Legal Suite – A Law Department Solution For In-House Counsel, By In-House Counsel

Monday, April 23, 2012 - 09:23

The Editor interviews Patrick Deleau, CEO and Founder, Legal Suite Group.

Editor: Please tell us about your professional background.

Deleau: I graduated with a degree in business law and later took a degree in finance because I realized I primarily wanted to practice business. I believe that numbers tell the story, and a good understanding of finance is essential to the practice of business law.

I was fortunate in the early 1980s to fall into the world of IT, first working for Digital Equipment Corporation and then Wang Labs – word-processing pioneer at this time, producing CPUs as well as software. I also worked with Computervision, whose CAD/CAM (computer-aided design/computer-aided manufacturing) was revolutionary. I then went on to spend 10 years building and expending the legal department of a European computer services company. When I looked around for a commercially off-the-shelf software product to help me manage my department, I could find precious little. The only available tool at that time, the early 1990s, was geared to the management of corporate entities, but not the law department per se.

Every other department had a piece of software dedicated to its role. In the 1970s, accountants got their “own” software; in the ’80s the financial folks did; then the sales force, followed by marketing, supply chains, logistics – everyone but legal. If you were to ask GCs, do you have a specific tool to manage your practice? they might respond they do, but if you push a little you will hear they use Microsoft Office with Excel spreadsheets and sporadic access to a database. Ask them if they have something that speaks their legal language, and you will get a different answer.

Getting back to my own experience, I faced many challenges at this European IT company. It was composed of about 98 percent engineers and two or three percent of HR, finance and legal people together, so there was an absolute ignorance of legal matters. Meanwhile, we had about 120 subsidiaries across 12 European countries and also Argentina, Saudi Arabia and Singapore. I managed a team of 35 attorneys and 15 paralegals, and I needed to find a common tool dedicated to all of their legal activities. My goal was to answer questions such as, who are my clients? Out of our 60 or 80 contract templates, which are the 30 most useful, and which should I improve? Or, where does the company lease offices and what are their terms? I wanted a clear global vision of the types of risks and claims that were being addressed all across the group. We had no system for gathering this information. I was told there was no trademark portfolio because there was no need, but when I sent out a survey asking about trademarks, I discovered 352 of them across the organization.

Editor: Is this what inspired you to create Legal Suite?

Deleau: Yes. My deep belief is that to well manage a law department there are basically three key elements:

First, you must have a team – not a collection of divas and stars, but a true collaborative team with experts who deal with diverse and specific corporate legal issues on a day-to-day basis.

Second, you must contribute in setting up a clear and transparent organization, with set processes, practices and records.

Third, you must implement a reliable tool to become your ally. Using the corporate entity software I mentioned earlier, I would have to log in and out of several systems to get my work done. I wanted an integrated solution that was both reflecting the semantic of each business law practice and easy to use (to enter key data and so on) – what our clients call a true LIS, or legal information system. In terms of management, a good system, I felt, should speak to the various legal profiles across the organization and provide one repository where every request for legal advice, every contract and every piece of IP, could be stored. This would give everyone the same visibility and enable them to share and retain consistent practices. Furthermore,  every CLO should be able to see the volume of legal work in real time – the number of requests for legal advice or for contracts, the provisions made for such and such litigation case, or the number of franchises for instance. At the end of the day, managing a law department relies on tracking trends and measuring needs to report to top management what is at stake behind a simple contract, NDA, lease, insurance policy, patent and so on. Better measurement leads to better management.

Editor: Were you able to execute your plan, and how did you engage IT?

Deleau: I first designed the structure and content of every field of law we were dealing with. I then worked with IT to create such a tool, and it proved to be a great success. The platform provided an excellent forum for communication. In 1997, the company conducted a satisfaction survey of its 10,000 employees, and my legal department rated 93 percent satisfaction (second place went to HR, which was around 66 percent, for comparison). With all three elements in place, we were able to deliver effective, measurable service to our corporate client.

As for engaging IT, this time IT was servicing legal and not vice versa. I have met many lawyers or law managers who feel desperate because IT tends to dictate which solution to choose from and how it will work. But I needed a dedicated legal tool, not an IT solution. The software had to smoothly navigate between the rules of various jurisdictions and practice areas. The algorithms had to be precise enough to support my in-house practice, for example, when I appeared in court regarding an IP matter in Geneva. And so, the structure came from my own practice, and IT supplied the technology tools on the back end.

Editor: When did you decide to found Legal Suite?

Deleau: As CLO of a major company, I was often asked to be a keynote speaker at various conferences and seminars. I would say Legal Suite was “born” in February of 1998, when I told a conference organizer that, this time around, I would not talk about IP law. Instead, I would discuss IT servicing legal departments. In my talk, I demonstrated how to use my tool for matter management, case management, recording and so on. I looked into the eyes of the audience – about 50 members, many of them GCs of large companies, 10 of whom would later become Legal Suite’s first clients – and could tell they had never seen anything like this before. And I realized this was an opportunity for a new business.

Editor: Would you like to tell us a few particulars about what Legal Suite offers?

Deleau: From experience and corporate reality, one size does not fit all. The fundamental attribute of Legal Suite is that it is an integrated solution that can address every specific field of law in the business – IP, contracts, litigation, corporate, real estate, insurance, to name but a few– every area that has a specific language, a specific reasoning and process. Because one legal department will not need the exact same solution as the other, we offer a vast range of matter management solutions and supporting administrative tools.

Should there be more than one selected module, the “legal practices” can interact with one another (such as litigation and IP). All are linked together in reality in terms of GRC – governance, risk management and compliance. This is what we are aiming at in terms of risk management. With the click of a button, Legal Suite enables the legal department to communicate with senior management the company’s current risk profile, its assets, its IP portfolio and anything else in the GRC landscape the C-suite needs to know.

The second and key aspect is that our software is designed by our own in-house counsel. IT does the programming, but our law department decides how concerns are articulated, what specifications are necessary for any particular process – really, every aspect of each tool.

Third, Legal Suite, like any effective business solution software, is eminently scalable and adaptable, and it has to be. At my former company, one driver for implementing such a tool was to preserve corporate legal memory and capitalize on legal expertise. When we reached the 10,000th file input into the prototype of Legal Suite, we celebrated with champagne; today, Legal Suite has clients with hundreds of thousands of files. With Legal Suite every call, every email, every draft contract, every new negotiated document version and every request for legal advice are traced into the system.

Editor: To what degree can Legal Suite incorporate the specific laws pertaining to a practice area in a particular jurisdiction?

Deleau: As a commercially off-the-shelf software, Legal Suite reflects the structure of a standard global legal department. Then, compliance needs are entered according to the industry at stake. The heart of the system integrates by default all possible functionalities.

By default, an administrator can translate or change the terms of the software to accommodate a particular internal jargon. A global tire manufacturer did just that. (A few selected systems administrators become the gatekeepers in these cases; users cannot change language on a whim.) Should the need arise, our advanced administration module allows the system administrator to directly add fields and tabs specific to the company. This way, each company is given the ability to enter into its Legal Suite system the details of its own business processes, industry-specific regulations, and any other data relevant to a particular jurisdiction.

Legal Suite is highly nimble in this way. To give you an idea, one of the key players in the nuclear industry in France has all of its patents – I am talking thousands of patents spanning 80 countries, each with its own IP protection processes and deadlines to renew a patent, to pay the annual fee, etc. – managed under the Legal Suite IP module. As another example, Legal Suite was also recently brought on board to assist a massive gas and energy company’s acquisition of 6,800 subsidiaries across 136 countries; our corporate securities module can handle transactions of that scope and complexity.

Editor: I know that Legal Suite is very involved in the software installation at the company’s worksite. How lengthy is the process?

Deleau: Many of our customers are using the standard version and are able to use the tool as soon as the training is completed. Several customers have specific requirements which need customization and particular settings: while our Legal Suite team of legal analysts and consultants accompanies our clients along the way, those projects typically take 2 to 4 months to complete.

Installation at a large pharmaceutical company will present different challenges. For example, the company may want to license an international partner to introduce a strictly regulated medication into a new market, so the specific health industry rules and regulations for that market must be entered into the Contract Management module or the Legal Consultations module. Legal Suite does not intend to reinvent the law, but many laws and regulations do require an algorithm, and Legal Suite can manage them all.

Editor: How well does Legal Suite “play” with a company’s overall business solution?

Deleau: Very well, actually. Legal Suite is fully web-based, so it can be accessible and shared all across the company. We regularly interface with SAP and the other major ERP solutions. Legal Suite is not isolated department software; it is quite the opposite. It can facilitate the exchange of information across the organization seamlessly. Again, I meet general counsel who are almost desperate to communicate with as many departments as possible so that all can benefit from the legal department’s services and understand its functions. Legal Suite also interfaces extremely well with document management systems.

Editor: Can Legal Suite be of service in a law department’s budgeting process?

Deleau: Absolutely. First of all, our specific law practice modules address their own budgeting issues: our litigation case management module allows budgeting and tracking financial flows for each litigation, our IP module tracks expenses, royalties, etc. More generally we also offer what we call Office Tools, one of which is a general legal budget and billing solution. (Other such applications include a library, a directory and a time management tool.) This tracks legal expenditures across the department in a detailed, transparent fashion.  From my own experience, I can say that having all of this information readily at hand makes the budgeting process not painful anymore.  And because you can’t manage what you can’t measure, the centralized detailed budgeting process becomes part of the general counsel’s management strategy.

 

For more information about Legal Suite, please visit www.legal-suite.com.