Making The Most Of Your Law Department's Technology Solutions

Thursday, March 1, 2007 - 01:00

Editor: What are the characteristics of an ideal technology solution that helps a law department to deliver more effective and value-added services?

Veraldi: Many technology solutions are being implemented without the understanding of the business objective or goal of the solution. Prior to embarking on a technology project, the law departments must clearly and succinctly state the business reasons the investment should be made. With the business objectives laid out, the solution team will have a clearly defined goal and a mechanism to measure success.

The solution must be intuitive to the users and mesh with existing business processes. While most technology solutions will require some changes to process or workflow, the business users should understand the value of making minor adaptations to their work habits. Solutions like electronic billing are relatively straightforward since real savings can be measured post-implementation. On the other hand, compliance and security related solutions are examples where there is a large impact on the users with no readily apparent gain. Users will view these solutions as mandatory (which they are!), and resist adoption since business tasks may take longer and become more complicated. These types of solutions are based on the "what-if?" scenarios (business litigation, security breaches, etc.) which require more selling to the user community than traditional time or cost savings solutions.

Kral: It is not the technology that provides the solution, but a clear understanding of expectations, standardized processes and use of templates and forms to manage data that allow any form of technology to be useful. Technology performs best when it is used to automate procedures, store and organize data and export data into reports for further analysis - in each scenario, the technology is a supporting strategy to a bigger picture solution. All too often we find clients putting the "cart before the horse." We help to develop the goals, procedures, taxonomy and reporting needs before moving into a system selection.

Robinson: While there are certainly myriad "characteristics" of ideal technology solutions, I tend to use the following four major characteristics to assess how solutions can translate into customer-centric services. While not all-inclusive, these can certainly serve as the key building blocks for a diligent analysis. When assessing each characteristic, law departments should also consider some tough questions concerning the creation (or continuation) of specific value-added services, as follows:

Problem Focused: Is the service problem-focused? Does it actually solve a real problem as opposed to just eliminating a nuisance? How will it enhance the value of the Law Department's services to its "in-house" customers?

Competitively Selected: Be sure you have done your homework and met with at least three Competitors who provide this solution to ensure you select the one that best meets your needs at the budget you set, and can provide the training and support you will need after the solution is in place.

Cost Effective: Can the technology solution be employed in a cost effective manner? Is there a demonstrable ROI that can quantify the cost in terms of time, savings and money? Will the technology assist in creating greater productivity?

Sustainable Support: Can support for the service be easily accessed? Can support be delivered over the entire lifecycle of the service in an efficient manner?

Once a firm has taken the time to assess available solutions relative to not only the services they already have in place but also for the service offerings they may be considering, then this becomes a good "thought framework" from which to deliver more effective services to their client base.

Behnia: The ideal technology solution should be flexible enough to address multiple business needs, easily adaptable and extensible, with a rich portfolio of solutions built on its platform; allowing legal departments to serve their customers as the business evolves through M&A activities, regulatory changes, and changing market conditions.

The solution should eliminate redundancies, catalog information and provide a seamless flow of information among internal customers, legal staff and outside counsel. Under continued pressure to do more with less, legal departments can use enterprise-wide systems to provide the maximum level of self-service while proactively mitigating litigation, compliance and financial risk.

Flexible, multi-service solutions utilizing Mitratech's TeamConnect solutions enable legal departments to move from a passive, reactionary role to proactively contributing to their organization's business strategies and providing value-added services.

Skelley: The ideal characteristics for a new technology solution that would be used for a law department would be one that works on multiple architectures without the need for creating a hybrid system. This will allow the internal IT staff to implement the system faster, as they are already familiar with the underlying structure, and they will be able to get up to speed on trouble-shooting issues. Cost will be an issue. To the extent the system can use existing hardware, the upfront costs will be minimized, and thus the project will stand a better chance of receiving funding.

The ability to tailor the system to meet individual user needs, as well as business workflow needs, is critical. If the system is compatible with the user's work, it is more likely to be embraced. Hot keys or short cut keys should be utilized when repetitive tasks are prevalent.

The system must be portable and able to function with the tools available to the group. For example, the system should be accessible over the Internet, PDA or laptop as well as a standard desktop. Without ready access, the system is doomed to fail.

The ability to integrate with multiple systems, such as the document management, accounting, records or case management systems will make the user experience more fulfilling. Recognize there is no one system that does it all and one should be wary of those that purport to do so.

Above all, keep it simple and make it as intuitive as possible. As it is, the average user does not utilize half of the functions available to them on the existing systems. Too many bells and whistles will only lead to more confusion and frustration from the users, and they will be less likely to use the system.

Weiler: The ultimate legal professional's technology solution is web-based because it requires no additional software on the client's computers. It also requires no site license fees, which expedites and eases the adoption process as new users join the organization. Historically, legal departments have had limited or no IT department support. Therefore an ideal solution would offer no implementation charges, and require no IT involvement. These characteristics form the crux of legal solutions from Corporation Service Company.

CSC capitalized on web-based solutions that provide instant access to legal data and documents. There is no time lag so legal professionals can quickly receive real-time information on their service of process, compliance and governance, and other litigation matters. All this information can be accessed from the attorney's office or remotely from any location worldwide. Essentially, these solutions add value to the company's legal team by providing everything it needs in a seamless, paperless and cost effective format.

Weaver: An ideal technology solution is one in which the technology handles several aspects of the law department's needs. For instance, if you want to get a handle on your legal spend and yet you have no real internal matter management system, you may want to research a technology solution that provides a means to process outside counsel invoices electronically as well as manage matter-specific information in one environment. In essence, the law department and its outside counsel can both add matter information and process invoices against that matter in a single environment. Determining ahead of time what solutions you need will minimize the need of purchasing different technology solutions later that could have been purchased initially as an integrated package.

Editor: How can a law department get the most from a technology solution?

Robinson: In looking to get the most from technology solutions, it's important for law departments to consider the same "ideal technology characteristics" as mentioned before and then use these as guidelines to understanding and achieving the best, most effective application of their technology solutions towards the services they perform. By ensuring their technology solutions are optimized to solve specific problems that cannot be solved otherwise as effectively, law departments can enhance their overall value to their company and to the company's bottom line.

Behnia: Some law departments have taken a patch-fix approach to technology, addressing particular challenges, in isolation, without regard to other related issues. Implementing point solutions in this way leads to a number of inefficiencies: users find themselves switching between products for critical information while IT juggles technical issues among its multiple vendors.

Moving to Mitratech's enterprise-wide platform not only provides consistent interfaces and operational efficiencies, it also culls information from various sources to extend the law department's visibility. This helps inform global strategies and elevates the value the department provides. Additionally, the single application/single vendor approach dramatically reduces implementation, maintenance, and support costs; frees up IT resources, and delivers a faster return on investment.

Finally, having a range of solutions pre-built on an enterprise-wide platform allows law departments to automate all legal work without heavy customizations. Does the platform already offer a matter management solution? Electronic invoicing? Entity management? Can it respond to real-estate, warranty management, or compliance concerns? These are some characteristics law departments should consider when looking for the ideal technology solution.

Weaver: Many legal departments purchase technology solutions that are not utilized to their fullest potential or that are used minimally. IT departments indicate that the toughest challenge they face is getting individuals to accept change and use the new systems. Much of the reason these technology solutions fail is because they are too cumbersome and therefore these individuals that are adverse to change prefer to do things the old way. Keep in mind that technology is a great thing and is meant to increase efficiency. However, some solutions can be too feature rich for what you need and therefore may cause immediate failure due to users' lack of use. To get the most out of your technology keep it streamlined, require training, and monitor usage to ensure compliance and accuracy. Lastly, conduct regular meetings to gather input as to what issues users are facing. This gives you the opportunity to address the issues, as some may simply be a result of users needing further training. Implementing these procedures is key to optimum use of current technology.

Kral: Maximizing the use of a system is not easy and it requires a lot of upfront planning. We recommend the following to ensure a solid system performance and maximize benefits.

Define Objectives - All too often, systems are designed around litigation, which excludes the majority of the department. Get the objectives right ahead of time and build around these objectives - don't build around a system.

Understand Reporting Requirements - The number one reason that departments implement a system is to get information out. Identify the necessary data points that will be included in each report. To the extent possible, use pick-lists and drop downs to ensure data consistency and integrity.

Standardize Processes - Often this requires deconstructing what happens during the course of litigation or transaction work. When drafting processes, apply the 80/20 rule to ensure that it fits the majority of situations.

Be Inclusive - To the extent possible, the system needs to cut across practice areas and geographies. We find that tracking advice and counseling by topic or capturing transactions/projects that consume more than 8 hours of effort is a good best practice.

Reward System Use - Updating data in systems can be tedious and lack incentives, so it is very important to share reports and information to demonstrate the value of the system and encourage use. The goal is to minimize the impact that resistance will have in the broader department.

Training - It is important that the users understand the process and how technology fits into the process. Just because someone understands "How to open a matter," does not mean that they know "When to open a matter" or "Who should be opening a matter." Once again, understanding the business purpose will give users context and significantly increase data integrity and use.

Veraldi: Our experience has shown that the most critical aspect of a technology solution is adoption and use by the departmental users. Success is highly dependent on the evaluation and selection of the solution and the implementation team; however, without the proper training and user buy-in, the best selected solution will have little chance of success.

The traditional classroom training must be expanded to include more high level business process and value proposition. The users must understand why they are using new software or systems. In addition to the classroom training, additional coaching must be provided. This can be delivered via the solution instructor visiting users' offices post-training to ensure that any immediate issues are quickly resolved. You have about two to three weeks where the departmental users will either embrace the solution or develop workarounds!

Weiler: Corporate executives have grown concerned with the potentially staggering costs resulting from unforeseen risk. Meanwhile, legal departments are also realizing that it's impossible to effectively anticipate and manage the vast scope of legal matters using current tracking processes. With a web-based integrated technology solution that provides access to real-time data related to litigation, transactions, compliance, governance, and IP concerns, a legal department can manage that risk in a proactive, cost-effective and efficient manner.

With over a hundred years of experience servicing the legal community, CSC has developed an integrated technology solution, CSC GC Dashboard, which provides instant access to critical information displayed in a consolidated view. It enables general counsel to spot trends, view reports, metrics and financials facilitating action before issues spin out of control. With this type of integrated solution, risks are minimized and the need to pore through multiple reports or comb through disparate databases is eliminated. Reliance on voice mail, e-mail, staff meetings and one-off reports is no longer needed to keep abreast of the status quo.

Simply, general counsel can see the view from the dashboard first, then to mitigate risk quickly, assign a matter to other legal team members and segregate exposure cases for closer scrutiny and supervision.