Resourcefulness and efficiency are no longer attributes that set firms apart - they're requirements for firms to be successful. Now more than ever, legal departments are demanding greater visibility into how their work is managed. Folder sharing of legal research provides the transparency these departments deem essential as a means to reduce costs, acquire more predictable fees and increase efficiency from law firms. One new avenue for in-house and outside counsel to build stronger relationships and better leverage their resources is to implement greater collaboration and streamlining of the legal research process. Folder sharing with external organizations, a key new feature in WestlawNext, opens new opportunities to reduce legal costs, improve operating efficiencies and gain better results through knowledge management.
Folder sharing facilitates and encourages collaboration on research and enables all members to tap into the collective knowledge of their entire team or organization, allowing lawyers to quickly and easily share their expertise. While folder sharing in other applications is common (such as in a document management system), folder sharing makes knowledge management part of the research workflow, driving greater efficiency and building a collection of knowledge that becomes a valuable resource for future projects. As law departments and firms strive to meet the Association of Corporate Counsel's (ACC) Value Challenge initiative, which seeks to reconnect the cost of legal services to the value provided, folder sharing is a key tool that can be implemented to aid in meeting the goals of the initiative and improving client satisfaction.
Folder sharing offers a way for team members - both inside and outside the organization - to contribute to and draw from a growing repository of increasingly valuable knowledge. This collective knowledge and improvements in productivity and efficiency can lead to mutually beneficial savings that allow corporate legal departments to work more efficiently with their outside counsel. This technology can help reduce expenses, while ensuring that work is completed properly, which leads to stronger partnerships and trust created through transparency in the legal research process.
Building on efficiency and transparency, general counsel can conduct their own preliminary research, saving resources that can be allocated elsewhere, and share with their outside counsel through folder sharing. Clients and firms can access the research at the same time through the WestlawNext platform and have an open dialogue while accessing the pertinent information. Sharing preliminary research allows outside counsel to focus on more complex matters and specific issues their clients need addressed. Implementing folder sharing drives cost savings and greater efficiency by being able to share research results and see what work is being done by others.
An additional benefit of folder sharing within and across organizations is the ability to organize research by practice area, projects or issue. This creates a dynamic categorization system that can be used by others, even if the original researcher may have left the organization. The ability to share these folders provides an additional lever for improving productivity. Research on common matters and issues can be shared with the department, co-counsel, experts or other outside colleagues for collaboration. These folders are knowledge collections that can be leveraged to drive efficiencies for both parties, creating mutually beneficial savings through lower costs.
Some law departments are even specifying that having collaborative legal research capabilities could influence their decision to work with particular outside firms as their costs would likely be lower and their research work would be more accurate and efficient. Many firms are also supporting these types of initiatives and are leveraging their libraries to avoid billing clients for previously conducted research. As corporate counsel are including more alternative fee proposals for firms, folder sharing can help firms manage value-based alternative arrangements because of the research efficiency gains and the resulting ability to better predict time and billable hours. Law firms realize many of the same benefits, such as more effective use of firm resources, in addition to the time savings in research projects, which equates to lower costs passed on to clients.
In the search for greater transparency, better collaboration and lower costs, folder sharing of research results between in-house and outside counsel can serve as a great resource for amassing and applying collective knowledge, helping improve efficiency and productivity, and controlling costs.
Brian Quinn is Senior Director of Product Development, Thomson Reuters.