This article was originally published in Corporate Counsel Business Journal.
Jonah Paransky, executive vice president of Wolters Kluwer's ELM Solutions, discusses the ways that the role of general counsel has evolved in recent years to accommodate the growing emphasis on legal ops, and how new technology can help legal departments maximize their impact while minimizing costs.
CCBJ: What are some of the important high-level changes you’ve seen in legal departments over the last several years?
Jonah Paransky: General counsel, under pressure from their organizations to maximize value and minimize spend, have shifted to a much stronger focus on business strategy. They are still expected to deliver the best legal advice to the companies they serve, but that now comes alongside an expectation of expertise in running the legal department efficiently and with business goals in mind.
In recent years, it has become more common for general counsel to have a legal operations director reporting directly to them. Legal ops is an area where general counsel have placed much of the emphasis on their drive to improve performance and value. The 2019 Altman Weil Chief Legal Officer Survey found that adding personnel to the law department operations function is seen by general counsel as the best way to improve the efficiency of legal services delivery.
Given the impact of the legal ops function, it’s not surprising that legal ops is now a much more accepted part of the typical corporate legal department. Back in 2008, the Blickstein Annual Law Department Operations Survey found that 37 percent of legal ops directors viewed “gaining attorney respect” as their primary challenge at work. Ten years later, zero percent of respondents cited that as a challenge. It’s safe to say, legal ops is well established and here to stay.
How are law departments responding to the current corporate legal landscape and expectations?
They’re utilizing an increasing number of solutions targeted at helping them meet their strategic and business goals. The foundation of these solutions is the enterprise legal management (ELM) platforms that lay the groundwork for better operations by streamlining workflows and capturing data about legal matters and spend. We’ve moved into a more mature era of ELM, in which technology is quite advanced and is being leveraged for more of the tasks that law departments need to accomplish.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is a great example of technological improvement. More than 57 percent of respondents to the 2019 Blickstein Law Department Operations Survey said that they expect most law departments to use AI for legal work in the next three years. We’ve seen e-discovery solutions, for example, introduce AI-driven technology-assisted review to improve efficiency and results in identifying relevant information. Lawyers are also using AI in their research, increasing their efficiency by letting machine intelligence find the specific citations they need in a fraction of the time it would take an attorney.
Our company, Wolters Kluwer's ELM Solutions, leverages AI to help in-house legal staff with a number of workflows: LegalVIEW® BillAnalyzer is an AI-enabled bill review service that helps companies save up to 10 percent on legal spend and increase billing guideline compliance up to 20 percent. LegalVIEW Predictive Insights helps improve outside counsel selections and supports important decisions about matters with predictive budget and cycle time information. 10 years ago, solutions like these would have sounded like science fiction to most corporate lawyers, but today general counsel and legal ops professionals understand the value of AI.
At ELM Solutions, we are also expanding into new areas like contract lifecycle management, which has been a major pain point for many corporate law departments. In May of 2019, we acquired CLM Matrix so that our portfolio could support this growing legal function need. We knew it was the right choice for us because Forrester ranked CLM Matrix the No. 2 contract lifecycle management offering in the market, and it already had customer satisfaction scores that were through the roof. It’s an excellent fit for our strategy of integrating products seamlessly so that busy legal professionals don’t need to log into separate systems to get their work done.
What advice would you give to a corporate law department, regardless of industry or company size, to help them improve the business value they bring to their organization?
Use all of the data you have available. That means your own internal data, as well as data from external sources to benchmark your performance against. Data is an incredibly valuable tool, and law departments that don’t leverage it to control spend and improve their decision-making are leaving money on the table.
This is becoming clear to legal leaders who are more and more often seeking solutions that can provide them with clear, relevant analytics. EY’s 2019 Reimagining the Legal Function Report found that 87 percent of law departments experienced a large or moderate increase in demand for analytics in the last five years. This is an area where vendors like ELM Solutions not only have the technology but also the experience and expertise to help law departments build an effective metrics program.
Because data is such an important part of value capture for legal teams, it is a major focus for ELM Solutions. Our LegalVIEW database is the largest repository of legal spend data in the world, with more than $130 billion in detailed legal invoice data. Well over a decade ago, we created our data contributor program, which allows our clients to securely share their data for benchmarking research and product development purposes, and by now, the program has grown to include more than 100 clients. That data is anonymized, cleaned, enhanced with information from outside sources, standardized, categorized, and used to generate insights, including those contained in the Real Rate Report, which has become the gold standard for hourly rate benchmarking.
What are you and the ELM Solutions team doing to help law departments improve their strategic value?
We have a keen focus on the customer experience, and we constantly work with law departments to understand exactly how we can help them meet their goals. Our Total Spend Management approach emerged out of those relationships. We have innovated around e-billing and brought it to the next level with advanced technology and experts that generate savings and improve visibility into legal spend and the management of it.
We are careful to not only offer solutions to client challenges but also to implement them in ways that make it easy for clients to take full advantage of them. For example, when we introduced a rate benchmarking feature that allows users to compare proposed rates to market rates, we placed it directly in the workflow where users view law firm rate proposals. Similarly, our Predictive Insights Module presents law firm rankings directly on the screen where users make decisions about outside counsel assignments. Making the data available isn’t enough – we make sure to deliver it right where users actually need it.
These principles inform all of the new features and solutions we conceive of, now and in the future, and we’re excited to share our next round of innovations with law departments.