Aaron Pierce of LexisNexis talks about the many benefits of legal management solutions like CounselLink, from tracking legal spend to improving communication with outside vendors and creating stronger relationships.
CCBJ: Let’s talk about CounselLink’s role in supporting law departments.
Aaron Pierce: CounselLink is a cloud-based enterprise legal management solution for corporate legal departments. I like to think of it, basically, as a platform that enables insights and efficiencies within the legal department. It provides work management capabilities for handling the legal work that in-house counsel does. It also handles legal spend management capabilities for all of the various law firm and vendor invoices that flow through the legal department. And most recently, we’ve also been growing its set of vendor management capabilities, which allow for legal operations to better track and understand all of the work that their outside vendors are providing for them.
Vendor and legal service provider management is a widely discussed pain point for law department executives and legal operations professionals, and the question they want answered is, “How can law departments gain insights that help them better evaluate their existing vendors and legal service providers?”
The key to improving any system is, first, being able to measure it. If you’re not collecting data, both objective data points and subjective data, you can’t even begin to properly rate or compare or identify trends. It doesn’t have to be a huge program. It doesn’t have to be a big corporate initiative. You can start with just one or two data points, then collect more data based on your needs as you go along. Maybe you just want to look at how well firms are complying with your guidelines, or maybe you want to see how often you’re engaging in detailed hourly billing arrangements versus alternative billing arrangements.
In CounselLink, for example, we have a vendor scorecard tool that you can use to track some of those data points directly. Once you plot your vendors and put them on a chart, you can start to watch the trends over time – and you can also use that ability as a tool for helping to manage those relationships.
Matching up legal service providers like law firms, consultants, e-discovery providers and others on a matter-by-matter basis is often seen as a challenge. How can law departments and legal operations executives ensure that they are selecting the best solution for a particular matter?
It all comes back to the data. If you’re dealing with a single firm for all matters of a certain type, you can track the firm’s performance. You can keep an eye on their work over time and make sure that it is improving based on your data and criteria. But if you’re taking that approach of trying to find the right firm for the right matter, as you said, you’re going to need to have a collection of the critical data points from those kinds of matters that will help point to the right firm or service provider. For instance: How big is the matter? What’s my anticipated exposure? Is this a critical bet-the-firm matter, or is it more of a transactional, lower-importance piece of work?
You want to collect those data points to help point you to the right place to go. I recommended starting with one or two data points, and as you start to mature and expand the data you’re collecting, you can begin to drill down and use the different criteria to come up with the best firm for a given set of end points. You should be able to generate some simple and repeatable reports that pull this data and help you drive that process of selection, based upon the different inputs to those matters.
How can law departments better communicate and collaborate with their legal service providers and vendors?
Using a tool like CounselLink to help facilitate that communication means you’re going to have all of your information in one place. You won’t lose information to the email box of a particular attorney who doesn’t happen to share that he got an email from an outside counsel, for instance. Instead, you’ll be able to see the ongoing collaboration and data all in one place, alongside all of the other details about the matter that your organization is collecting.
In CounselLink in particular, vendors and clients share a common user interface. They log into the same tool. They’re not just submitting bills to a black box, they’re being given a place to communicate and view data about the matters they’re working on, as well as a place to collaborate on those matters. You can’t always be in the same room, you can’t always be face to face, you won’t always be looking at the data at the same time. But with the right tools you’ll know that you are looking at the same data, and that you’re making decisions based on having access to the same information, both as an in-house legal professional or as an outside law firm or vendor that’s supporting those legal departments.
What else should our readers know about optimizing their relationships with their vendors and legal service providers to stay on budget and secure the best outcomes?
It’s all about ongoing communication and feedback. The more open and transparent you can be about your goals and needs, and the more open and transparent your firms or partners can be about their goals and needs, the more likely it is that you’re going to be able to drive successful outcomes. Having that open and transparent communication about performance, just like you would as part of your regular employee engagement, is tremendously beneficial. It means sharing the data you’re collecting with your partners, with your outside counsel and your vendors, but also sharing how you’re interpreting the data and how you’re using it to drive your decisions.
Trusted partners that you can rely on to be an extension of your in-house operations, and that you let in to understand your goals and motivations, will provide higher value. The more that they understand not just the data or the details but also the motivations and strategy behind them, and the better you are able to share that information, the more likely you are to have a successful outcome.