At Inside Counsel’s SuperConference last week, a packed room engaged with a panel to discuss the multitude of options available for law departments to help maximize resources, be more cost-efficient, implement effective technologies, and leverage alternative service providers.

The session was moderated by Jay Felton, a partner at Lathrop & Gage LLP. His fellow panelists included Joe Perkins, deputy general counsel for the Americas and legal quality champion, Cummins, Inc.; James D. Schultz, general counsel, Governor’s Office, State of Pennsylvania; and Michaune D. Tillman, associate general counsel & vice president, Commercial Litigation, Ricoh Americas Corporation.

The opening dialogue referenced a blog that cited numerous efficiency trends to watch in the legal space. The group strolled through each trend discussing how they were utilizing such processes or technologies, and how they felt those were impacting law departments and the legal profession.

The topics that garnered the most discussion focused on where and how work was performed, whether that was through more work brought in-house, and implementing new technologies and maximizing legal operations. The second major theme brought together the management of outside counsel through convergence programs, AFAs and budgets.

The panel highlighted that each law department must find their right balance of internal work without overwhelming the department. Additional staff provides opportunities to enhance relationships with clients and potentially see more cost-savings, but may serve as a disadvantage if there is not consistent work for the additional staff. A key suggestion from the group was cross-training new hires to build additional capabilities within the department and afford staff an opportunity to stretch themselves and gain expertise in additional areas.

To streamline work and maximize the internal resources, legal operations can help by managing the day-to-day operations, increase efficiency and make sure the right tools and resources are in place to improve the effectiveness of the entire department. This role also can provide additional relief to the general counsel allowing them to focus on leadership, strategy, and business relations.

Discussing the convergence trend, the panel openly discussed their programs, use of alternative fee arrangements (AFA), and some of the challenges within these initiatives. Relating to the convergence programs, the panel agreed that these were a valuable way to engage their outside counsel to really focus on the client and think about the client’s business. Smaller firms were singled out as they may be at disadvantages of being involved in convergence programs due to a lack of resources to respond to the numerous request for proposals and committing time to the interviews and to win over the business.

As part of a successful convergence program, the panelists discussed continuing to work with their outside firms to make sure that both parties are happy in the agreement and that their needs are being met through ongoing evaluations, analyzing metrics and data, and being creative with AFAs.

But whatever the arrangement or use of technology to improve operations, law departments should be open to discussing options and new ideas and being flexible.

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