Connecting What Matters: Clients Weigh In On Law Office Workflow

Monday, October 8, 2012 - 08:03

Over the past decade, we’ve seen a dramatic evolution of corporate law departments from reactive risk managers to key corporate strategists at the highest levels of business. Thomson Reuters has changed too. Three years ago, we were known by corporate counsel primarily for our legal research platform, Westlaw. Since then, with an eye towards expanding the ways we could serve corporate counsels’ evolving needs, we acquired key businesses, including the spend and matter management provider Serengeti, and Pangea3, which provides legal process outsourcing services. We also began to build software to extend the usefulness of our content-driven products. For example, we developed folder sharing between organizations on WestlawNext to allow corporate counsel and firms representing them to partner more closely.

But more than anything, we’ve been listening to our clients to understand what they need next. 

What 500 of your colleagues told us …

It might not be news that legal departments are under increasing pressure to deliver greater value to their organizations, and to do more with the same or fewer resources. But what if there were significant opportunities for corporate counsel to increase the efficiency of their departments and to better meet the legal needs of their organizations? Thomson Reuters recently completed an in-depth survey of more than 500 corporate attorneys and staff to better understand their perceptions of their work and where technology can be applied to improve efficiency. The results of the survey provide an in-depth look at improving productivity in corporate legal departments.  

Some of what we heard merely confirmed what’s already widely understood. Expectations for legal departments are rising, and the demands of global operations place new strains on departments. The volume of documents and complexity of cases is exploding because of e-discovery, cross-border cases and rising IP, compliance and regulatory concerns, among other reasons. At the same time, organizations are running leaner, focusing on legal departments as a cost center and looking for opportunities to control, if not reduce, costs. As a result of these factors and others, the current workflow environment in legal departments is frequently characterized by in-house counsel with one word: chaos.

This means more than inconvenience and stress. Chaos adversely affects legal departments by making it difficult to organize and prioritize tasks, reducing efficiency, hindering quality control, negatively affecting outcomes and making it difficult to demonstrate ROI. Respondents identified specific pain points, such as document retrieval and revision difficulties, constant interruptions, task management and prioritization difficulties, increased expectations of 24/7 availability, and more frequent global collaboration.

We then drilled down with respondents to explore the specific critical tasks that are widespread among corporate legal departments. Two task families – legal research and matter management – emerged as well understood and with widespread or rapid technology adoption. There were six other critical tasks identified by the majority of respondents – and fewer than 25 percent of organizations currently deploy automated solutions against them; these include compliance, legal holds, complex transactions, calendaring, contract management and managing department workload. Respondents expressed unmet needs for greater integration between tools, and mobile offerings that can handle complex tasks. 

At the Association of Corporate Counsel annual meeting earlier this month, in the spirit of a concept car at an auto show, we showed off some product concepts that addressed today’s problems in novel ways. Our theme for the show was “Connecting What Matters.” For us, that means three things: providing intuitive and seamlessly integrated matter-based workflow tools, connecting in-house and law firm partners via modern social technology, and providing actionable data in-context.

We showed prototypes of two new products for corporate counsel that deliver on those three principles. While we are still keeping some innovations close to the vest as we build towards our 2013 product launches, there are some things we can share. Thomson Reuters wants to help corporate legal departments fight back against the chaos. We will connect our existing products, and build new connected products, so our clients can be more efficient, more collaborative, more mobile and simply more connected. And we are developing some powerful and creative solutions that we can’t wait for you to test drive. 

Eric Laughlin is the Managing Director of the Corporate Counsel Segment within Thomson Reuters, responsible for information, software and service offerings for corporate legal departments. His business scope includes Westlaw legal research, Pangea3 legal process outsourcing, CourtExpress document retrieval and Serengeti e-billing & matter management. He previously worked in the Global Strategy function for Thomson Legal & Regulatory, and has held various marketing roles within the legal business since re-joining Thomson Reuters in 2007.