Articles Posted in Cost Control

Last week — when I read that its General Counsel Jeffrey Carr was calling the shots for the law function in targeting 50% savings in Univar’s legal spend — I took notice.

I believe that the single most important success factor in the ElevateNext / Elevate Services / Univar collaboration is that the client’s law function is being led by a business guy — not someone whose perspective is confined to practicing law.

I write Part III of this series from a strong personal viewpoint. My  comments here are based on observations over the years about how companies are well served — or badly served — by their lawyers.

Besides reading what’s in the media and press releases, I have no special knowledge about this particular venture (though I have met and spoken with some of the participants in the past — long before this announcement was made).

Following my own experiences as a practicing lawyer and later as an executive (see more here), I’ve concluded that attorneys are good at deploying technical legal expertise, but that they are unskilled in managing people, poor at cost control, and are either uninterested or undisciplined about proactive liability prevention.

This was not always my view. As a practicing lawyer I never questioned the way that lawyers in law firms and in-house conduct companies’ legal affairs.

Then I accepted a corporate client’s invitation to run one of its divisions.

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The bold collaboration I described in Part I of this series among Univar’s General Counsel Jeffrey Carr, the law firm ElevateNext, and law company Elevate Services is just the latest chapter in legal innovation for each of them.

Their respective lengthy and successful records of accomplishment in legal innovation are important.

As with most other things in life, it’s more instructive to watch what folks have actually done than listen to what they say.

The law firm:

Nicole Auerbach and Patrick Lamb are founders of the new law firm announced in connection with this collaboration: ElevateNext.

Auerbach and Lamb co-founded Valorem Law Group, LLP, a litigation boutique which since 2008 has pioneered something that lots of law firms tout but that few actually implement: Alternative legal fees — they don’t bill their clients by the hour.

Lawyers’ ability to tell clients in advance what they can expect from those lawyers — and then stand behind their commitments commercially — is an underdeveloped skill in the legal industry.

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My post two days ago cited an American Bar Association ABA Journal article published just this week about what lawyers want to sell to business: Billable hours. It described the latest and most advanced software for, “ensuring that you capture — and charge for — all of your billable time.”

In the legal industry, using software to “capture — and charge for — all of your billable time” amounts to a tech “innovation”. 

Apparently. 

But there was another development this week.

Announcement of a “moonshot” designed to reduce by 50% the $10.5 million legal spend of a Fortune 500 corporation.

This ambitious effort is a collaboration among (1) a business client in the Fortune 500, (2) a law firm, and (3) something called a “law company”:

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Just yesterday the American Bar Association’s ABA Journal posted — under the category “Legal Technology” — an article that described and evaluated some of the latest and most advanced software for the following task performed by attorneys:

“These mobile time-tracking tools make it possible to track your time and enter it contemporaneously, ensuring that you capture — and charge for — all of your billable time.”

You read that correctly: Applications designed to “capture — and charge for — all of your billable time” are an important part of what’s considered “legal technology”.  

Opening scene:

It was a nightmare for my friend Mary.

Over the past decade – she and her business partner had created a thriving real estate development firm. With what had been until recently a great working relationship.

Now her business partner was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.

Across from Mary that morning sat her business partner’s wife and adult children. They were understandably upset. They seemed scared. And they were making demands of Mary relating to the firm’s future.

Then Mary reached into her briefcase.

Flashback to 10 years earlier:

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In this blog I describe how to use effective management and liability prevention to control corporate legal costs. This calls for a certain amount of detail.

But in providing that detail I want to be sure not to lose sight of what this blog and my law practice are all about. Simply this:

When a company’s management is unhappy with the job their lawyers are doing, I help its owners or executives to put something better in place to achieve their business goals.

Half a decade ago Harvard Law School’s Professor David Wilkins announced that the legal industry had entered “the Global Age of More for Less” (see this speech, and this journal article).

The response from all but a few attorneys: Crickets.

Seen in the light of their cost-plus business model, “more for less” just sounded to them like “less” money to pay for “more” time. With a “management” technique that consists of assigning bodies-to-tasks, the legal industry is blind to process efficiencies, competitive pricing, and other skills that anyone who works to a P&L has already mastered.

As a result, law firms and in-house counsel won’t acknowledge that the collision between the legal system’s skyrocketing demands and company budgets (that have more constructive uses than to pay attorneys) is unsustainable. Instead, the legal industry tells business clients that the best they can hope for is to minimize (what they tell us are) the inevitable increases in their legal and regulatory line items.

Casey Flaherty, an insightful lawyer who advises corporate law departments, describes attorneys’ prevailing mindset:

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Company owners and executives need to take charge of legal and regulatory affairs in order to control legal costs, prevent liability, and otherwise cope with the legal and regulatory system’s increasing demands upon business. 

Because their lawyers won’t do it for them. 

Consider last week’s diagnosis (here and here) from Ken Grady — one of the legal industry’s leading visionaries: 

“NO SIGNIFICANT CHANGES IN LAW

“Today, we talk about the legal industry going through a transformation. We point to new providers, the use of new tools such as project management, and the miracle of artificial intelligence and what it can and will do.

“But, if we look carefully at the legal industry, we can see that not much has changed from 100 years ago even with these tweaks ….”

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LawGeex — an Israel-based tech company whose artificial intelligence (AI)-based document review software automates the process of identifying risky provisions in contracts — has announced the results of a peer-reviewed study that compared artificial intelligence to human lawyers in the review of standard business contracts called non-disclosure agreements (NDAs).  

The LawGeex AI platform achieved 94% accuracy compared to an average of 85% among 20 human lawyers.

And timing? The human lawyers took an average of 92 minutes to review all 5 of the NDAs involved — and the AI platform took 26 seconds.

Why is this important? Because the review and approval of low-value, high-volume, day-to-day business contracts is a core business task that historically has required manual review by qualified (human) lawyers. The typical Fortune 1000 corporation maintains 20,000 to 40,000 contracts at any given time. And 83% report dissatisfaction with their contract management processes.

As to the kind of contracts reviewed in the study — NDAs — they typically take one week or longer to get approved (an experience I often endured as an executive at GE and Whirlpool).

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One practical consequence of the big gap between attorneys’ excellent formal schooling and the skills they need to do excellent work for clients:

Attorneys who graduated from law school 4 years ago or less typically lack the skills they need to serve the client independently — i.e., without “supervision”.

Leading law practice consultant Jordan Furlong initiated a discussion in which he asked lawyers who’d begun their careers as law firm associates and who were now partners at law firms or held other responsible law practice roles in companies: “How many months and / or years did it take before you felt like a reasonably competent and confident lawyer?”

Two dozen lawyers went on record and named their firms / organizations:

“The lowest number of years offered was two, the most was ten, but the frequently cited median was five.”

“Only one person said they never felt unready for law practice; everyone else said, essentially, ‘It took me years to feel like I knew what I was doing.'”

This certainly corresponds to my own experience in a large Wall Street firm — and with what I witnessed in a smaller firm on the West Coast after I was fully developed as a lawyer myself and saw others struggling.

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