Legal Operations Vision 20/20
By Sam Ranganathan, Chair of ACC Legal Operations, Senior Director of Legal Operations at AbbVie
Law departments are tasked with doing more with less without sacrificing quality, while also dealing with rising costs of legal services, globalization and changing regulations. That combination presents a significant opportunity for legal operations teams – as one can tell from the topics of conversations at Xchange 2019 and in our Interest Group meetings this year.
In addition, we have seen a significant jump in membership that goes beyond the folks wearing the conventional Legal Operations hat as more GCs and their direct reports see value in building resourcing models around the 14 Legal Operations functions described in the ACC Maturity Model
For the folks who missed out this year… I want to highlight four ways of many that your LO colleagues have been building their skills:
- Xchange 2019 – A safe space for legal operations professionals to learn from each other in peer lead sessions, network/connect with each other for future “phone a friend” opportunities and connect with other law department leaders. The feedback was highly favorable across the board – the quality of learning and the multitude of opportunities to have an in-depth conversation with other LO leaders was well worth the price of admission.
- Interest Group meetings – Did you want to learn from other people’s successes and failures? The Interest / Regional Groups gave the attendees a cozy setting to collectively learn from each other. In one instance, it was to understand how others learned from their most recent matter management implementation; and in another, it was how to structure administrative resources; a third was about diversity and inclusion approaches; and in a final example, another group discussed incorporating process & design thinking. Whatever the problem you are trying to address, there was an ACC Legal Ops Interest Group discussion that helped you out – because you could suggest it as an agenda item.
- Benchmarking – Legal Operations leaders have long known that benchmarking with peers is an excellent way to get funding for your programs. Many of our members have assembled ad hoc peer groups to leverage better information and obtain internal support for their programs. It also serves to separate hype from reality. Do you need to justify additional headcount? Need a new matter management system? Trying to implement a new accrual and forecasting process? Want to bring in new AI tools for contract self-service? There is a very quick way to benchmark against other companies through the ACC Legal Ops Forum and Groups. Many participated in the 2019 ACC Law Department Management Benchmarking survey (and there’s still time) – plus, we can convene custom benchmarking initiatives anytime.
- Maturity Model – The ACC Legal Operations Maturity Model has become the de facto standard for assessing your organization in each of the 14 function areas and creating a roadmap. The model and the associated resources are the most popular tools for members and non-members alike. If you haven’t assessed your organization yet, you have missed out on a very powerful, elegant resource that helps you direct your team’s future. This year, we completed the webinars for all topics with the introduction of IG & Records, Change Management & Compliance.
As I look to 2020, we are going to see a few key concepts trending up:
- The AI hype machine has helped the growth of startups and early stage companies. We are starting to see practical solutions from these vendors. So, get ready to stretch your AI muscle!
- The consolidation in the matter management systems industry will give some of the newer players an opportunity to expand into the low / mid-tier market. We may see a lot more adoption of the simple turnkey solutions in this space.
- Proposals in the California, Arizona and Utah bars to restructure legal services will take years to be finalized and implemented, but will launch fresh investment into legal innovation and new business models. I look forward to the structural changes in the industry taking root. [Read more about Alternative Business Structures under consideration in another article in this issue]
- The Big 4 and the major alternative legal services providers (ALSPs) are establishing themselves with broad skills that span flexible strategy, resources, process discipline and technology. Will they become a critical ally for the legal operations professionals in expanding their role without increasing headcount?
Sam Ranganathan is the senior director, legal operations at AbbVie and spends most of his days devising innovative ways to make legal functions more efficient. He is also currently working to build an Information Governance program that ensures proactive management of data risks. Previously the was the head of legal operations at Motorola Mobility where he built a legal operations team to support a newly formed public company.
Ranganathan received a MS from University of Illinois at Chicago and a MBA the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University.
Alternative Business Structures: Friend or Foe?
By Stephanie E. Johnson, Manager, Advocacy and Public Policy, ACC
Across the United States, task forces are popping up to tackle innovation and access to justice in the legal industry. These task forces, generally organized by state courts and bar associations, are proposing reforms that could have an impact on the market for corporate legal services.
In California, Arizona and Utah, regulators are reimagining how legal services should be structured and overseen by considering allowing Alternative Business Structure (ABS) entities. ABS is shorthand for removing the prohibition on fee-sharing with non-lawyers that U.S. states incorporate into their rules of professional conduct (generally based on Rule 5.4 of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct).
For the past ten years, the United Kingdom has allowed ABS, opening the door to non-lawyer ownership and fee-sharing in any law firm structured as an ABS entity. Depending on who you ask, these novel arrangements are an exciting or potentially anxiety-inducing alternative to the traditional law firm model. So what might this mean for corporate legal departments?
Potential Benefits of ABS (A Change for the Better?)
Optimistically, introducing the ABS model to the United States would increase the efficiency and quality of legal services offered to corporate legal departments by:
- expanding and streamlining the services a firm can provide clients
- increasing competition between firms and giving corporate legal consumers more choices
- allowing greater innovation and the improvement of legal services
- lowering the cost of legal services
- attracting top, non-legal talent to improve law firm business operations
Notably, the introduction of ABSs would likely allow the Big 4 accounting firms to enter the legal arena and expand their legal services to U.S.-based clients. It would also allow for corporate ownership of law firms.
The theory behind ABS is that by removing prohibitions on fee-sharing between lawyers and non-lawyers, firms will have more capital to invest in technological and process innovation and will be able to attract non-legal talent to support that innovation. In turn, technology and streamlined business operations would lower the cost of legal services. Law firms could also become multi-disciplinary practices (like the Big 4) that offer legal services alongside other professional services.
Concerns Raised (Proceed with Caution)
Many questions remain about what ABS in the United States would mean for corporate legal departments. How would lawyers in ABS entities balance their ethical duties while answering the demands of external investors? Would the typical investor focus on generating consistent and increasing profits undermine the value of legal services? How would conflicts of interest rules apply? What disclosures would be required with respect to outside investment? How would privilege be affected?
ABS reforms in the United Kingdom have sought to address these concerns by regulating the ABS entities themselves, while lawyers working for the ABS entity continue to be regulated by their professional regulator, the Solicitor’s Regulation Authority (SRA), and held to those professional standards.
For those who oppose the ABS model, the potential for innovation and competition are less attractive against the risks of exposing law firms to outside investment and influence—a corporate focus on profits is seen as a potential catalyst for corner-cutting and focus on profit margins. Additionally, there is little concrete evidence that ABS entities produce the results claimed by supporters. At its inception, there was hope that implementation of the ABS model in the United Kingdom would create a more competitive landscape of smaller firms and newcomers, expanding offerings within the legal services industry. However, the majority of firms to opt for an ABS structure are well-established and consumers have not yet seen a drastic reduction in legal fees.
What You Can Do
As state bars begin to seriously consider ABS proposals, it is important for corporate legal consumers to consider how ABS might affect their consumption of legal services and how they would want ABS to operate. As any corporate legal department knows, balancing business needs with ethical obligations is not only possible, it is widespread. The value of legal services currently provided by law firms is by no means perfect—the push for value-based fees and greater transparency by ACC demonstrates this well.
As we expect discussion of ABS and similar reforms within the legal industry to continue, we want to know how ACC members feel about such proposals. Are you in favor of loosening the restrictions on lawyer ownership of legal services in order to support greater choice in the legal services market? Are you concerned about the ethical implications of such arrangements? What, if any, controls and safeguards should be in place if ABS were to be permitted in the United States?
ACC is committed to monitoring today’s most pressing issues facing in-house counsel. We encourage you to share your views on this topic by contacting Mary Blatch, associate general counsel and senior director of advocacy, at email@example.com
or (202) 493-2103 x383.
By Stephanie E. Johnson, Manager, Advocacy and Public Policy
Calls to Action - Special Opportunities to Get In On
By Catherine J. Moynihan, AVP Legal Management Services, ACC
We know there’s a lot going on in the sprint to year-end – highlighting three items we think you might want to put on the priority list.
We're seeking great instructors for the annual legal operations conference at Xchange20 - experienced legal operations pros who can help others learn how to succeed through advanced, interactive, practical sessions. Look over the fantastic program
and use this form
to indicate the sessions to which you can contribute your know-how. If you’re selected as faculty, you will receive complimentary registration. We want to get rolling ASAP on planning creative learning experiences, so please fill out the Speaker Interest Form by December 20th.
Legal Operations Maturity Benchmarking
We are excited to take the ACC Legal Operations Maturity Model
to the next level by offering the opportunity to benchmark against other companies. Join the growing list of organizations that have entered their self-assessments, so that you can take advantage of the interactive benchmarking tool we will offer to participants in partnership with Wolters Kluwer. Go HERE to participate by December 17th.
Now Accepting ACC Value Champions Nominations
If you or others in your legal department have implemented initiatives that have resulted in lower costs, improved spend predictability and/or better outcomes, put in a nomination to be named 2020 ACC Value Champions
. It's a great way to gain recognition internally, exposure externally, reward your team, and provide ideas and inspiration to others seeking ways to improve value in legal services. There’s a little more time on this one – you can circulate the nomination form now and submit it HERE by the end of January.
Meet Abha Romkey, Senior Legal Counsel at Emera Inc. and the Chair of the Strategic Planning Interest Group
For December, we're pleased to introduce Abha Romkey,
Senior Legal Counsel at Emera Inc.
in Halifax, Canada, who's taking the baton as the the Chair of the Strategic Planning Interest Group.
Q: Tell us one thing most people don’t know about you.
A: I have an irrational fear of being underwater and not being able to touch bottom, yet I really want to try skydiving one day.
Q: What is one thing you’re excited about in your role as chair?
A: I’m excited to talk to and work with other legal operations professionals to learn about their strategic planning journeys, and to help improve ours.
Q: What do you have planned?
A: I think its easy (relatively) to put together a strategic plan, but keeping the momentum going is a challenge I’d like to focus on in the coming year.
Upcoming Events in December and January
View all upcoming ACC Legal Operations events here. Note: All meetings are in Eastern Standard Time.
Date: December 5 at 11:00 a.m.
Topic: Technology Series, Part I - MS Teams
Interest Group: Internal Resource Management & Tools & Technology
Date: December 12 at 2:00 p.m.
Interest Group: External Resource Management
Date: December 18 at 3:00 p.m.
Topic: Metrics for Information Governance & Discovery
Interest Group: Information Governance & Discovery
Date: January 9 at 2:00 p.m.
Interest Group: External Resource Management
Date: January 14 at 3:00 p.m.
Topic: Task Management/Project Management
Interest Group: Process, Project & Knowledge Management
Date: January 15 from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
Topic: Legal Tracking
Interest Group: New England Regional Group
In-person meeting will be at Coverys
Date: January 15 at 3:00 p.m.
Topic: Using Active Learning For Document Review
Interest Group: Information Governance & eDiscovery
Date: January 16 at 1:00 p.m.
Interest Group: Metrics & Analytics
Date: January 28 at 3:00 p.m.
Topic: Technology Series, Part II - OneNote
Interest Groups: Tools & Technology and Internal Resource Management
If you would like to participate in any of these events, please email firstname.lastname@example.org to receive a calendar invitation - be sure to mention which event(s)! Note: All meetings are in Eastern Standard Time.
Highlights from the ACC Legal Ops News & Announcements Page
Process & Pricing: Using Legal Ops to Improve Law Firm Relationships
The rise of legal operations as an occupation in corporations’ law departments has given rise to legal operations professionals in law firms, resulting in both groups creating synergies to further support better business acumen in their respective firms and law department hierarchies. This interview takes a look inside Barnes & Thornburg’s Legal Operations Department to view what law firms are doing to meet the needs of clients and their legal operations counterparts. [CCBJ]
How Legal Departments Can Ensure Their Decisions Are ‘Defensible’
‘Defensibility’ is more than just e-discovery. Predictive analytics can take the guesswork out of crucial decisions—especially ones that impact the bottom line. [ALM]
How to Get More Involved in the ACC Legal Ops Community
There are many ways to get involved with and contribute to the ACC Legal Operations community and raise your professional profile. We would love to hear your ideas, learn and collaborate together!
- Join the ACC Legal Operations Maturity Model 2.0 working group. Things are evolving fast and we are excited to take the acclaimed model to the next step. The Interest Groups are already making updates, and we are seeking volunteers to join the team to update Change, IP, Contracts, Financial & Compliance Management.
- Participate in or start a Regional Group to build relationships through in-person interaction.
- Champion the Legal Operations function - the ACC Legal Operations LinkedIn Showcase page offers peers, in-house counsel and others in the legal ecosystem leading practices shared among our members. Help show off the value of legal ops professionals - follow it to get updates, share and tweet articles (#ACCLegalOps).
- Let us know if you would like to be featured in or author an article in the ACC Legal Ops Observer, the ACC Docket and the LinkedIn Legal Ops showcase page (a package deal!).
- Be an Ambassador – many GCs are curious about the rise of legal ops, and we are communicating best practices at ACC Chapter events. We even have a “Legal Ops 101” deck you can use as a template.
Email us to get involved - with offers to share your know-how, suggestions or any questions! LawDepartmentOps@ACC.com.
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.