Work within the law department goes way beyond strictly legal matters. According to Aaron Pierce of CounselLink, information related to that work can be invaluable in optimizing your team’s performance. In this interview with CCBJ, Pierce, an industry veteran, provides insights on how to broaden data capture and analysis to improve performance.

CCBJ: How can law departments get beyond e-billing solutions to become more informed about their legal spend and make better, data-driven decisions?

Aaron Pierce: The right enterprise legal management system will provide the tools to analyze all data in the system, including invoice data down to the charge-level, even for invoices submitted via email or fax. The ability to fully capture and report on all legal spend, which not all solutions provide, is critical to accurate reporting and provides the foundation upon which all of your analytics is built.

Once you get your arms around where your money has gone historically, and for what types of work, you can begin to plan for how best to manage the work moving forward. Hourly work is not always the answer, and with the right data, you can begin to evaluate appropriate alternative fee approaches to the types of work you need to send to outside counsel.

In addition, bringing in industry benchmarking information, such as that which the CounselLink Insight tool provides, helps to validate not just the rates you’re paying, but also allows you to understand how those rates are affected by the type of legal work, geographical location and firm size. It’s a valuable step in the process to make sure you’re getting the most for your dollars.

Finally, a simple set of executive dashboards is critical – you need something that your legal operations professionals and general counsel can view at-a-glance to see trends, understand where outliers exist and identify opportunities for further discussion in partnership with your outside counsel.

How can law departments use data and legal process management systems to better manage their workload, as opposed to managing matter by matter?

Work within the law department goes way beyond just legal matters. There’s so much information that flows into and out of the department without being formally promoted to a “legal matter,” and just as it’s important to track every line item of every invoice, it’s equally important to track all the work performed in the department.

CounselLink launched our Legal Request tool early last year to help capture “non-matter” work, including things like legal inquiries, requests for advice and submissions from stakeholders – or, in the case of one utility company we work with, submissions directly from the general public.

Once you have all that work captured in the system, you can begin to look for patterns to help you understand what opportunities can improve your processes and streamline common tasks. Work that was once handled manually or via email can be standardized, and you can set metrics and SLAs around the performance, helping to hold your department accountable and build a stronger partnership with the other departments you collaborate with.

You can also find value in partnering with an organization that brings a strategic focus to improving your work processes. At CounselLink, we have folks with decades of legal industry experience who provide strategic consulting services and will sit down, review the data and help law departments build out repeatable processes that will keep costs low and value high.

Law departments will continue to engage with many types of legal and business service providers. How can they become more strategic in their review and selection of service providers?

It’s important to standardize how you look at your law firms and legal service providers. At CounselLink, we provide a standard view of both law firms and vendors that provides at-a-glance information around common metrics such as hours spent, types of legal work and total spend.

Additionally, many law departments will have corporate initiatives – around diversity of firms or timekeepers, for example – and your tools need to help support those initiatives by providing data and accountability.

Finally, the big decision is always about how much work to keep in-house and how much to send to outside counsel or to legal service providers, like e-discovery, for example. Understanding performance and tracking outcomes of all of your legal vendors – not just law firms – helps you to make better, data-driven decisions.

How can they be more proactive in their relationship management with service providers?

Just as it’s important to have regular performance evaluations of your employees, it’s critical to hold regular reviews with your vendors. Using standard dashboards and scorecards to demonstrate an apples-to-apples comparison of individual firms will help provide the type of feedback that will guarantee the results you want. If you don’t provide feedback to your vendors and ask for changes based upon the data you have at hand, you can’t expect different results.

It’s important to capture not just the objective, factual data (such as hours spent, total dollars, time to bill, etc.), but also the subjective data on performance of the firm, satisfaction with the outcomes and with the overall relationship. There are often dozens of touchpoints between different parties within your department and with staff at outside firms, and collecting and reporting on a holistic view of the strength of that partnership is a valuable point for discussion.

Ultimately, building a strong relationship with a critical few firms that provide the range of services you require and the outcomes – both objective and subjective – that you desire is the key to a strong vendor management program.