Solving Productivity Bottlenecks

Thursday, June 21, 2012 - 13:57

The pressures faced by today’s corporate counsel are on the rise. Businesses are keeping a closer eye on their legal spend. It represents a cost center, and all companies face pressure to concentrate resources on growth and revenue generation, as well as maximizing profits. The pressure on counsel is not likely to abate in the foreseeable future, meaning the way for legal departments to solidly contribute to corporate value creation is to run a leaner business and to reign in outside counsel spending across the board.

The traditional “first pass” at this cost control involves tighter controls on the hours spent by outside counsel and greater use of alternative fee arrangements. In fact, the ACC/Serengeti Managing Outside Counsel Survey found that growth in law department spending has slowed considerably. Further, a growing number of companies are requiring project budgets, early case assessments and use of specific technologies by their outside counsel in order to have greater visibility and control over their legal spend.

However, focusing control purely on the billable hour will not allow corporate counsel to meet their ultimate objectives. This can also create undue tension between in-house and outside counsel. Rather, progressive-minded corporate counsel see opportunity for cost savings in placing more emphasis on using tools, processes and technologies to increase efficiency and productivity and to produce higher-quality work product faster and more cost-effectively. 

In other words, work smarter, not harder, and not less.

Productivity​ Bottlenecks

Productivity is about creating greater value in your work product in less time. The key is spending more time on lawyering – the creation and delivery of valuable advice and advocacy – and less time finding and managing information. Many tasks in the litigation cycle are highly labor-intensive: organizing discovery information, locating past work product examples, drafting documents, assembling case materials and preparing for deposition or trial. Parts of these tasks are necessary but extremely time-consuming and fail to add any real value to case preparation.

Here are some of the key productivity bottlenecks:

  1. Accessing and searching information: Case information is often stored in different physical locations (desktop computer, firm server, remote storage, etc.) as well as on different systems (transcript repository, legal research service, word processing, etc.). Considerable time is spent finding and moving information from one location to another, and accessing information remotely and securely can be difficult or even impossible.
  1. Processing information: Time lags in processing information can lead to major productivity losses. Insights gained at a deposition may be lost by the time the transcript arrives two weeks later. Work on a brief or memorandum has to wait until citations can be validated and updated.
  1. Sharing information: Team members often work in isolation and then hand off their work product to other team members. A litigator reads a transcript, gleans insights and makes notes on a document. That analysis could be helpful to other team members, but not when they are unaware of the notes and unable to readily find it.
  2. Repetitive tasks: Many case preparation tasks are time-intensive and repetitive, making them well suited for automation. For example, citations need to be double-checked to verify their status as good law. In addition, they often need to be formatted to specific rules for a given jurisdiction.
Pathways To Increased Productivity

Integrated technology can enhance productivity by automating many of the above-mentioned tasks. For example, case analysis software can help team members gather, organize, share, manage and work with case-related information. Enterprise search, knowledge management systems and integrated legal research can find needed information faster. Automated drafting tools can greatly speed up creation of key legal documents.

Because effective management of cases relies on close coordination within teams, the ability to work collaboratively can result in tremendous productivity gains. A centralized repository can provide a single, collaboratively shared resource for storing and accessing all relevant case information: key facts, insights, notes, documents, main characters, transcripts, evidence, legal research and more. Multiple tasks can be carried out concurrently, with team members continually updating and sharing information in real time. 

In addition, many of these tools are increasingly available on mobile platforms. Having tools that are easily accessible and portable allows users to work while on-the-go, in some cases even when offline, further increasing productivity.

In the end, the hunt for greater productivity is about finding ways to spend less time chasing down, organizing and sharing information, and having more time to analyze facts, hone arguments, prepare cases and generate high-quality work product. As one attorney recently told me, “Being able to find information quickly and be more prepared is key. When we can do that, it gives us a real advantage. It saves us time and lets us take on more projects.”

The productivity gains resulting from automated tools can help process cases faster, enable better case outcomes and allow handling of more cases within available staffing resources. 

In today’s environment of global competition and growing budgetary pressures, having outside and in-house counsel work together using technology and tools increases collaboration and productivity. Instead of focusing on time-consuming tasks, firms can focus their energy on providing high-quality legal advice and advocacy to the organization while reducing the total cost of litigation and dispute resolution, and increasing the likelihood of success on any given matter. Just as important, their focus on cost containment will deliver much-needed value creation to the corporation.

Kristin Nimsger is General Manager, Litigation, Thomson Reuters.