Sheila Gormley is senior director, collaboration and content, at Intapp, a provider of cloud-based integrated operations software. Views are the author’s own.
Consider this scenario: The general counsel of a large U.S.-based company suddenly must manage hundreds of contract disputes inherited from an acquired company. She and her operations chief look at their outside counsel panel and narrow their choices to two law firms. Both firms, by the way, are marquee names with proven success records.
But the GC and the ops chief are worried about how to manage the sheer volume of cases, both internally and with their firm. They do have reasonably recent software and computers, but they don’t have any software specifically for tracking these suits. And getting a new case management system in place while confronting the legal issues sounds like a nightmare.
One of the firms considered, however, offers not only to provide counsel for the matters, but also to help the department deploy a new matter management system to track them. As part of its client offerings, the firm has a task force dedicated to improving an in-house department’s technology while simultaneously providing traditional legal counsel. And—this is a big selling point—the firm offers a fixed fee that does not add much to a traditional hourly billing cost for counsel alone.
Which firm would you choose if your department were faced with a similar situation? All things being equal, the GC will choose to go with the firm offering tech services.
In fact, enterprising and tech-savvy law firms are expanding their offerings beyond pure legal counsel. Knowing that many legal departments – even large, accomplished departments – lag in the technology that would both efficiently manage matters and save the department money over the long term, they’ve set up separate operations to help in-house departments accomplish that long-needed digital transformation.
Altruism isn’t the only motivator. These firms are trying to set their offerings apart in a crowded and hypercompetitive market. To do that, they’ve invested heavily in tech-savvy lawyers, consultants, project managers and IT professionals who can analyze a client’s needs, advise and even deploy the much-needed digital tools. In many cases, they work closely together with alternative legal services providers (ALSPs) and tech specialists. And these innovative firms include digital transformation as an integral part of services they render to their clients.
This trend comes on the heels of the in-house legal operations revolution. While a few large, pioneering corporate legal departments have been able to hire internal operations experts to streamline how they work by deploying such cutting-edge technology as artificial intelligence, many departments simply don’t have the internal resources to go it alone. And legal departments, like their colleagues on the business side, are under constant pressure to keep expenses down, and IT departments often don’t view the legal team as needing specialized systems. So, the lawyers get what their business side colleagues get—and no more.
It also takes time to achieve a digital transformation, time that is often a luxury for a legal department that needs to digitize its operations quickly. So, the thinking goes that it’s often better to offload a department’s digital transformation on trusted vendors while the in-house lawyers can concentrate on their core jobs. And in many cases, a law firm’s ability to meet this demand will determine whether it gets the work over a competitor.
What are these firms helping their clients to accomplish? Their work falls into three general baskets:
- Managing matters such as contracts over their life cycle, from intake & triage through to completion. This will often include the implementation of a ‘Legal Front Door’ to interact with the business and include process efficiencies for tracking how work is allocated, tracked and managed.
- Streamlining day-to-day work product providing legal professionals with an effective legal desktop for progressing their allocated matters. This will often be document management & collaboration intensive. At its best, it will include knowledge management for internal use—giving lawyers easy access to relevant cases and examples of what the department has done before. And it often includes collaborative tools not just withing the department but also with outside counsel. In many cases, this would consist of tools that sit atop corporate-supplied IT software and platforms such as Microsoft 365 (Most notably SharePoint, Teams, Power Platform, Power BI), providing easy to understand and utilize access for the department’s lawyers. Furthermore, automation of mundane, repetitive work types can be included allowing the department to utilize valuable legal resource where it’s needed most rather than reviewing endless NDAs for example.
- Supplying reporting tools that provide valuable insights, trends and analytics for general counsel to use to demonstrate to C-suite management how their department has transformed itself digitally into a highly efficient and effective legal operation.
How do legal departments even set out on this digital transformation journey? It’s simple conceptually, but success depends on pinpointing exact needs and identifying help, either from law firms, the firms’ ALSP subsidiaries, or ALSPs themselves.
When looking at firms, ask for advice on Legal Operations Transformation – many have dedicated teams that can help. And, as in all close and confidential business relationships, find a team that truly understands what needs to be accomplished and provides a clear roadmap to achieve that objective.
Don’t be wooed by unrealistic or flashy software packages; a good outside consultant will look at what the department already has at its disposal and will figure out how to leverage it and integrate it, if necessary, with new components. The user experience is key, too, so make sure that any project includes training.
Any transformation also needs an internal champion. General counsel naturally play a pivotal role. But GCs also need to be able to deputize a trusted and tech-adept lawyer or operations professional to work closely with the outside firm. That person must be completely immersed in department processes and culture and be able to communicate those values to the consultants, to arrive at a solution that streamlines and optimizes the department’s work and allows true collaboration with outside counsel.
It may sound daunting. Any cultural change requires planning, funding and often, a little pain at the outset. But with the right outside counsel partners, legal departments large and small can finally accomplish a digital transformation that will help them work easier, smarter, and more efficiently.