for research services and look at research-related time entries with a less jaundiced eye if the firm demonstrates progress on reducing research costs. Besides the relationship partner and her associates, nontraditional stakeholders from the law firm who may participate in the conversation include:
- Library & Research Services to discuss how research specialist can be integrated into the workflow.
- Knowledge Management to discuss the tools and methodologies available to reduce repeat investigations of the same issue.
- Project Management to discuss how the initiative to reduce research costs can be tracked and measured.
- Pricing to discuss alternative ways to budget for research and share the risks of wheel reinvention and goldplating.
- Workflow to discuss how to ensure that the right people are doing the right work.
- Client Development to understand what the client is asking of the firm, to act as the client’s internal advocate, and to ensure the initiative is proceeding according to the client’s expectations.
The ultimate objective in the above scenario is to improve client satisfaction by generating higher quality research in less time and at lower cost. The firm would be rewarded with higher realizations/profit and goodwill, which means a better working relationship and, possibly, additional work in the future.