The Technology Advantage – A Law Firm At The Cutting Edge

Saturday, January 25, 2014 - 18:40

The Editor interviews Andrew M. Baker, JD, Global Director, Legal Technology Innovations Office, Seyfarth Shaw LLP.

Editor: Please tell our readers about Seyfarth Shaw’s business and your responsibilities at Seyfarth Shaw.

Baker: Seyfarth has 14 offices (10 domestic and four outside the U.S.). We have just over 800 attorneys. We are a full-service firm – handling everything from labor and employment to real estate law to commercial litigation to large corporate transactions.

As Global Director of the Legal Technology Innovations Office, I oversee a team of six legal solutions architects (LSAs) and one data analytics specialist. Our LSAs are all non-practicing attorneys with a technology bent. At its core, the Legal Technology Innovations Office works hand-in-glove with our clients and partners to bring about innovative practice approaches through applied technology and knowledge solutions. Our focus is really on enhancing the client experience – reducing points of friction in the process, enhancing efficiency, improving transparency and reducing costs.

Our group is joined at the hip with our Legal Project Management Office (which consists of 18 professionally trained project managers – making it the largest of its kind in the world) to form a larger department called the SeyfarthLean Client Solutions Group. While many firms have technology, project management, process and knowledge management (KM) experts working internally, we focus all of these posts squarely on our clients. As far as I’m aware, our structure and focus are unique. In fact, our firm was named the Innovative Law Firm of the Year last year by the International Legal Technology Association (ILTA) in recognition of this novel and impactful structure.

Editor: What is unique about Seyfarth Shaw?

Baker: There are many things about our firm that are unique, but the one that has received the most attention and is probably the most counterculture for a large law firm is our SeyfarthLean program. In 2005, we brought a few key clients together and asked a lot of penetrating questions related to the future of the practice of law, the future of large law firms in general and our firm’s future. The responses were pointed, and they changed the direction of our strategy. One client challenged us to explore some of the available process and efficiency programs with particular emphasis on Six Sigma and Lean. But, there was a follow-up challenge to that suggestion: if we were to adopt a process improvement methodology, we had to be “all in” in the sense that it had to be done with purpose and resiliency.

We then set out to explore those concepts in depth. Anyone around the firm and the industry at that time will tell you candidly it wasn’t a popular thing to do. This was before the economic downturn. The sword of Damocles that hangs over large firms wasn’t as apparent then as it is now. Our firm, in particular, was already successful. Further, trying to blend concepts and approaches that grew up in the manufacturing world with what a law firm does was particularly arduous.

Fast-forward nine years. We now have a program that truly is different. At its core, it changes the way we solve problems – taking a more holistic, methodical approach. It’s commonplace now for portfolio, case or deal teams to include legal project managers, legal solutions architects and now data specialists. The way we try to solve problems is more business focused, and our clients are appreciative of that.

The thing I’m really proud of with respect to this program is that it was born out of proactivity – not emergency. That’s rare, and it really exemplifies the strength of our leadership team over the years. It was a huge investment, and there are always fights for resources. We stuck to our path, and it’s made a world of difference. As it relates to KM and technology, the key foci of our Legal Technology Innovations Office, the firm reimagined those areas about two years ago. Prior to 2012, many of our efforts were inward-facing. The firm made an about-face, looking to bring our work and efforts directly to clients – making things more touch-and-feel for them. The firm wanted to lessen the attenuation between all the great work and ideas we had related to technology and KM and the client’s day-to-day needs. As such, my team, which holds much of the responsibility in that area, is extremely client-facing. From pitch to execution, we interact extensively with clients. Since we see the world through a slightly different lens, our suggestions are not immediately apparent to attorneys or our clients.

Editor: How has SeyfarthLean changed the way the firm works internally?

Baker: Through the last nine years, we have mapped a tremendous number of processes, detailing how we approach particular problems, how we interact with clients and a few processes relating to our internal operations. In fact, at last count, we had created over 400 legal process maps. So, with respect to “how” we work differently, the process underpinning is probably one of the keys because we now have roadmaps for many of the types of problems our clients regularly face. Further, with better understanding of process, we are more targeted in our use of technology and knowledge management techniques. The understanding of who, what and when becomes more clear.

Editor: What value does SeyfarthLean deliver?

Baker: The benefits are deep, really, including efficiency, consistency, quality, transparency, increased predictability, and yielding cost savings.

Editor: What are some of the most important tools and methodologies used?

Baker: That’s a tough question because there are many. First, we have an internal software development team that is quite impressive. My team partners with them to build custom solutions. We have created a large toolset designed, developed and tested by the members of the firm.  It’s like having a small software company tucked inside a law firm. For example, we’ve built a collaborative platform for serving up information, enhancing communication and delivering technology solutions called SeyfarthLink. It’s our clients’ window into our world.

We’ve also built budgeting tools, workflow platforms, case management tools, a slew of dashboards for information display and so forth. However, we can’t build everything – nor do we want to. We prefer to buy rather than build where that seems possible.  We are very happy standing on the shoulders of giants.

Two more recent additions to our toolset have been Business Integrity’s ContractExpress and NeotaLogic, which help us create expert systems to guide clients, attorneys and others through complex logical frameworks.

Editor: Why did you choose Business Integrity’s ContractExpress?

Baker: About a year ago, we knew we were going to make document automation a larger focus. Clients were making overtures, and we were seeing opportunities that reinforced that this was the right move. We’d had document automation in the firm for years, but we realized that we needed something better and different from what was employed already.

We canvassed the marketplace and talked to a large number of vendors who provide solutions in that area. After many discussions, we determined ContractExpress was the right fit – for our clients, attorneys and our client-facing technology platforms that were in development (and since have been released).

Editor: How do you find working with Business Integrity?

Baker: In my position, I work with a large number of vendors. I’d put Business Integrity’s ContractExpress towards the top of the class – if not at the top. Our group and our firm are always pushing the envelope. Our goal is to be the tip of the spear as it relates to trends in the market. As we stretch to meet client goals, Business Integrity has been tremendous in not only listening to our needs but acting on them. We really feel as if we can see our voice in their product roadmap. That’s not always the case with vendors, and we value it considerably.

Editor: How are your clients benefiting from your aggressive adoption of technology in SeyfarthLean?

Baker: Our firm has always had great lawyers. That’s what has made us successful for so long. Now, our clients get great lawyers, market-leading process understanding, best-in-class project management resources and frameworks, and innovative technology and solutions architects to boot. The benefits have been pretty broad, but vary depending on the type and volume of work we do for a client. Speed, consistency, ease and added transparency are the key benefits.

The examples are many and here is one. We have a large portfolio of litigation that we handle for a Fortune 100 client. At any given point in time, there are about 150 of a particular type of case that are active and in motion. We have all the cases running through SeyfarthLink, which enables us to track status and deliverables and produce metrics for enhanced control and more. As part of our work on that engagement, we were taking another look at the entire process - trying to squeeze out inefficiencies. We found that creating the case assessment documents (which we do for each matter) could take almost two hours in some instances. The template was fairly detailed and several pages in length.

A fair amount of the data that we used to build that form was already collected and stored in SeyfarthLink as part of our case management efforts, so we wanted to pull that data in, ask a few more questions and build the document more quickly. So, enter ContractExpress. We injected document automation into that existing process. Now, those working on the case simply go to that tool, select the name of the case they are working on (which grabs related data from the case management section of SeyfarthLink), answer a few other questions, then click the “Finish” button. From that series of simple steps, out pops a document that in many cases is 70 percent complete. We can then massage the output, add in some matter-specific nuances and be done in about thirty to forty minutes (and sometimes less depending on the scenario). Over time, that turns into a considerable savings in time and has a material impact on the engagement. This is only one such example. It’s been great to have the toolset and technical skill to bring solutions like this to life with our clients.

Editor: What has been the response from clients? Have they embraced these services?

Baker: In many cases, these services have been an important consideration in our retention – that’s very satisfying from my perspective. The onus then is on us to meet those expectations – a burden that we take very seriously. Once we redefine the work based upon collaborative exploration with the client, the feedback has been even more incredible.

In interactions with clients, my team and I hear enthusiastic utterances like “Why don’t my other firms do this?”, “This is amazing!”, “I love showing what we have created together to my colleagues.” In a tight market, this has helped us stand out.

Editor: How do you see your services affecting the future of legal services, and how will it affect what other firms may offer their clients?

Baker: I think the idea of “packaged” solutions will continue to increase. You need advice and counseling help? Sure, not only do we have the experts, but we have an entire platform from which we can mine helpful data. You have a deal flow of considerable size and you’d like us to handle that? Sure, we have incredible practitioners, and a framework we can employ to make your deals proceed even better.

Please email the interviewee at abaker@seyfarth.com with questions about this interview.