Today's Complex Legal Environment Demands Proactive Staffing Solutions

Saturday, September 1, 2007 - 00:00

Editor: Please tell our readers about your professional background and experience.

 

Volkert: I graduated from the University of Miami Law School and worked at a litigation firm prior to joining Robert Half International. I have been with Robert Half International for eight years serving in various capacities within Robert Half Legal. I am currently executive director of Robert Half Legal and its 27 offices in North America.

Editor: Would you tell our readers about the breadth and scope of Robert Half's international network?

 

Volkert: Robert Half Legal is part of Robert Half International, a $4 billion dollar company with over 350 worldwide offices. Robert Half Legal has offices in major markets throughout North America and specializes in three distinct areas. First, we provide project attorneys and paralegals for large litigation, mergers and acquisitions and other projects where in-house or outside counsel need assistance. We also have a specialized division that focuses on the temporary placement of legal secretaries and additional support professionals. Finally, we have dedicated recruiters that specialize in the permanent placement of general counsel, partners, associates and highly skilled legal support professionals.

Protiviti, a wholly owned subsidiary of Robert Half International is a leading provider of independent investigations, internal audit, and business, litigation and e-discovery consulting. Robert Half Legal has partnered successfully with Protiviti which allows in-house counsel to successfully manage their various legal projects. When working with outside counsel, general counsels are able to partner with Robert Half Legal to address project staffing issues that may arise during a litigation, M&A or real estate venture while reducing their cost by over 30%. We also provide candidates with highly specialized practice areas to come in and assist on a project by project basis to complete the work.

Editor: I understand that Robert Half recently completed a survey on the use of outside counsel by corporate counsel. Please tell our readers about the findings of that study.

 

Volkert: We polled 150 attorneys among the largest corporations in the U.S. and Canada. We recognized a surge in the workload for in-house counsel and an increase in the use of outside counsel, so we developed the survey to determine the areas where outside counsel services were being used and how the workflow was being managed. The survey concluded that within the last twelve months corporate legal departments have experienced a 45% increase in working with outside counsel. Respondents to the survey indicated that 66% of their work with outside counsel was on litigation matters. Compliance and regulatory work was second on the list with respondents indicating that it comprised 16% of their work with outside counsel.

Editor: Does the increase reflect an increase in a particular type of litigation?

 

Volkert: It runs across various disciplines. However, the recent change in the rules on e-discovery resulted in an increase in the volume of electronic documents that a company has to manage. Companies are looking for creative ways to deal with the additional work and the cost associated with it. They often partner with outside counsel who provide solutions on how to work through litigation in a concise and effective manner. They are also partnering with organizations such as Robert Half Legal who can provide staff augmentation solutions that allow in-house and outside counsel to build a team that can handle the increased workflow while reducing legal costs associated with electronic review.

 

Editor: What do the survey's findings say about the litigation climate in the U.S.?

 

Volkert: I believe that the litigation climate is changing throughout the world, not just in the U.S. As the economy and the legal community become more global, there will be an increased need for project professionals who can assist corporations working on matters whether they are in the U.S., Canada, Europe or Asia.

Editor: What expertise do clients seek when retaining project professionals for corporate compliance matters?

 

Volkert: For project professionals there has been an interest for attorneys with experience in securities law, audit and compliance, and fraud detection. Four or five years ago there were very few attorneys with that type of experience. Now, with more corporations focused on these areas, there are more individuals being trained to handle compliance matters.

The skill set that companies are seeking for full-time candidates in their legal department depends on the type of industry it is in. Today, corporations are more interested in professionals with experience with litigation, securities law, intellectual property, and corporate compliance rather than a generalist who may have some corporate transactional experience. Many in-house departments have transformed from small departments that only handled corporate transactional work to multi-practice departments very similar to large law firms. This has become necessary for companies to successfully handle compliance and regulatory issues that they face.

Editor: How can general counsel benchmark their legal department's and auditor's ability to ensure there are no deficiencies in staffing for critical compliance functions?

 

Volkert: In-house counsel must work strategically with their outside law firms to seek advice on developing proper policies for internal document retention and destruction, conducting audits, implementing compliance programs and developing effective whistleblower procedures for reporting financial irregularities. Corporate counsel should be proactive in addressing these issues to develop an overall process so that they are ready to address issues when they arise.

That planning process includes an examination of the legal matters that the company may face and whether the current staff can handle those challenges. It makes sense for corporate counsel to have discussions with companies such as Robert Half Legal about how we can assist them during the planning process. We can provide examples of what has worked with other companies which allows them to develop effective staffing solutions. Many times we meet with in-house counsel and their outside counsel to develop a complete solution on how they are going to handle these matters over the next six to twelve months and beyond.

Editor: So it makes sense for a legal department to plan its staffing well ahead of time.

 

Volkert: Definitely. It is important for in-house counsel to be proactive because companies that run efficient legal departments will have higher employee morale because the department is prepared to address peaks in the workload. There is less pressure on employees because they know that there is a solution in place. In-house attorneys who manage other individuals should go through and carefully assess the workloads for the individuals on their team, whether it is identifying specific times in the year where work loads increase or are busier than others. If there is a strategy to implement, the legal department will be more cost effective and employees will be content. We see that companies that are more proactive operate more efficiently and have higher retention rates within their corporate legal departments. On the other hand, costs increase dramatically when a corporation is not prepared for a matter. That is when outside counsel come in and where Robert Half Legal can provide additional staffing. If they already have some of those measures in place that will prevent the need to have a lot of outside legal costs when a matter arises.

Editor: If a general counsel determines that there is a shortage in legal staffing in a particular area, what advice do you have for augmenting their coverage?

 

Volkert: Project professionals offer a great way to increase the ranks within a legal department. We have witnessed a 30 to 50 percent cost reduction when corporate legal departments strategically use project professionals for litigation, real estate matters, lease abstraction work, and general corporate and M&A work while partnering with outside counsel. For document reviews it often makes sense to use project professionals. They are very experienced with document review tools and the workload expected. Project attorneys and paralegals usually have an error rate approximately 25 to 50 percent less than when full time staff is used.

Editor: Global compliance has resulted in increased work for in-house and outside counsel. Do you have any suggestions for how general counsel can handle the growth in their workload?

 

Volkert: As the legal environment becomes a 24/7 worldwide business, companies need to have a plan in place at the corporate headquarters on how to effectively work with outside counsel. They should consider suggestions from outside counsel, e-discovery and compliance consultants like Protiviti and specialized staffing organizations like Robert Half Legal. Secondly, the company should look at what it is doing to be proactive internationally. If outside counsel does not have offices in a strategic location such as Latin America, Europe or Asia there should be a plan for outside counsel to partner with local counsel to handle matters in real time as they come up.

For example, we were able to provide a complete legal solution to a large multi-national corporation on one of its matters. Protiviti, our wholly owned subsidiary, served as a consultant on the e-discovery and fraud prevention aspects of the project. The company partnered with outside counsel in the U.S. and its Asian offices. We were able to provide over 20 Mandarin-speaking project attorneys and paralegals to go through documents to assist the outside counsel and general counsel in reviewing the large volume of data during the discovery phase in a cost-effective manner. Our project professionals were able to translate thousands of documents effectively within weeks.

Editor: Suppose that a general counsel discovers an issue with regulatory implications in several jurisdictions such as the U.S., London and France. How would you work with inside and outside counsel to develop a staffing strategy to meet those challenges?

 

Volkert: We would look to in-house and outside counsel to find the areas where they need additional specialization. In those instances corporate counsel look for individuals with language capabilities which stems directly from having major litigation and compliance matters in a multiple of countries. For instance, there is a lot of work coming out of China, Japan, Germany, Belgium, France and other countries. That trend will certainly continue.

Many legal departments and outside counsel are choosing to conduct that work from the U.S. because U.S. trained attorneys are well aware of the privilege and confidentiality issues that arise during discovery. Furthermore, basing the matters in the U.S. provides stronger security measures and reduces the error rate. We are seeing corporate clients that have gone to India return to the U.S. for document review because the work product and security concerns and how the courts are raising concerns as to work conducted by attorneys outside of the U.S.

Please email the interviewee at charles.volkert@rhi.com with questions about this interview.