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Corporate Counsel Connect collection

June 2014 edition

Out of the dark ages: General counsel speak on the "low cost of going high tech"

Bernadette Bulacan, Director, Market Development, Corporate Counsel; Thomson

Bernadette BulacanAttorneys are known to be notoriously adverse to change, especially as it pertains to technology. They remain safe-guarded from the seas of technological change, protected by their yellow legal pads, thick case notebooks and manila folders brimming with legal research and multiple drafts of agreements. Fortunately, the law isn't practiced in some "dark ages," but has continued to evolve, albeit slowly; consider the transition from typewriter to the computer word processor; or rotary phone to mobile telephone; or physical courier of documents to transfer via encrypted email. These victories are now considered standard technologies for most attorneys. The seas of change are set to bring new legal technologies to the practice of law.

So what does the arrival of these technologies mean for corporate legal departments? And more importantly, how do you convince those technology-adverse attorneys to emerge from the "dark ages" and embrace legal technologies? This was the primary topic of discussion for a panel of corporate counsel leaders, including David Gordon, General Counsel of H.A. Berkheimer, Suzanne Maso, Legal Operations Manager at Orbitz Worldwide, LLC, William Elias, General Counsel at Argonne at the "Low Cost of Going High Tech" panel at the InsideCounsel SuperConference in Chicago, May 2014.

Productivity gains: From smoke signals to telephones to emails to (TBD)

In an effort to be more efficient and productive, legal departments are introducing a myriad of technologies to their in-house teams, including matter management, legal-hold notification technology and legal spend management/e-billing. For instance, David shared his legal department's need for streamlined matter management. Before procuring a technology solution, work product and research could be in 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 GC, precious time was wasted searching for documents. That all changed when all of his workspaces (Outlook, 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 a Concourse Legal Hold technology, Suzanne was able to set constant reminds, 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 US 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 turned to e-billing to not only improve accuracy of review and minimize review time, 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.

Agents of change
In addition to identifying legal technology to introduce to their respective legal departments, each of these leaders also served as change agents to ensure a successful deployment of the technology. What best practices can legal departments employ to ensure that the entirety of the team embraces the technology and realizes its benefits? Consider the following suggestions:

  • Show the why. Too often, organizations fail to articulate the strategic objectives for the new technology. Are lawyers wasting too much time manually reviewing paper bills? Are precious hours being used to hound custodians of evidence and documents who fail to respond? Too often, the focus is on "here's how it works" versus "this is why our business needs this to work." Be candid in the pains and challenges that face the legal department and aim to communicate to the legal department "the why". Only once the department is on the same page understanding and appreciating the strategic goals can it work together to successfully launch and implement the technology. And by having a well-articulated set of objectives, you will also know which metrics to collect and milestones to pass in order to demonstrate the successful launch and adoption of the technology.
  • Appoint a captain who can guide through the seas of change. Most teams concentrate on the "doers" and "facilitators" in a time of technology change; they are the individuals who understand the technology and maybe part of the day to day launch and implementation. These roles are important, but key to a successful technology launch is the appointment of the right captain to lead the change. This captain must wear several hats: chief strategy communicator, cheerleader, morale booster, and at times, therapists. Nobody said change was easy. It's important to appoint a captain that has influence over the department in order to ensure compliance and adoption, and someone who ca battle the occasional naysayer.
  • To pilot or not-to-pilot. During the SuperConference panel, an attendee asked about utilizing pilot groups. The panel answered with a resounding: YES! Identify a small group of attorneys and staff, including both evangelizers and naysayers, to pilot the technology. You will run into unexpected road blocks and hurdles, regardless of whether this is the vendor's first or 100th implementation. Technology implementations are iterative processes. Answer the "stupid questions" with the pilot team before a full launch, ensuring that the entire department will be more confident at the full launch.
  • Keep Training. And Training. And Training. "Adoption" is not a one-time event, so it's important to continuously provide training to attorneys and staff. Additionally, on a systematic basis, get a small team of users together to review use of the system, tackle trouble-spots, and identify feature enhancements and/or possible upgrades. More importantly, celebrate and promote the milestones achieved to validate the new technology.

Can technology and change be scary and overwhelming, especially for those lawyers who are comfortable in the "dark-ages"? 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 or some of the change management strategies suggested above, it just became much easier to put down the casebooks and legal paper pads and to turn confidently to legal technology.

About the author

Drawing from her experiences as a former assistant general counsel and law firm partner, Bernadette M. Bulacan, Esq. is a frequent speaker and author regarding the use of technology in corporate legal departments, collaboration between in-house and outside counsel, and best practices related to legal project management. Bernadette currently leads Thomson Reuters Market Development Group, which is charged with identifying trends and innovations affecting corporate legal departments. Bernadette was a founding employee and Assistant General Counsel of Serengeti. Prior to joining Serengeti/Thomson Reuters, Bernadette was a partner at Graham & Dunn, a Seattle law firm, where she led the firm's Entrepreneur and Emerging Companies practice group. She started her legal career advising start-up technology companies with Venture Law Group, a Silicon Valley law firm. Bernadette received her undergraduate degree from Yale University and her law degree and LL.M (Taxation) from the University of Washington.