Innovative Techniques for Reducing Legal Spend in the Post-COVID-19 World

Highlights from Exterro’s recent webcast about how legal departments are controlling budgets and minimizing spend – now and in the future.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused broad shifts in the way people across all industries work, with far-reaching ramifications that will likely be felt for years to come. While the crisis remains ongoing in many parts of the country, it is important to consider – and begin to plan for – what the legal world will look for in the future, once the coronavirus is safely in the rearview mirror. With that in mind, leading e-discovery provider Exterro recently hosted a webcast entitled “Innovative Techniques for Reducing Legal Spend in the Post-COVID-19 World.”

The webcast panel consisted of Connie Brenton, senior director of legal operation at NetApp; David Yerich, director of e-discovery at UnitedHealth Group; and Tyler Thompson, associate at Bryan Cave LLP. It was hosted and moderated by Mike Hamilton, senior managing director at Exterro.

It’s clear that whatever the ultimate outcome of the pandemic ends up being, it has already resulted in massive – sometimes catastrophic – losses for businesses across nearly all industries. As companies look to prevent more losses, now and in the future, it is imperative that in-house legal professionals think of innovative techniques to minimize legal spend. That’s why, several months ago, at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis in March, the Blickstein Group, Corporate Counsel Business Journal and Exterro came together to create a survey that asked legal leaders across the country how their legal departments are controlling budgets and what techniques are most effective for reducing spend. The results of that survey helped frame the webcast discussion.

The survey focused on three key areas that significantly impact legal spend: legal operations, e-discovery activities and data privacy processes.

When it comes to legal operations, the survey highlighted the importance of having a comprehensive legal spend strategy. To that end, the survey also revealed that more and more companies continue to bring their legal work in-house, a trend that Connie Brenton said tends to makes companies more efficient and cost-effective overall: “Legal operations is relatively new, and it exists for the same reason that it exists across the company. To simplify the business, make processes more streamlined and stronger and provide more highly predictable results. The reorganization of the industry and how legal services are delivered is a huge takeaway and continues to be a huge takeaway when I look at these benchmarking surveys.”

More specifically, the COVID-19 crisis presents an opportunity for companies to improve the digital aspects of their business. As Breton put it: “Now’s the opportunity to go digital, because everybody has to go digital. We didn’t bring our printers home. We were told on Friday, ‘OK, on Monday you’ll be working from home. You have to go digital.’ So that has opened the door for lots of opportunity. But that also means you’re going to have to shift some of your funding to get different technology and redesign the processes. Because you can’t just overnight flip from hard copy to a digital solution and have it work.”

E-discovery is another important legal area where businesses are looking to save money, and once again, the key to minimizing spend is for the company to do more itself – especially large companies with the resources to do so. As David Yerich put it: “I realize there are many organizations that can’t support that level of internal e-discovery operations, because they don’t have enough litigation, or it’s the first time.” However, he said, when possible, “Doing more yourself makes sense. It doesn’t mean you have to own the technology, but it does mean you have to own the process. Understanding the process is where I would begin.”

Privacy and cybersecurity are also major concerns. For most companies, compliance with new data privacy laws, like the California Consumer Privacy Act, is a top priority. But not every company is there yet. Tyler Thompson was surprised to see that approximately 30 percent of survey respondents still didn’t see privacy as a top concern. “If you aren’t plugged into the discussion, you don’t realize how big of a deal this will be,” he said. “But it’s coming. It’s going to be a big driver of legal spend.” He also pointed out that if companies didn’t see this as a major concern before, COVID-19 will make it clear how important it is: “A lot of companies that now have employees working from home don’t have rigorous procedures around data security. We expect there to be a big increase in data breaches over the next six to 10 months.”

Whatever the particular issue happens to be – whether it’s legal ops, e-discovery, privacy and security, or anything else – it’s abundantly clear that the future will be defined by uncertainty. Brenton described our current situation and any potential post-COVID scenario as a VUCA world: volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. “In that kind of world,” she said, “planning gets redesigned. At one point, we might have been designing [budgets] for three years to five years out. That’s no longer the case, because we don’t know what it’s going to look like next quarter. As a general rule, we are all staying flexible and resilient and making plans on a much shorter term than we have in the past.”

The entire webcast, “Innovative Techniques for Reducing Legal Spend in the Post-COVID-19 World,” can be seen here.

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