LexisNexis CounselLink: Reducing Operational Pain Points

Tuesday, May 31, 2011 - 01:00

The Editor interviews Edward Best , Director of Product Management, LexisNexis.

Editor: Please tell us about your professional background and your role on the CounselLink team at LexisNexis?

Best: I've worked at LexisNexis for over nine years, principally in the product planning and the product management field. I'm currently the director of product management at LexisNexis. I work with product users, customers and the sales force to develop the roadmap for CounselLink and the next features we're going to include in the product. Before LexisNexis, I worked for 20 years in the technology industry, starting with archaic technology like PC computers and using DOS.

Broadly speaking, my current role on the CounselLink team is in product planning. I lead the product management team, which conducts market and user research around the needs of corporate counsel. For almost ten years, we've focused mainly on the e-billing function. Now, we're branching out into matter management and legal holds - increasingly critical as e-discovery issues take hold. My team is charged with finding those unmet needs and then developing the features to meet those needs in a dynamic environment.

Editor: What are the most common concerns expressed by corporate legal departments regarding their operational "pain points" and information management challenges?

Best: With respect to matter management, corporate legal departments increasingly are focused on identifying and mitigating aggregated risk associated with portfolios of matters. General counsel need a tool to work efficiently, stay on top of matters and communicate effectively, both internally and with outside counsel. Legal departments need to manage information and maximize intellectual, financial and operational resources, and CounselLink for Outlook provides tools that are user-friendly.

With these tools, attorneys can take the extra steps needed to remove information from their computer desktops and deposit documents into a central location. The repository offers a matter-centric view that is accessible by all attorneys. Further, general counsel can use CounselLink to generate month-end reports and gather statistics to generate and implement legal department workflow, billing and matter-management strategies.

Editor: What are some of their most common concerns that you're hearing about?

Best: Other than managing constant risk, we're hearing about the complexity of information technology. Many corporate legal departments have grown their technology incrementally over the years; thus, the use of technology has been segmented by time, for example, comprising use of Microsoft Outlook (Outlook), Microsoft Word and entirely separate matter-, billing- and document-management systems.

Adding complexity, numerous corporate systems each may involve access via separate usernames and passwords, so our research reflects real concern from attorneys and the legal operations departments to integrate technology and rely upon fewer vendors that offer systems with greater capabilities. They are looking for a whole-product solution versus a combination of best-of-breed point solutions.

Editor: Are there particular areas that might be very important, such as e-discovery and the explosion of technology there?

Best: Over the last several years, e-discovery has become an area of great concern to corporate legal departments, particularly given judicial focus on the duty to preserve electronically stored information (ESI). There is a trend toward increased investment in technology, specifically targeting internal procedures and notification to custodians with respect to preserving ESI.

This trend reflects the essence of corporate counsel's concern to manage costs and bring aspects of the e-discovery workflow in-house. In the past, GC's relied upon outside law firms to do the majority of e-discovery work, but they're starting to incorporate preservation, relevant-document searching and reviewing functions in-house. The primary objective is to reduce costs.

Editor: Let me ask you specifically about matter management and document management. What feedback do you get from customers about their day-to-day workload in those areas?

Best: I'm not sure if their workload has changed, but the concern to manage costs definitely has become more pressing. Companies want to increase productivity and relieve unnecessary burdens on their attorneys. Naturally, technology solutions that create efficiency and are easy to use - and, therefore, more likely to be adopted - are the right place to start the process.

I've talked to several companies that purchased a matter management solution, but it never gained widespread use in the legal department because it was not user-friendly and did not integrate with other existing technology. Thus, while the workload has stayed fairly consistent, there is heightened interest to maximize efficiency and reduce unnecessary workload burdens.

Editor: It sounds like corporate legal department staff members invest a lot of time executing similar daily workflow tasks. What software tools do they tend to use the most?

Best: While it varies by practice area, we consistently note pervasive use of Outlook and other Microsoft productivity tools that mainly focus on the practice of law, specifically matter and document management. Attorneys report spending most of their day managing communications - with respect to matters and associated tasks - in Outlook.

Editor: That's quite a challenge, then, if they're toggling back and forth between Outlook and other software tools. Are there any developments on the horizon that might offer a more efficient way of doing things?

Best: If attorneys spend most of their time in Outlook, then it makes sense to leverage this system to eliminate the need for toggling between systems and navigating multiple user interfaces. The fundamental problem involves the need for attorneys to work in multiple systems or exit familiar programs - Outlook or Word, for example - in order to complete their work.

CounselLink is a product that boosts efficiency, reduces complexity in the workplace and - because it is user-friendly - drives user adoption as it saves time and reduces frustration. Imagine how much time is wasted, for example, when users forget or have to retrieve passwords for multiple systems - when they have to re-train themselves on a seldom-used system or when they have to duplicate prior effort because work product is not readily accessible.

Maximizing resources logically demands that common workflows proceed through a limited number of systems in a very seamless manner. As a technology pioneer, LexisNexis is addressing these challenges with its CounselLink technology and integration with Outlook.

Editor: That sounds very exciting. Please tell our readers more about this new integration of CounselLink with Outlook and how it works from a user's standpoint.

Best: With a product launch planned for July, LexisNexis will offer integration between CounselLink and Outlook. This exciting technology consolidates the principal workflows in matter management - the information within any given matter - and makes it available to all authorized personnel, not just attorneys.

For example, attorneys can drag and drop emails and have them seamlessly flow into CounselLink to be attached to the documents. If we've integrated the company's document management system (DMS) to CounselLink, that same document can then flow over for storage within the DMS. With a single click, the attorney captures information in the matter management system, providing a consolidated, matter-centric view for all authorized users.

CounselLink also manages workflows within Outlook. A single click allows users to view tasks and then, for example, review invoices or approve attorney fees. Navigation back to Outlook is just another click away.

Editor: Will CounselLink enable general counsel to monitor what individual attorneys are doing?

Best: Definitely. General counsel can view each attorney's work queue with CounselLink, and we intend to evolve the technology to the point where a single click will generate a consolidated legal dashboard.

Editor: What about matters assigned to outside law firms? Can CounselLink integrate legal departments into a system for outside law firm input?

Best: Yes. All work, including work assigned to outside counsel, is visible in CounselLink. Just as integration with Outlook provides seamless access to any in-house attorney's work, so can it provide information regarding outside counsel activities. CounselLink can generate and sort a list of all matters, and a single click enables navigation directly to a selected matter, including input from outside counsel. Such input can include matter status updates, work product, billing information and critical calendar notifications like litigation deadlines.

Upon arrival each morning, corporate counsel can use CounselLink to provide a consolidated update for all matters, whether they are handled internally or by outside counsel.

Editor: It seems this capability to harness information can provide cost savings and benefit legal departments because attorneys are operating more efficiently.

Best: It will do a few things. First, CounselLink offers an efficient way to work, enabling attorneys to devote more time to substantive legal work - drilling down to the details of a matter with a single click - without having to focus on technical issues inherent in using disparate systems and multiple interfaces. As a result, legal department budgets can be used to maximum effect.

Second, integration with Outlook facilitates user adoption of a matter management system because the interface is familiar. This benefit can be enjoyed by corporate counsel at the earliest stages of rolling out - in a sense, marketing - the concept of matter management to the corporate legal team. Because CounselLink is not intimidating and does not require wholesale changes to work habits, it will be more easily accepted.

Editor: Will CounselLink be integrated with the LexisNexis legal research system?

Best: We are developing this capability, but it is not currently offered.

Editor: Aside from the obvious workflow efficiency, are there any other benefits from CounselLink?

Best:Ease of use and efficiency are probably the major ones. One of the big benefits of integration is it gives you the power of two separate programs but with a theme of user experience.

Editor: I understand corporate counsel have participated in initial testing of a beta version of this technology. What was their reaction?

Best: They loved it. The most common question was, when can we have it?The features corporate counsel liked most were the ability to drag and drop emails onto a matter and, of course, user-customized integration with Outlook. We've got a good feeling that we're onto something.

Editor: Do you have any additional comments for our readers?

Best: CounselLink offers the benefits of integration and reflects the spirit of easing use of technology. This year, we are focused on increasing the amount of matter management functionality available in CounselLink, which has traditionally been viewed as an e-billing program.

Plans for 2011 include significantly increasing functionality to offer robust matter management that is seamlessly integrated with industry-leading e-billing technology. Now add the jump to integrating with Outlook and document management systems, and you can understand why we're excited about this product.

CounselLink offers an exciting package for corporate counsel. It will significantly reduce both the overhead for a legal operations department and the number of technology vendors required to achieve matter management and e-billing goals. Finally, it will dramatically improve the end-user experience for adopting and using a technology.

Please email the interviewee at edward.best@lexisnexis.com with questions about this interview.