If he were to build his team again, as the head of a four-lawyer in-house litigation department at a nationwide real estate brokerage company, he would hire more legal support staff earlier on in the process, Terence Leong, senior litigation counsel at Compass said in an Inside Voices webcast.
Because in-house legal teams are a cost center rather than a revenue generator, it’s always a balancing act to justify adding support staff but it makes little sense for experienced litigators to be spending time on cataloging subpoenas, collecting documents and other tasks good support staff can do, Leong said.
"The question is, where do you have expertise?" he said.
Leong’s team recently hired a legal operations specialist to help free up his and the other lawyers’ time and also reduce their reliance on outside advisors for things like purchasing software.
"We were not necessarily that sophisticated in navigating the space in terms of what legal products we wanted to use," he said. "What's the value of x product vs. y product? Yes, you can hire a consultant to go through all the different options. You can try to roll it yourself by doing a request for proposal (RFP), Googling or asking around, but having someone who has the expertise frees you up to do the job the company hired you to do."
His team has also created a position to manage the 5-7 subpoenas, and sometimes more, the team gets each week.
"There’s just a constant request for email, files for transactions that happened," he said. "It was one thing that was just sucking up a lot of time."
The new subpoena manager role they opened up is for a legal professional who will operationalize that process.
"If an attorney with 10 years of experience is [handling] subpoenas, that’s probably not a good use of time because they could probably be adding a lot more value somewhere else," he said.
Having the support staff isn’t just about freeing up his time to do research on cases he’s going to argue, it’s to free up his time to better manage the outside counsels he hires. This is something he’s better positioned to do than an operations manager, because he’s worked at law firms and knows how they operate from the inside.
"Legal services, especially at the high end, is a very sophisticated market that, unless you have someone who has been on the other side of it, may not know all the practices that a large law firm is going to do," he said. "Do we need to be paying for their associates to boil the ocean to figure out something? Do we need to pay to have three partners on a matter when one partner and a strong senior associate are the right thing to do? Unless you’ve been in the trenches and have seen the gamut of how matters can be staffed, you may not know where you can push and what levers you can pull and still get the product you want."
Putting in place a dedicated legal services invoicing system has been a big help, he said, because it helps him see if an outside firm is billing for a service that’s outside the scope of their arrangement.
"Before we were doing all of our invoicing through the company’s regular invoicing platform, which was very good for many things, especially from a procurement perspective, but not necessarily good for dealing with legal bills," he said. "Sometimes they will bill things that are outside of the scope of your outside counsel billing guidance. These are things that need to be discussed, so having a system like that, which we have on-boarded, allows you to drill further down into where you’re spending your money."
The system also creates a rich data trove that the in-house counsel team can mine to get a better handle on where their costs are going.
"Which law firms are you spending the most on?" he said. "What types of matters are you spending more on?"
Even with the new data, though, more work needs to be done to organize the billing system in a way that makes it useful, because having the data by itself is not enough.
"It’s always a work in progress," he said. "Having the data is one thing, but making it actionable is another. That’s what we’re working on right now."