DuPont Sets The Pace For Law Department Management

Wednesday, February 1, 2006 - 01:00

The Editor interviews Ramona E. Romero, Corporate Counsel and Manager of Law Firm Partnering, DuPont.

Editor: What led you to a career in the law?

Romero: I discovered when I was in high school that I could not be an astronaut because I did not meet the height requirements NASA had back then. Becoming a lawyer seemed like a good second choice. I was always interested in the law, and my college course work, including history and political science courses that touched on subjects such as the U.S. Constitution and the civil rights movement, further piqued my interest.

Editor: Tell us about your career in private practice before coming to DuPont.

Romero: I was a lawyer at Crowell & Moring in Washington, DC, which is one of the DuPont primary law firms. I was there as a summer associate, started as an associate after graduation, and stayed for ten years. My primary specialty was the defense of corporations accused of white collar crimes and civil fraud, but my practice encompassed a broad range of complex litigation, including antitrust.

Editor: Please describe your present role with the DuPont Company.

Romero: I am responsible for all facets of DuPont Legal's partnering program and its Network of primary law firms and service providers. That includes supplier and law firm selection, firm and supplier performance evaluation, internal and external case assignment, litigation cost forecasting and management, rate and contract negotiations, matter conflict resolution, policy development, and monitoring outside and in-house counsel's compliance with the rules of our partnering program. Another important component of my job is promotion of our Network members, the DuPont Legal Model and all related initiatives. Aside from overseeing the Network, I have oversight of our e-billing and matter management systems, and manage our e-discovery litigation support team. Finally, I assist the Company in complying with its reporting responsibilities under Sarbanes-Oxley by serving as the primary liaison between Legal and DuPont Finance and the Company's independent public accountants on litigation matters. I also work with the internal disclosure committee that reviews DuPont's 10Q and 10K SEC filings.

Editor: What is unique about the DuPont Model and when was it introduced?

Romero: The DuPont Legal Model evolved from a process DuPont initiated in the early 1990s. At the time, DuPont Legal was using the services of over 300 law firms and concluded that the Company would both enhance the quality of the legal services it received and reduce its costs if it established long-term strategic relationships with selected firms and suppliers. This effort at "convergence" was, at its core, an effort to make the delivery of legal services more business-focused and was unique at the time. I think that the Model remains unique in that it is an integrated approach for managing change within the law department and for improving the quality, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness of the legal services provided to DuPont by both in-house and outside counsel.

Editor: In your opinion, how has the Model worked for DuPont?

Romero: The Model has worked extremely well. In my view, the Model has contributed to real and measurable improvements in efficiency, cost-management, and litigation outcomes, among other things. It has also contributed to achievements in diversity among our primary law firms. I think that this success is attributable in large part to the value DuPont Legal and its preferred providers place on creativity and flexibility, to the trust that has developed between the Company and the members of the Network and to our emphasis on collaboration, measurable results and accountability. We like to think that our firms and suppliers, when evaluating their relationship with DuPont, focus on more than billings or the next case and take ownership for our mutual prosperity and success.

Editor: Do the firms share matters and work product with one another so that there is not a reinventing of the wheel on similar cases?

Romero: Yes. Collaboration to increase efficiency is one of the unique components of the Network. For years, we have thought of our Network as a "virtual law firm" and have worked with its members to facilitate communication and collaboration both among the firms and suppliers and between them and in-house counsel. It is increasingly common for firms to work together as a team on matters. For example, three of our primary law firms, Schirrmeister Diaz-Arrastia Brem LLP, MehaffyWeber and Cotten Schmidt, L.L.P., developed a joint plan for handling various aspects of our asbestos docket in Texas. In addition to clearly delineating each firm's role and responsibilities, the plan included an innovative alternative fee arrangement As you might guess, technology has been a key tool in facilitating the type of collaborative approach we expect of our firms. Our latest innovation in this respect is The Edge, a web-based collaboration and knowledge management tool we introduced early last year.

Editor: What qualities do you seek in a law firm that will allow it to become part of the primary law firm network?

Romero: Needless to say, competence is a fundamental requirement. Beyond that, we focus on multiple other factors, both tangible and intangible. For example, no firm or supplier can become or remain part of our Network unless it values diversity as much as DuPont does and is committed to recruiting, retaining and promoting women and people of color. Many law firms can deliver excellent legal services. DuPont Legal wants more. We want firms that are willing to innovate, to take appropriate risks, and to incorporate technology and knowledge management into the practice of law. We value firms that have demonstrated nimbleness, flexibility, a "willingness to play well with others" and a strong-client focus. To get the attention of a Stacey Mobley (DuPont's General Counsel) or a Tom Sager (DuPont's VP and Chief Litigation Counsel), firms have to provide creative solutions, like the three firms I alluded to in the answer to your prior question, which are collaborating on our Texas asbestos docket.

Editor: The Diverse Legal Supplier Program, which is aimed at minority-owned and women-owned law firms, is also noteworthy. How many law firms are part of this program and how do you recruit and evaluate them?

Romero: DuPont has had a diverse supplier program since the 1970s, and Legal's program is part of the overall corporate effort. Many of the diverse law firms that represent DuPont today have been doing so for a long time. Most recently, we conducted a systematic review to identify geographic and substantive areas where we could use additional resources and added firms that we thought could fill those needs. Our approach, however, is to limit the number of firms participating in the program to no more than one per state or region whenever possible in order to maximize our chances of doing a significant amount of business with them. There are currently over 30 minority-owned and women-owned law firms and service providers in the program. It is also worth noting that two of our primary law firms, Davis, Cedillo & Mendoza and Price, Okamoto, Himeno & Lum are minority-owned firms.

Editor: What benchmarks are used to monitor the performance of the PLFs and the supplier diversity program?

Romero: We are approaching our performance review process with renewed thoughtfulness and vigor. Tom Sager and I believe that providing our firms and service providers with timely and constructive feedback can enhance both quality and cost effectiveness. To provide subjective feedback, we survey in-house staff and tell the firms what their in-house clients think about the quality of their services. We ask the in-house lawyers to address the performance of individual firm attorneys and to provide specific, constructive input, particularly as it relates to areas of improvement. On the objective front, we provide the firms with financial analyses of their billings to DuPont, with comparative data relating to staffing and to time billed to specific tasks, and with feedback concerning how their diversity performance compares to that of other PLFs and to that of the firms surveyed by NALP. Through our annual Benchmark Survey of the PLFs, we also gain insight into a variety of other factors, including use of ADR and contributions to various DuPont Legal Model initiatives. Our performance expectations and standards for minority-owned and women-owned law firms are essentially identical to those used for the PLFs.

Editor: How does the PLF network interface with DuPont's legal department?

Romero: Our philosophical approach is one of close collaboration between in-house and outside counsel. However, as our guidelines for outside counsel make clear, in-house professionals are ultimately responsible and accountable for the outcome of particular matters. Accordingly, each in-house professional is expected to work hand-in-hand with outside counsel to ensure that DuPont receives the highest quality and most cost-effective representation possible. The goal is for in-house lawyers and outside lawyers to team and collaborate seamlessly on our matters.

Editor: You do a benchmark survey each year. Do you have the results for last year?

Romero: The survey is issued in mid-January and the results will not be available until mid-February. This year we have about 10 objectives that we are trying to measure. One is cost savings, which has been an objective for a long time. Another is "best in class" working for DuPont. Efforts to grow DuPont business are also a focus - we ask the firms to state whether they have identified or pursued recovery opportunities for DuPont. We also ask about paralegal utilization and the use of other non-lawyers. We emphasize use of technology, particularly the Edge, the new collaboration tool we are asking the PLFs and in-house counsel to rely on. There is an effort for the first time this year to try to measure the use of ADR and its outcomes. We added questions related to referrals and collaboration among members of the Network. There is a broad range of questions on diversity issues - gathering data on who is representing DuPont, on whether women and minority lawyers play leadership roles on DuPont matters, on attrition and retention, and on the firms' diversity programs. We are asking about collaboration with minority- and women-owned law firms on both DuPont and non-DuPont matters. Also on the diversity front, we are trying to evaluate our own performance by asking the law firms whether they experience any resistance from DuPont when they try to staff minority lawyers on high profile matters. To my knowledge, this is the first time we have included such a question in the Benchmark Survey.

Editor: Please describe the "pipeline project" as a way of recruiting minorities to the law.

Romero: Under the leadership of my colleagues Hinton Lucas and Michael Clarke, among others, we have been involved from the beginning with ACC in efforts to encourage legal departments to reach out to minority students, as early as elementary school, to interest them in careers in law. We put together a kit that includes a film and other materials for legal departments to use in developing mentoring programs. The goal of the project is not just to create lawyers, but to alert students about the broad range of careers possible within the legal profession, ranging from paralegal, to legal secretary, to court reporter, or lawyer.

Editor: What about the DuPont sponsored job fairs for minority law students? Are they on-going?

Romero: This is one of my favorite DuPont Legal initiatives and it predates my arrival at the Company. The job fairs are still going strong - 2006 will be their twelfth year. Shortly after the PLF Network was created in the early 1990s, they were Tom Sager's response to hearing that some of the law firms did not have enough minority lawyers because they could not find any. His practical answer was to initiate the job fairs to help them recruit some. It started with one job fair in Wilmington and has expanded to job fairs in four different cities - Wilmington, Chicago, Houston, and Los Angeles. The PLFs are to be credited because even though we supervise the fairs at a high level, it is five of our PLFs - Ballard Spahr, Potter Anderson, MehaffyWeber, Wildman Harrold, and Weston Benshoof - who carry the laboring oar and make those job fairs happen.

Editor: What technology companies help you to realize your goals for The Edge?

Romero: The platform for The Edge is provided by Interwoven. The term "The Edge" however, refers to a comprehensive knowledge management program of which technology is only a component. When the PLF program was started, there was no Internet so DuPont and the PLFs invested in creating a wide area network that used T-1 lines to enable email, provide a discussion forum, and share work product and other resources. The Edge is really the second generation of our technology-enabled collaboration effort. It has a variety of features, including a resource center where we have information of general applicability to the PLF network and to our in-house lawyers. It has practice group worksites for in-house lawyers and for PLFs who have access to those particular practice areas. It has case specific team rooms and program specific team rooms. During the time of the hurricanes in the Gulf Coast some of our law firms had to move bases of operations. Those moves did not hinder those firms' work on DuPont matters because the firms were able to access important documents and materials through The Edge, instead of being forced to rely on their own case files.

Editor: What advantages do the law firms and service providers enjoy as part of the DuPont legal network?

Romero: After years of being in our Network, our firms have adopted or further developed attributes that make them more competitive. They are business-focused, know how to evaluate risks and to take appropriate ones, and generally take the long term view to relationships. They have demonstrated superior competence and skills at client service - all important factors which other companies consider when thinking of hiring them. They interact with our business people and recognize the needs of the Company, representing DuPont in a way that is consistent with and that promotes and enhances our business goals. In terms of the specific advantages that they derive from the relationship, there is the long term commitment we have made to the firms and suppliers, the referrals, our support of their marketing, networking and recruitment efforts. Tom Sager and I spend a lot of time networking and benchmarking, and other companies ask us for recommendations. All other things being equal, we prefer to highlight the assets of those who serve DuPont well.

Editor: What unique contributions do the suppliers make?

Romero: The suppliers are integral to all of our efforts in terms of how we achieve the goal of delivering quality legal services to our clients. Kelly Law Registry, for example, helps DuPont save costs by providing temporary attorneys and paralegals for document reviews. LRN provides cost-effective legal research memoranda for use by both DuPont Legal and the firms working on DuPont matters. The list goes on. The key point is that our relationship with suppliers are intended to be strategic and long term, just like our relationships with our law firms

Editor: What about the future?

Romero: Operationally, I have an interest in looking at what we have done in the past, evaluating how well it has worked, and determining whether I can suggest value-adding improvements. From mt perspective, nothing is sacred. On the litigation side, I am very interested in getting ahead of trends and in helping identify, address and manage risks. Most of all, I want to contribute whatever I can; to work with Stacey, Tom and others at DuPont Legal to find ways to bring maximum value to DuPont in a challenging business environment.