Combining Matter Management, E-Billing And Legal Hold

Friday, October 14, 2011 - 14:59

The Editor interviews Jeff Schuett, Vice President and General Manager, Corporate Counsel Solutions, LexisNexis.

Editor: Jeff, you recently took over responsibility for managing LexisNexis CounselLink, among other products. Tell us about your professional background and what led you to this new position.

Schuett: I’ve been working in the technology industry for almost 30 years, in both software development and consulting, and have extensive experience with the legal industry. As the general manager of LexisNexis Corporate Counsel Solutions, I manage all aspects of LexisNexis related to helping organizations manage their relationships with outside counsel. Prior to joining LexisNexis, I was the CTO for Elite, a Thomson Reuters business, and we built enterprise resource planning (ERP) and practice management solutions for law firms worldwide. I have also managed several consulting groups and software divisions, including NEC Solutions and the Trintech Group. I began my career with Chevron Corporation. My experience with both LexisNexis on the corporate side and ThomsonReuters on the law firm side has provided me with a unique dual perspective in understanding the challenges and collaboration needs of law firms and their clients. In my current position with LexisNexis, I help corporate clients, specifically legal departments of Fortune 1000 companies, manage their relationships with law firms.

Editor: Since coming on board in this role, what have you learned about the biggest challenges facing corporate legal departments today?

Schuett: The biggest challenges can be summed up into three categories: increased workloads for corporate counsel departments, a higher focus on managing risk, and a renewed focus on managing overall legal spend. The financial services industry is a good example of the trend toward requiring legal departments to take on more complex responsibilities. In that industry, the economic downturn has resulted in corporate counsel and their staff taking on much greater responsibilities with respect to information management and the general volume of case work.

It has been interesting to watch legal departments transform and successfully prepare to handle the increased workload. New developments, such as increasing the use of alternative fee arrangements, are evolving as in-house counsel clients take a more value-driven approach when negotiating relationships with their legal partners. This shift represents an enormous change in a marketplace that, prior to the economic downturn, had focused mainly on risk management. Now legal departments are increasingly using data and metrics to effectively manage information and legal matters and reduce legal spend.

Our clients and prospects are requiring more data and more analytics tools to help them investigate and manage risk. In all industries, we are seeing a heavy focus on managing legal spend.  Better access to data can help here too, as clients want to understand which firms are most effective for specific types of casework, and clients are comparing law firm rate schedules more than ever before.

Editor: Have you observed any noteworthy changes specifically related to matter management needs within legal departments? For instance, have matter management needs evolved over time?

Schuett: Absolutely. Legal departments are involved in many more lawsuits and, at the same time, are managing substantially increased demands to be efficient and accurate – all while reducing spend. Corporate litigation costs have grown 75 percent over the past ten years – even at a time when overall costs rose just 20 percent. Organizations are placing a premium on effectively allocating and maximizing limited resources. For legal matters, this necessitates quick access to information and streamlined law department operations. We are also seeing a significant increase in offshoring of legal work, which puts an even higher demand on effective matter management.

Editor: You mentioned an increased number of legal matters within the financial services industry. Is some of this caused by the flood of regulations it faces under Dodd-Frank?

Schuett: Yes, that is exactly what’s happening. The regulatory environment has become so complex and detail-oriented that it is not humanly possible to navigate – at the required speed – without using specialized tools for matter and information management. Further, new regulations are coming out almost every day, magnifying the need for corporate counsel to effectively manage risk and compliance. Our clients are asking for, and LexisNexis is delivering, more and more tools that help them monitor the ever-changing regulatory environment.

Editor: Let’s get specific. When looking for a matter management solution, what criteria should corporate counsel consider?

Schuett: Well, one should always consider LexisNexis CounselLink, of course. The key challenge is to determine what information is required to drive your business and then implement a system that offers quick and easy access to the data and analytics tools to allow effective and efficient examination of that data. Since corporate counsel must focus on matter and risk management – versus technology issues – system administration should be straightforward and pose minimal demands on IT departments. The system must also be easy to use, both for daily users, such as legal administrators and legal operations team members, and for less frequent users, such as paralegals and attorneys, who enter matter information into the system, or the general counsel, who wants tailored analytics data and dashboard information on a periodic basis.

Editor: Why should someone consider a complete solution that encompasses matter management, e-billing and legal hold – versus several niche solutions that are considered best-in-class?

Schuett: A complete solution should encompass efficient vendor management and eliminate the need for users to jump from system to system in order to access information and get the job done. Such a system should allow for a comprehensive analysis of data, whether its matter management, e-billing, legal hold or other areas, and it must offer seamless integration among the three critical concerns and tasks of a corporate legal department, including risk, cost and matter management. One solution that does all of this very well is LexisNexis CounselLink.

Editor: Can you take a moment to tell our readers about CounselLink’s integration with Outlook and how this helps corporate legal professionals work more efficiently?

Schuett: Most attorneys function predominantly in Outlook and don’t want to be distracted from their practice by the need to learn new systems. CounselLink provides an integrated and familiar interface, via Outlook, for accessing information on matter management or e-billing, increasing efficiency and productivity. With 80 to 90 percent of the legal profession operating in Outlook, there is no significant learning curve – including the inherent stress and resistance to change – with introducing attorneys to CounselLink because the interface is already familiar to legal professionals. This interface enables users to access CounselLink without being taken off task. Further, users can focus on their core job, making substantive legal decisions, and they can leverage the benefits of a combined system that requires only one login in order to manage the complete relationship with law firms.

Editor:  I often hear corporate counsel talk about their need to have a complete understanding of their outside legal spending. How does the new Billing Guidelines feature in CounselLink help them to better achieve this goal?

Schuett: The Billing Guidelines feature allows for more effective and collaborative review and management of the agreements between clients and law firms. These can be very sophisticated agreements, involving alternative fee arrangements, complex negotiations and, in some cases, hundreds or thousands of matters. The Billing Guidelines feature can support existing agreements, allowing clients to publish the billing rules, manage the partnership, set expectations and establish clear communications regarding exceptions and compliance. New attorneys who step into an established client relationship have consolidated and detailed access to critical billing guideline information, which eliminates surprises for either side and increases both client and law firm satisfaction.

Editor: So this assumes that the law firm would be online on the same system with the corporate counsel?

Schuett: CounselLink is a software-as-a-service (SaaS) system. If you have access to the Internet, then you can access CounselLink (through a secure login, of course). We have a role-based security model, so law firms can have the same access as their clients (if granted by the client) to upload their bills, gather information on their matters, enter budgets, collaborate on documents and update calendar events. Since CounselLink is an SaaS-based system, law firms are not required to maintain their own system at a separate facility. Because CounselLink provides familiar and seamless access via Outlook, outside counsel can easily maintain a collaborative dialogue with clients – including billing issues – via a shared, consolidated system.

Editor: Another common thing we hear is the need to find ways for corporate legal staff members to be more efficient. Was that the thinking behind the development of the new One Click Mass Action feature in CounselLink?

Schuett: Definitely. Law departments are constantly being asked to do more with a lower budget. One Click Mass Action is designed to create efficiencies by reducing administrative time required for data management, and by allowing simultaneous changes to multiple records – thousands at a time – with just one click. This feature is excellent for incorporating global updates, such as matter type changes or attorney reassignments, within portfolios that may consist of hundreds of cases. In general, One Click Mass Action is a powerful tool for clients and law firms to manage transitions, for example, when someone is promoted or leaves the organization. With one click, the workload of the departing individual can be quickly moved to another in-house attorney.

Editor: It sounds like One Click Mass Action features can automate routine functions and allow lawyers to focus on more productive uses of their time.

Schuett: Yes, that’s right. The feature eliminates labor-intensive administrative functions and enables attorneys to focus on their primary job. Information management, in and of itself, should never be the job at hand, and CounselLink is designed to be a productivity enhancer that removes administrative burdens and places information at the users’ fingertips.

Editor: For corporate law departments seeking to set up and track volume discounts based on how much work is done by a specific law firm, I understand you have some new functionality to help them that comes built into the latest release of the software, CounselLink 5.6. Tell us about that.

Schuett: Corporate legal departments are getting very creative in their pursuit of alternative fee agreements. We’ve seen a big increase in the number of requests for discounted fees and flat fee agreements our clients are making to their firms. The goal of a volume-based discounted fee is to leverage a client’s purchasing power with their top performing firms. With the CounselLink Volume Discount feature, clients can easily craft detailed volume discount arrangements based on practice area, matter type and even specific portfolios of matters with each of their firms. Entering into these very sophisticated arrangements, which can combine volume discounts with other alternative fee arrangements, can be very, very helpful – both for the law firm in retaining clients and for clients in driving value in their outside counsel relationships.

Editor: We all know that corporate counsel are looking for help with risk management when it comes to handling their e-discovery compliance requirements, especially with the continued growth of social media that is impacting the amount of information out there to be discovered. Looking to the future, any product development plans in the works for CounselLink to assist corporate counsel with their Legal Hold obligations or other e-discovery responsibilities?

Schuett: Yes, and this evolving area is an exciting area of product development for us. Earlier this year, we released a new product – our Legal Hold Notification Management tool – and we will continue to expand and develop this capability. The product actually is designed to enable clients and law firms to manage all aspects of legal hold notifications, and it has been well received by our first customers of the service. The Legal Hold Notification Management tool is incorporated into the product right now, and we’re putting additional functionality into CounselLink 5.6, which comes out later this month.

 

Please email the interviewee at jeffrey.schuett@lexisnexis.com with questions about this interview.