|Allstate Applies Big Business Initiatives to Big Law|
|by Novus Law LLC, Client Solutions Team. Follow on Twitter @NovusLawLLC|
Fifteen years ago, during a yearly medical checkup, a doctor would take your blood pressure and weight. Ten years ago, a nurse would perform these tasks. Today, a technician weighs you and takes your blood pressure, sometimes also tracking your biometrics through an online portal.
“You want the doctor to do the highest level of work,” says Bruce Goldberg, corporate counsel and director of legal operations at Chicago-based insurance giant Allstate. “You don’t want to pay the doctor if you can pay someone else to do the job effectively at a more reasonable price.” In Goldberg’s view, law should be no different.
“One of the things I love the most about this role – this notion of being at the intersection of business and the practice of law – is helping the law department run like a business,” says Goldberg, who leads Allstate’s legal operations group.
“Corporate legal departments have very large annual budgets – often hundreds of millions of dollars. They can’t be an anomaly within the corporation,” he says. “All other units are run like a business with defined goals, budgets, metrics and processes. We should run the legal department that way, as well.
“I am fortunate to report to a general counsel who not only sees the value of operating the law department like a business, but insists on doing so,” notes Goldberg. “I know this may sound like pandering to my boss, but the fact is that robust support from your general counsel is an important element of success in the legal operations space.
“One of the most exciting parts of the job is the opportunity to identify initiatives that work in big business and apply them to ‘big law,’ ” says Goldberg. “Think about implementing technology and process improvements in the law department. Rather than 20 lawyers doing the same thing 20 different ways, we develop ways to ‘chunk out’ work so senior attorneys aren’t doing everything from soup to nuts. Our focus is to have the right level of people do the right kind of work – and do it using common processes.”
For Allstate, that means leveraging the expertise of lower- and mid-level attorneys, paralegals, law clerks and other specialized individuals to deliver legal services, and corporate in-house consultants to create process maps for the legal department. This mapping often is done by reverse-engineering current workstreams.
“They’ll work with us to take a workstream from end to end, break out pieces, and look at each process and who does which piece today. This allows us to determine what work is most appropriate for different position levels and what changes need to be made in order to make our processes more effective,” says Goldberg. “You don’t need senior-level lawyers doing everything. Some steps are now done by mid-level and junior lawyers. This frees up our most experienced attorneys to spend more time serving as strategic counselors to our business units – which is what our clients say they want. It also affords our attorneys a more rewarding career path.
“We also focused our in-house operations to identify opportunities to take over work at a more appropriate level and price that otherwise would go to junior attorneys or paralegals at our law firms.” A closer evaluation of work and who is responsible for its custodianship and completion is particularly impactful in the discovery space, according to Goldberg.
Although Goldberg has held Allstate’s head legal ops role for more than eight years, he began in the position with little “business of law” expertise, having spent the prior 20 years practicing in-house at Allstate.
“I like to say I was one of the rule violators, whereas now, I’m a rule enforcer,” Goldberg laughs. “I’m the second person in this role and was offered the opportunity to step in with no experience. But, that’s the fun thing about it – there are a lot of people with relatively little training in legal ops helping to transform corporate legal departments. We all learn from each other.
“I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase ‘a learning-network.’ Legal ops professionals cannot thrive without a very strong learning network,” Goldberg explains.
“There isn’t an established playbook for this job. There’s no college major in it. Law schools don’t teach it, although a few are starting to dabble [in legal ops]. What the ACC has done with the development of the Legal Ops section is to create a learning network to help us all evolve in these roles.”
Goldberg also considers Allstate’s outside counsel – roughly 20 law firms culled from a group of nearly 400 who are part of a ‘preferred provider program’ – as learning partners.
“We worked with our preferred firms to come up with the dimensions of our annual client satisfaction surveys – where we ask our in-house lawyers to rate the firms they work with – because we thought it was important that they have a say,” he says.
The surveys are part of a program devised by Goldberg and his colleagues to measure outside law firms’ responsiveness, clarity and effectiveness of communication; willingness to collaborate; commitment to diversity; adherence to budget and billing guidelines; and success at achieving desired outcomes.
“One of the things that we’re trying to do this year is to have more robust conversations with our [law] firms, and have more action items come out of the surveys. If a firm isn’t doing well on a particular dimension, we can hone in on that area and collaborate with them to develop a plan for improvement.”
Goldberg also hopes the surveys will provide useful data that can be measured and analyzed – rather than just collected into a database but never acted upon.
“There are at least two things you can do with data. You can simply report it, which can be helpful and interesting – say, to track progress and observe trends – or you can do something with it. Data that is actionable is, perhaps, the most valuable.
We want to leverage the data we collect – such as from our electronic billing system – to develop tighter processes that can create opportunities for big changes.”
However, “You really have to be willing to try things,” Goldberg cautions. “You can’t always deliver everything perfectly. You have to be willing to make adjustments along the way and even fail at times. I have to admit that, as a lawyer who is trained to focus on the details, this notion of taking an iterative approach is still a struggle for me at times – but then you find a couple of opportunities that are really beneficial to the business, and you’re glad you did.”
Bruce R. Goldberg is corporate counsel and director of legal operations at the department of law and regulation of the Allstate Insurance Company in Northbrook, Illinois. His responsibilities include management of the business operations of the law department and support for the office of the general counsel. Mr. Goldberg is accountable for managing the law department's preferred provider program for outside legal services, expense management, IT strategy and support, employee education including CLE, and the law library. Additionally, he serves as the flexible work options program coordinator for the Allstate law department's corporate legal services operation and is a member of the department’s diversity and inclusion council. During his time at Allstate, Mr. Goldberg has held a variety of attorney positions including several that entailed providing compliance and counseling services to the company's property and casualty organization and marketing department, and litigation management. Mr. Goldberg received a BA from Loyola University and is a graduate of the John Marshall Law School.
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|GC Perspectives on Legal Operations|
|by Jonathan Groner, ACC|
According to an ACC survey of corporate general counsels’ offices released in January 2016, more and more in-house legal departments are bringing in legal operations staff to help their offices work more efficiently and successfully. Nearly 50 percent of the in-house departments surveyed said they had at least one person assigned to legal operations, a remarkable increase from 2015, when the figure was just 20 percent.
One thing seems to be common among these corporate general counsels who have set up offices of legal operations: They all seem to have found that their organizations have benefited from the change. Not all legal departments have seen this benefit in the same ways, but all have noted significant improvement in one way or another.
In 2014, for example, Sharon Barner, vice president and general counsel of Cummins Inc., brought in Sophie Zerbib, a Six Sigma black belt and expert in process improvement, as the company’s Director of Legal Business Operations. Zerbib has an MBA, a degree in hotel and restaurant management, and a law degree, but never practiced law.
“I worked with the ACC to put together a job description and then posted the job vacancy,” Barner recalls, “and I found Sophie in the company already, in one of our facilities in Tennessee, working on financial operations. My idea was that just as law firms have a firm-management side, where someone with business experience can be the right person for the job, our department needed someone who could focus on operations while I could handle the legal side.”
Before Barner hired Zerbib, she said she had to convince top management that such a position was really needed – someone who understands process improvement, IT and financial matters. Once she got the OK to hire her, it became clear that it was a good hire.
“The key was to find someone who could manage the billing process from end to end, to negotiate with outside counsel and to understand what our financial obligations in the legal department really were,” says Barner.
Similarly, Kent Walker, senior vice president and general counsel of Google, relies heavily on an operations team headed by Mary Shen O’Carroll, the company’s head of legal operations, technology and strategy. O’Carroll, who has an undergraduate business degree and formerly worked in operations at a major law firm, has been in her position for almost eight years.
“We take a lot of pride in our legal operations office,” Walker says. “We operate in a frugal way to preserve our resources, and we are always developing new homemade tools to manage our documents and our patents.”
O’Carroll supervises a team of 10 managers who are constantly exploring new ways for Google’s legal team to become more efficient, Walker says. “We have a dashboard that monitors the work of all our outside counsel on a constant basis, for example.”
Walker adds that “to my knowledge, no one has yet cracked the code of how to make a legal department fully efficient, but under Mary’s leadership, we have certainly moved forward. We wouldn’t have made as much progress on all these issues as we have if we didn’t have her. It’s not just IT, it’s not just management, it’s not just career development and training. It’s all of the above. She analyzes all our processes – how it is that we’re doing what we’re doing.”
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|Roundup of Activities within the ACC Legal Ops Section|
|by Catherine J. Moynihan, ACC|
Hear the buzz? The ACC Legal Ops section is ever more active, as the professional association we launched just over a year ago grows and thrives. In the model of ACC, this organization is “by legal ops professionals, for legal ops professionals." Read on to see a few proof points.
Preparation for the 2nd Annual Legal Ops Conference continues and seats are filling fast. Be sure to register before May 27th to take advantage of early bird pricing.
We understand the importance you place on pure peer-to-peer networking and collaboration, so the conference planning committee made sure there would be member-only sessions and took care in selecting a limited roster of consultants and legal service providers to contribute their know-how. Here is a sampling of what’s in the works:
- If you’re establishing a new legal ops function, don’t miss the pre-conference “Bootcamp,” led by an ensemble faculty of seasoned legal ops pros to help you get on the path to success armed with a booklet of checklists.
- Wondering about best practice in applying metrics and analytics to inform decisions and drive desired behavior? The leader of the Metrics & Analytics Interest Group has already undertaken that quest (conducting well over a dozen interviews!) and will be joined by leading practitioners to walk you through the playbook.
- Been at this for a while and itching to innovate to reduce operational friction between law firms and departments? Join invited guests from P3 (law firm pricing, project management and process improvement professionals) for a working session to come up with solutions we can implement.
- Enter the “Simulation Chamber” to learn how to convince your in-house lawyer colleagues to go along with the changes you propose to reduce costs and improve quality through a role-play about eDiscovery management.
Check out the full conference agenda here.
And elsewhere in the hive…
- Improving contract management systems is clearly a hot topic given the number who tuned in for a webinar featuring knowledge-sharing from members with Abbott, Baxter, Lonza America and Microsoft. In case you missed it you can view it here (click “view archive” in top right corner).
- Many others recently picked the brains of members from Bank of America, Ernst & Young and Micron during a benchmarking call on shared administrative and contracting services. Look for a brief report on that in the Legal Ops Resources directory soon.
- The External Resources Management Interest Group is developing an article series that will be compiled into a resource on management tactics to get the best value-enabling and value-plus services from law firms and other vendors.
- Communicating best practices to the general counsel population in setting up, empowering and leveraging legal ops functions is yet another project underway. Several seasoned legal ops pros have been undergoing interviews, along with their GCs, as fodder for an ACC Leading Practice Profile (LPP) on Legal Ops to be published in June. Meanwhile, check out the LPPs on metrics, convergence, knowledge management, staffing and more here.
We know that legal ops responsibilities are broad and at any moment you may need to get up to speed on a topic fast. When those moments come along, don’t forget that you can log-in to check the resource library, ask for peer input in the Member Forum or drop a line to LawDepartmentOps@acc.com asking us to coordinate a benchmarking conference call. And, come to the annual ACC Legal Ops Conference June 22-24 to gather great ideas, practical advice, and lots of peer connections.
Catherine J. Moynihan is Senior Director of Legal Management Services for the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC). She directs the ACC Legal Operations Section and the ACC Value Challenge, providing resources, education, networking and advocacy to advance the law department function and the value of legal spending.
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|Highlights from the ACC Legal Ops News & Announcements Page|
There is a lot of terrific information floating by in the social
media stream - often too much for busy legal ops professionals to
consume. The ACC Legal Ops News & Announcements tab tracks the best items to keep you well informed. Take a look at these great highlights:
Deftly summarizing the current state of affairs in the legal services industry, in which demand for law firm services is flat while many corporate departments are hiring and taking on more and more work once outsourced to law firms, Mark Cohen’s analysis in Law360, Corporate Counsel: Consumer Becomes Provider goes on to explain that, “it’s more than rates; the beef is increasingly casting a harsh light on lawyer structure and function issues.” The article’s focus, however, is on exploring the competitive advantages of legal departments over law firms in serving business clients, including being better positioned to collaborate and become business partners and to match global growth. Cohen points also to the growth in prestige for top in-house lawyers and the contribution of legal operations. “Corporate departments are generally ahead of firms in structuring their delivery as an amalgam of legal expertise, IT, and process management. And that is central to why they have morphed from legal consumers to legal providers.”
The 2016 ACC Value Champions were announced, featuring several legal ops led initiatives.These Champions take proactive approaches to the hallmark areas of corporate legal work, including discovery, contracting and procurement, employment law and patent protection. They have simplified processes to reduce cycle time while improving quality. And the winning legal departments and law firms, aligned through value-based fees, collaborate to reduce litigation and empower business units through automation to get legal answers and documents in real time. You can read up on their inspiring value-focused models here.
Several other articles analyze trends and developments in the legal services industry, including:
We are adding more hand-picked items all the time - be sure to bookmark www.acc.com/legalops/news or subscribe to the RSS feed.
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|Register for the 2016 ACC Legal Ops Conference|
The 2nd annual ACC Legal Ops conference will be even bigger and better, with a pre-conference workshop on getting the legal ops function established and a welcoming reception on the 22nd; followed by expert-led roundtables, panels sharing leading practices, keynote addresses, and Interest Group meetings over the next two days. Themes for the programs are: optimizing law department management, innovating in legal service delivery, and guiding it all through data analytics & metrics. Join us!
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|Not a Member of ACC Legal Ops? Join Now!|
Join now to get access to resources, participate in any of the Interest Groups, and use the online Member Forum for ad hoc benchmarking and referrals. The ACC Legal Ops section is active throughout the year, adding resources, conducting benchmarking studies, and providing webinars by legal operations professionals, for legal ops professionals.
For more information, visit www.acc.com/legalops or contact LawDepartmentOps@acc.com.
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