On Monday, I listened in on Viewabill’s inside/outside counsel webinar – it was a long one (two and a half hours), so I’ll be breaking up my recaps by session to share with you. I love listening to inside counsel speak about the dynamics of their relationships with their legal services providers, and there were some great thoughts shared by all sides in these sessions.
First up is "Friends in Need." From Viewabill:
Corporate legal departments are under increasing pressure to become ‘commercially aware’ and rise to the challenge of fulfilling the role of business partner, driving the company’s business objectives and risk profile. Inside counsel discuss their evolving role and what outside counsel can do to alleviate some of the pressure."
Law firms are also under pressure. Client value and legal sourcing teams are prominent in firms today; over 50% of the AmLaw 200 already employ a Pricing Director position to oversee project management. Stretched between serving as a resource for the firm’s clients while simultaneously battling internal resistance, law firms discuss how they handle the ‘new normal’ and ways clients can help bring about change."
The session had a number of panelists:
Panelists (corporate counsel):
Daniel Baker, Sr. Operations Lead, LinkedIn Legal
Connie Brenton, Chief of Staff/Director of Legal Operations, NetApp
Panelists (law firms):
Vincent Cordo Jr., Global Director of Client Value, Reed Smith, LLP
Peter Lane Secor, Director of Strategic Pricing and Project Management, Pepper Hamilton LLP
Michael Hourwitz, Chief Financial Officer, Venable, LLP
Robbie Friedman, CEO + co-founder, Viewabill
After an introduction, we jumped into the session. Our moderator, Robbie Friedman, said that the goal of the session was to encourage conversation, because conversation itself is worthwhile – and I couldn’t agree more. It seems that a lot of the misunderstandings that occur in the inside/outside counsel relationship happen because people are making assumptions, and not actually talking to each other.
He handed the platform over to Connie Brenton, who said that they would start with an overview of trends for inside counsel. NetApp is on the cutting edge – Connie likened them to "Mikey" of the cereal commercials because "they’ll try anything." They’re beta testers for almost all of the new technologies that come out, and they don’t mind making mistakes, learning from them, and moving forward.
NetApp’s 2015 initiatives illustrate some of the challenges that they face, and the trends that inside counsel are seeing – they may be ahead of the curve in some cases, but Brenton reassured us that other inside legal departments won’t be far behind.
Legal Departments – Run Like a Business
The first trend is that legal departments are being required to run like a business, so companies are now having to put into place some foundational structure that has not been front and center in the past. For example, NetApp has a:
- Strategic roadmap: NetApp has started a 3-5 year strategy program for their department. Their goal is to be the best legal department in the world.
- Long-term IT strategy roadmap: In conjunction with their enterprise IT team, they put this together, since many of the same technologies that the legal department uses will go enterprise-wide (such as contract management, electronic signatures).
Efficiency and Spend Management
Another of the important trends is occurring in efficiency and spend management, which NetApp is addressing through their regular preferred partner programs, quarterly business reviews, and performance summaries.
They are using a qualitative and quantitative scorecard to rate their partners each time they meet with them – the results come from a technology that they’ve put into the department, and they’ve seen both a time and cost savings using this fairly simple technology.
These metrics are also put into a "dashboard," which helps them to evaluate how they are doing in pursuit of their goals. Brenton notes that the attributes measured in the dashboard of an "efficient legal department" come from a recent article on what elements should be reviewed or advanced in order to be a "best in class" legal department, such as "spend as a percentage of revenue."
Changing Legal Ecosystem
The final trend that Brenton addressed is the changing legal ecosystem. She observed that the participants in the webinar that day were a fairly good representation of how the environment is changing. It used to be that inside and outside counsel were the primary participants in the legal ecosystem. But that is now changing drastically and quickly.
Viewabill is one example of a new entrant to the ecosystem, who are making an difference in how inside counsel run a legal department. They have also developed associations that involve difference participants, such as CIOs, CFOs and others within the outside counsel organization.
The legal operations role is also new to the industry, and they are changing the industry in that the purchase and tracking of outside counsel spend is now centralized in this function.
Brenton mentioned an organization called CLOC – the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium. There are five big CLOC organizations around the US, and the Association of Corporate Counsel recently agreed to put them under their umbrella so that they don’t reinvent the wheel, can leverage each other’s learning, and start to collaborate in a different way.
Part of this involves having conferences for operations professionals, where they’re talking about things such as the standardization of the engagement letter and the potential of consortium buying – to me, this is a HUGE example of the way that clients are now starting to purchase legal services the way that works best for them, rather than the way that works best for outside law firms.
There are some big takeaways from these trends, Brenton says:
- In-house departments are being run differently than even just a couple of years ago, and technology is infiltrating the department.
- Not only are we working within a larger ecosystem in the legal industry, but we’re working with a larger ecosystem internally. The use of metrics, analytics, benchmarking information, and dashboards is on the increase. New associations are also changing the way companies do business and are starting to grow in popularity and number.
Friedman then opened up the floor to include the other panelists, and discuss more in depth about Brenton’s points and trends. We’ll take a look at what they said next week!