Source: ABA Journal Weekly Newsletter; Allison Guidette, Thomson Reuters
When I speak with law firm leaders lately, one thing comes through loud and clear: the challenges and pressures they face are, in many ways, unprecedented.
The legal industry is going through dramatic changes in response to the evolving needs of clients. Today, corporate legal departments are finding themselves under increasing pressure to justify outside counsel expenditures. GCs are focusing on new metrics when evaluating outside counsel. While experience and outcomes still matter and always will, other evaluation criteria are also taking hold, including efficiency, effective communication, strong budgeting and project management skills.
Inefficiencies and high fees are two of the leading reasons firms are not retained, according to the ACC-Serengeti Managing Outside Counsel Survey Report. To mitigate risk, clients are emphasizing cost controls, increasing the use of RFPs and discounts, and implementing policies such as technology requirements, timekeeper restrictions and mandatory budgets.
Firms are challenged to set themselves apart from the competition with capabilities beyond their legal expertise. If they succeed at demonstrating both legal excellence and budgetary prudence, the result can be improved realization rates, more repeat business and greater client trust. In the end, both the client and the law firm win.
Innovative legal tools can play a key role in achieving those goals by improving efficiency and productivity. Larri Broomfield, partner and CTO at Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren s.c., explained that “to provide the best service to our clients, we must have the best technology. The right technology allows us to do many things, including getting our attorneys working better and faster.”
Next-generation legal research tools are an excellent example. WestlawNext has been shown to reduce the time needed for legal research by up to 64 percent. That allows lawyers to pass savings on to clients, and gives counsel and staff more time to focus on high-value work, such as legal strategies and case development. And features such as mobile folder sharing improve communication and collaboration, strengthening the client-counsel relationship.
Litigators now have access to integrated suites such as Westlaw Litigator, including Westlaw Case Notebook, Westlaw Drafting Assistant and Westlaw CaseLogistix, which tie together essential tools to smoothly handle everything from document review through analysis, drafting and final preparations with end-to-end efficiencies.
Similarly, new automated transactional tools can help manage everything from drafting contracts to populating forms. They integrate firm knowledge, legal research, proofing tools and more to ensure efficiency in producing accurate, cost-effective work product.
However, buying technology only gets a law firm so far – in the end, the tools add value only if lawyers use them. Often new tools require some modification, however slight, in workflow. The payoff in the end may be huge, but at least a small investment in change management is usually required. That’s why law firms should be sure to procure their solutions from business partners who build tools that align closely with existing lawyer workflow. Also, firms should work with providers that have a strong commitment to customized training and support.
The marketplace is becoming increasingly competitive and buyers are demanding more from counsel. The challenge is for firms to show that they are delivering exceptional value in their services. Firms need to gain competitive advantage by using intelligent solutions that can help them better serve clients, increase productivity and more effectively leverage their expertise.
Allison Guidette is SVP and managing director, Large Law Firms Segment, Thomson Reuters. She was previously senior vice president and general manager, Litigation Solutions, Thomson Reuters, and also has held executive positions at Merrill Corporation and Corporate Executive Board, in addition to earlier roles at two law firms.