The transition from one calendar year to the next is always a good time to reflect back, and consider what we can expect in the months ahead. On a personal level, I’m very happy to have joined Wolters Kluwer ELM Solutions at this exciting time in the Enterprise Legal Management (ELM) marketplace and in the legal industry more generally. I have a passion for understanding market trends, listening to the voice of the customer, and working with our clients to create solutions that enable them to succeed and meet their business goals. That’s what makes this such a fantastic time to be in our industry.
More than ever, corporate legal and compliance departments, insurance carriers, and law firms understand the value that technology can bring to their operations. That gives our business the opportunity to serve these customers in new ways – innovating methods for leveraging data and optimizing workflows to help organizations run more efficiently and effectively.
Key Themes in 2016
I spent a lot of my time in 2016 listening to our customers so I could learn about what is important to them, beginning with the ELM16 User Conference in Orlando, where I talked face-to-face with customers about their goals and how we can help meet them. I saw three major themes that were particularly crucial:
Legal departments across industries face constant pressure to reduce their spend and have responded by ramping up their efforts to ensure efficient processes, appropriate assignment of work, and reasonable pricing. Today it’s not at all unusual for procurement professionals on the client side and pricing specialists at law firms to work together on determining rate levels and fair alternative fee arrangements (AFAs) for outside counsel work.
These experts are focused on controlling costs while maintaining value and sustaining good law firm-client relationships. An entire sub-specialty in legal operations management has emerged in this environment and ELM systems have become a key tool in the effort to keep costs down.
Corporate GCs still need to be first-rate lawyers, but they are also increasingly expected to contribute to the bottom line. In order to be effective business partners, GCs need tools that can help them make important decisions based on established facts and industry benchmarks, not just past relationships.
Analytics show relative performance of vendors, capture trends over time, and provide perspective on industry benchmarks. All of which means GCs have the insight needed to make the right decisions for the company, both legal and financial, and have more informed conversations with their legal providers.
These metrics are also incredibly valuable to law firms that want to remain competitive. Knowledge of industry benchmarks – such as typical rates for particular kinds of work or average outside counsel spend when AFAs are in use in a given practice area – give law firms a basis for valuing the services offered to clients.
Enterprise applications of all stripes are famously challenging with respect to usability. In many cases, ELM systems are no exception. Because they help to manage a complex set of tasks and data, some ELM tools are complicated and difficult to navigate. But users who are accustomed to simple well-designed interfaces at home rightly expect enterprise solutions to adapt to their workflow and preferences, providing responsive interfaces that support whatever device they use.
In 2016 we undertook an extensive user experience redesign and introduced Passport® Office Companion. We are committed to this ongoing effort because the user experience must always adapt to keep up with users’ evolving expectations.
As we move into 2017, our high-level priority does not change: as always, we will help legal professionals succeed. We will continue to build on our work with clients in all of the key areas above while also exploring new ways to serve customers. But there are a few specific areas where I see the market moving, and so I expect the following developments over the next year:
Users will insist on ELM tools that enable productivity by giving them the ability to do their job where they want and need to do it. This means offering ELM functionality in core tools such as Microsoft Outlook within the Office suite and making sure that users can accomplish their tasks easily from all of the popular mobile devices. With legal staff busier than ever, customers need solutions that bring legal management seamlessly into their existing processes without adding difficulty. While these may have been considered “nice to have” in the past, in 2017 they will be essential.
ELM will become more crucial to smaller corporate legal organizations. As sophistication grows among smaller departments, they will find that manually-edited spreadsheets on shared network drives no longer provide the level of detail and insight they need to meet the expectations of senior management. Like their counterparts in the Fortune 500, GCs at smaller companies are being asked to actively manage legal efforts in a way that supports the overall business goals, necessitating the visibility and control that ELM offers.
Companies will take the next step in using ELM to maximize productivity. Offerings such as professional Legal Bill Review (LBR) and machine learning for eDiscovery review will help to control costs even further when implemented in combination with core ELM technology, and, perhaps more importantly, these additional options help to ensure that the legal team is freed from additional responsibilities and can concentrate on the practice of law.
In recent years, legal organizations have become more savvy about operating efficiently and generating desired outcomes. All signs indicate that the corporate pressures that caused these improvements will continue into 2017 and for the foreseeable future. At ELM Solutions, we will remain at the forefront of understanding what legal professionals need to succeed. I look forward to working with our customers to provide solutions that help them meet their goals.
Happy New Year!