When technology strikes fear into the hearts of the legal department
This post was written by Bernadette Bulacan, director of Market Development for Thomson Reuters
Technology can be scary, especially to casebook-loving, yellow legal notepad-carrying, folder-filing attorneys. Fortunately, some technologies don’t strike fear into attorneys, like word processing, email, or the mobile (rotary?) phone. But what happens when these standard technologies are insufficient to effectively address challenges being wrestled by attorneys in a corporate legal department? When does it become necessary to procure legal technology? And, what exactly counts as legal technology? David Gordon, general counsel of H.A. Berkheimer; Suzanne Maso, legal operations manager at Orbitz Worldwide, LLC; William Elias, general counsel at Argonne; and I wrestled with these important questions during the “Low Cost of Going High Tech” panel at the InsideCounsel SuperConference recently in Chicago.
David shared his legal department’s need for streamlined matter management. Before procuring a technology solution, work product and research could be in a paper folder on his desk, or in a filing cabinet down the hall or in a box offsite. Electronic versions in different stages of completion might be found on his hard drive or on a network folder. As a solo general counsel, precious time was wasted searching for documents. That all changed when all of his workspaces (email, network folders, Westlaw research folders, etc.) were harmonized on Concourse Matter Room.
Suzanne expressed her frustration when employees failed to respond to her legal hold notices, requesting that that they suspend destruction of potential evidence in a known dispute or lawsuit. In order to protect the company from claims of spoliation, hours could be spent following up with these employees to obtain their acknowledgements. But when armed with Concourse Legal Hold technology, Suzanne was able to set constant reminders, run up-to-date reports, and allow technology to “hound” those that failed to respond.
William described the rigorous set of rules and requirements regarding legal spend imposed by the U.S. Department of Energy, the sole member of Argonne Laboratory. These requirements trickled down to all outside counsel that performed legal work for him. Prior to putting a technology solution in place, William and his department had a complex set of paper checklists and double review to ensure compliance. The process was time-consuming, and worse yet, not the optimal use of his attorneys’ and staff’s time. William implemented an e-billing solution to improve accuracy of review and minimize review time, then he began to build a pool of data regarding the lab’s legal work that enabled him to build budgets (both at the matter and department levels), and more intelligently negotiate with his outside counsel.
Each of these departments experienced a unique set of challenges and found a legal technology tool to respond. Towards the end of the discussion, the panel turned to best practices to implement and adopt technologies within a legal department. Suzanne described the importance of identifying a senior leader to drive technology change. David discussed the importance of clearly articulating how the risk and pains of adopting new technology result in greater advantages for the organization. Will described his ability to articulate the value of the technology to his CEO and CFO by demonstrating real cost savings and a return on investment in connection with his e-billing technology.
Can technology and change be scary and overwhelming, especially for less tech-savvy lawyers? Sure it can be, but for the legal departments who heed the words of advice from the panelists on the “Low Cost of Going High Tech” panel, it just became much easier to put down the books and legal paper pads, and turn to technology to solve real problems in the legal department.