General counsel and corporate law departments are at the nexus of numerous key business decisions that impact corporate strategy and day-to-day operations. These include due diligence for acquisitions and other transactions, corporate finance, governance, regulatory compliance, contract management, human resource issues, intellectual property, risk management and litigation, among others.
Oftentimes, these needs require authoritative answers to thorny legal questions delivered at the speed of business. For law departments looking for a competitive edge, next-generation legal research tools provide more complete and accurate results and can conduct research much faster and with greater efficiency. This can produce either direct cost savings or free up time to create higher-value work product.
This article details some strategies that in-house counsel can use to more effectively leverage legal research technology to reduce costs, improve efficiencies and provide greater value to the business.
Managing budgets is a top priority, and leveraging legal research technology can help control legal costs. One study found that attorneys using WestlawNext successfully completed their research tasks three times faster than using previous research tools.
Such efficiency makes it both feasible and often sensible to conduct more research in-house. Shifting even 3 to 5 percent of total outside counsel fees to the law department can significantly reduce costs to the business and enable greater flexibility in how you use and allocate your legal spend.
Even after conducting more legal research in-house, next-generation tools can reduce the total number of hours of staff time devoted to legal research.
Across an entire law department, this can produce thousands of hours of time savings annually. Such a significant cache of person-hours can be strategically reallocated to more critical, higher-value legal work. It frees up department attorneys to focus on strategic business and legal needs throughout the organization.
The ability to answer a legal question quickly and thoroughly can help inform strategies on whether to handle legal matters in-house or bring in outside counsel and, if the latter, which outside counsel to use. In-house attorneys can use WestlawNext to conduct preliminary legal research queries to help guide outside counsel and quickly bring them up to speed on the legal issues that are involved.
Training can help maximize productivity and effectiveness in conducting legal research. A little training can go a long way. Even for experienced users, a few tips on how to leverage the latest functionality can produce lasting benefits.
Different training options enable users to learn in the way that’s most effective for them, and on their own schedule. For instance, WestlawNext’s Learning and Support webpage (http://info.legalsolutions.thomsonreuters.com/westlawnext/learning-support/) provides one-stop access to several different training resources, including quick reference guides, videos, free e-learning courses, weekly email tips and scheduling for one-on-one live training sessions.
WestlawNext users can organize legal research results into folders that can be readily shared among team members, both inside and outside of the organization. Sharing research provides significant benefits, particularly between in-house and outside counsel. It avoids duplication of research efforts and facilitates collaboration. If outside counsel or someone in your organization has already conducted the research, the time and cost of the research project can be significantly reduced when this research is shared.
If your law department is using technology to drive efficiencies – but your outside counsel isn’t – outside counsel is operating at lower productivity, driving up costs.
More importantly, time-saving collaborative tools such as folder sharing can’t be fully utilized. Bottlenecks and delays can quickly develop, as information cannot be as effectively shared. Opportunities for unnecessary duplication of work and miscommunication grow.
Not surprisingly, law departments are increasingly setting minimum technology requirements for outside counsel. According to a survey by the Association of Corporate Counsel, nearly a third of law departments surveyed have asked outside firms to address specific tech concerns in their RFPs. In addition, 19 percent said they’ve stopped using an outside firm because of technology-related issues.
Law departments are seeing that technology is an area – like travel expenses, billable hours and research – that can be leveraged to help control legal costs.
WestlawNext extends research capabilities to smartphones and mobile devices, such as the iPad. This includes the ability to add notes and highlights, organize research into personalized folders, and then share the content with others. Offline access enables you to continue your annotations and review your research in the absence of a wifi or cellular connection whether you are on a plane, train or offsite. All files are automatically synced as soon as connectivity is restored.
Features such as these help ensure that productivity is maximized whether team members are in the office or on the go.
Next-generation legal research tools can reduce research time, improve efficiency and increase productivity while at the same time delivering more accurate and complete answers. Added benefits include increased collaboration and opportunities for controlling legal costs.
All of this, in turn, can enable more strategic use of law department resources, and enhances the value of the department as a strategic asset that drives innovation throughout the organization.
Lydia Flocchini is Director of Westlaw marketing.