Editor's Note: At its recent meeting in Boston, The International Institute for Conflict Prevention & Resolution (CPR) presented the organization's inaugural Law Firm Award for Excellence in Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). In addition, two law firms received honorable mentions, one of which was Eversheds. Eversheds was recognized for its Dispute Management process, RAPID Resolution, a unique approach to Dispute Management that focuses on measurable results and cost predictability, gives clients control of the process, and provides clear and realistic options in the field of ADR. The Award Review Committee was comprised of corporate counsel from GE, DuPont, Abbott Labs, Northrop Grumman, Johnson & Johnson and Microsoft, as well as law school faculty.
Editor: First tell us about your Practice Group.
Heaps: We have about 400 lawyers in our Practice Group in Europe, the Middle East and Asia. We have specialist groups dealing with Commercial Litigation; International Arbitration; Construction; Insurance; Regulatory, including criminal defense work (We have in our ranks the former deputy director of the Serious Fraud Office); Real Estate Litigation and Shipping.
With respect to ADR, every lawyer in our Practice Group is trained in Dispute Management techniques, including mediation. Twenty-three of the partners in the firm are professionally trained mediators, which I think is the largest number accredited in one firm in the UK.
Editor: Your RAPID Resolution system for resolving disputes was emphasized in your submission to CPR that resulted in the firm's honorable mention. What were its origins?
Heaps: Back in the mid-'90s, the litigation landscape in the UK was undergoing a significant change. Clients were irritated by the cost and disruption of litigation as a process for solving problems. They were beginning to turn their faces against it. At the same time, Lord Woolf was carrying out his review of civil procedure. His conclusions can be found in his report Access to Justice . He eventually came forward with reforms which have had a significant impact on the way that litigation is handled in the UK system. He introduced a new set of procedures which significantly emphasized the pre-litigation process. It also improved case management on the part of the judges and strengthened the role of mediation as a methodology for solving problems.
At the time I was very conscious of the criticisms we were receiving as litigators. While some of the criticisms were justified, I felt that we added value to our clients by solving the problems they would inevitably encounter.
Editor: What made you change your approach?
Heaps: In the midst of the controversy about the Woolf reforms, my partner Paul Smith came into my office. He and I were old friends. He had just acquired DuPont as a client. He handed me a document called the DuPont Legal Model. In it lay the concept of Early Case Assessment. I would describe it as a "road to Damascus" moment for me. This was precisely what I was looking for. It seemed to me that what clients wanted was an improved decision-making tool that would help them to assess a piece of litigation in exactly the same way that they would assess any commercial decision or investment that they had to make.
Back in the late 1990s, Paul Smith asked Tom Sager at DuPont, who played the major role in formulating the DuPont Legal Model, whether they would let us use the Early Case Assessment model. They were very happy for us to do that because they wanted to spread the message of Early Case Assessment and the DuPont Legal Model to a broader audience.
Editor: What did you do then?
Heaps: We sat down with the Dean of Nottingham Law School, one of the key education establishments for law firms in the UK. Together, we created a continuing legal education course of studies in Early Case Assessment and Dispute Management dedicated to Eversheds. Those who successfully complete the course receive a special diploma. All the lawyers in our Practice Group at Eversheds must complete this course. To reflect the emphasis we place on applying the techniques taught in the course, we changed the name of our Practice Group to "Litigation and Dispute Management." We have made a substantial investment in training and estimate that we have already incurred about $12 million in hard and soft costs.
We have been providing this training for 10 years, so there is now a very strong base of lawyers throughout the firm's offices who have received this training.
Two or three years ago, we decided to look at the progress that we had made and to ask our clients about its worth. They told us that the Early Case Assessment process was fantastic as a tool for decision making. But the problems that they had encountered in the past in relation to the life cycle of a case still existed. This was largely due to weakness in project management skills.
Editor: How did you go about strengthening the project management skills of the lawyers in your Practice Group?
Heaps: One of the key things was to introduce project management training for our lawyers. We think that this is unique, certainly in the UK system. So project management lies at the heart of RAPID Resolution as a tool.
We also think you have to step a bit further back and consider the bigger picture. We should help clients look at the totality of the problem they are facing and consider all the possible options, including mediation, arbitration, litigation, traditional negotiation, and sometimes, frankly, capitulation, because sometimes it's better to walk away than fight a battle that you are going to lose at great cost.
Editor: How is this reflected in the Eversheds' approach to dispute resolution?
Heaps: In RAPID Resolution our lawyers are required to analyze the facts, the commercial context and the available options for the resolution of the problem. Once those options have been identified, then we price them. Because of the large number of cases we handle, we have been able over the last two or three years to analyze much more closely the true cost of various steps that we take. We have become more confident about the budgeting process for the various options that we propose to a client.
So that is the history of our efforts, starting in the mid-'90s with the launch of Early Case Assessment, through to the launch about 18 months ago of RAPID Resolution, which specifically introduces more project management oriented skills. It builds on Early Case Assessment by including ongoing reviews of the progress of a matter in the light of various options available.
Editor: Is RAPID Resolution available throughout your worldwide network of offices?
Heaps: What is exciting now for us is that this approach has greatly assisted the development of our international network over the last 10 years. We now are in 17 European jurisdictions as well as in Qatar in the Gulf, Shanghai in China and Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia.
The RAPID Resolution methodology transcends borders. We therefore have trained our lawyers, wherever in the world they might be, to use RAPID Resolution. It is important for multinational corporations to know that disputes in which they might be involved anywhere in the world will be handled in a consistent, businesslike way.Editor: Does implementation of RAPID Resolution depend on a buy-in by the client?
Heaps: Yes, we spend time with clients explaining RAPID Resolution's methodology because it is of no value unless you are working in partnership with clients. They have to understand what we are about. What we do with the client is to take a dispute apart so that the client understands each of the constituent elements, and then we put it back together again. What happens in the process is that the client understands where the effort and the time and therefore the cost is expended.
One issue which is very important, which is part and parcel of RAPID Resolution, is the concept of the Best Practical Outcome. What we mean by that is that clients don't usually want to win in an appeals court four years later. They want an answer to their problem. It's only the marrying of the lawyer's and the client's best thinking at the beginning of the process that comes up with the answer to the question: What is the client really trying to get out of this? It's only when both the lawyer and client are clear about that answer, that they can establish an effective strategy which has a chance of delivering the Best Practical Outcome
Another reason that clients buy-in to RAPID Resolution is that we are very focused on results and solutions. We have metrics that establish how well we do as a firm in performing against the Best Practical Outcome - the goal that was described at the beginning of the case as the purpose of the exercise. The statistics show that we successfully achieve our clients' objectives in 9 out of 10 cases. We can measure how close we got to the budget that we set at the beginning of the dispute. Eighty percent of matters handled by us are within 10 percent of the agreed estimate.
We also measure client satisfaction with our services post-transaction. At the end of each significant matter, which is by definition one that involves a fee of more than $80,000, we get an independent organization called Acuigen to interview the client. Their results confirm a high degree of satisfaction: On average, we score 4.3 out of 5 on client satisfaction in these post-transaction interviews.
Editor: Do you have any closing words?
Heaps: The RAPID Resolution concept owes a great deal to DuPont. The concept of Early Case Assessment has been right at the heart of what we have done. What is exciting for us as a firm is that the strong project management techniques that lay at the heart of RAPID Resolution now have been adopted by the wider firm. Our corporate colleagues have developed their own equivalent of RAPID Resolution that they call DealTrack. It's pretty much the same approach. Project management is the essential element at the heart of the firm's efforts to deliver solutions for our clients.