Legal practice has changed considerably in the last decade or so.
New models, arrangements, and tools have taken hold in the industry and begun, in some instances, to challenge the primacy of the traditional law firm. Legal professionals have tried to find ways to increase efficiencies and make smarter operational decisions, while allocating more time to higher priority work.
The modern practice of law encompasses not just emerging technologies, but also new partnerships and ecosystems. To remain “modern” over time, the practice itself needs to surrender to a perpetual status of change, constantly seeking new and creative ways to overcome business challenges.
The In-House Legal Landscape
While shaping the present and future of the legal practice has traditionally been in the hands of law firms, there has been a shift to in-house legal teams.
Corporate counsel no longer simply minds the purse strings while counsel makes the substantive and strategic decisions. They now play an increasingly active role in strategy and tactics.
As corporations put more pressure on their law departments to balance legal and business goals, these departments have started to lead the charge in innovating the legal field.
From promoting human-centric skills during the hiring process and breaking down management silos to innovating with new technologies, workflows, and fee arrangements, corporate law departments are beginning to lead the charge to better serve the business.
Because of their involvement in the commercial processes and their deep understanding of their company’s underlying dynamics, in-house teams are in a unique position to right-source or strategically unbundle legal work, whether that means relying more on Alternative Legal Service Providers (ALSPs) or implementing automation internally.
The strategic in-house attorney is becoming an expert in sending the right projects to the right part of his or her support network, while driving internal technological and operational strategy to more efficiently handle the work best suited for internal resources.
Nevertheless, this transition is a work in progress.
Corporate legal departments are still beginning to stretch their wings with the guidance of their outside counsel and vendor partners. What are the next steps that these players will need to take to fully step up, take the wheel, and choose the route?
Here are three ways in-house counsel can move a step closer to gaining greater control of their process, legal spend, and decision-making—and it all starts with data.
Information Governance – Knowing Your Data
The amount of data created and stored by organizations is growing exponentially. It has now become one of the organization’s most valued assets—and most exploitable liabilities.
The more sensitive data that an organization possesses, the greater the risk of security threats, privacy breaches, and runaway litigation costs, in addition to the direct costs of storing redundant data.
Since they have the most visibility into the legal risks and regulatory obligations that come with organizational data, legal professionals can lead their organizations to consolidate and remediate data across the IT ecosystem. This means leading the charge to:
- Dispose of redundant, obsolete, or trivial data to reduce the organization’s storage costs, which can exceed $15,000 per terabyte;
- Automate the identification and redaction of PII and PHI to efficiently respond to Data Subject Access Requests (DSARs) and minimize exposure to privacy breaches;
- Perform data “spring cleanings” by eliminating duplicate data and remediating end-of-retention life cycle data. This has the added benefit of reducing the amount of data subject to discovery in the event of litigation—greatly reducing costs.
By ensuring that organizational data is limited only to that which is necessary and accessible only by those who are necessary, corporate legal teams can make a significant impact on not just their organization’s risk profile, but also its bottom line.
Monitor, Forecast, and Reduce Legal Spend
Like many other functions, the pandemic has significantly affected legal operations. It has led to an increased need to watch spend with an eagle eye, especially when outsourcing matters to external counsel or vendors.
While it is outside counsel’s role to drive legal strategy, it remains corporate counsel’s responsibility to drive business strategy. To do so, it is imperative to have instant visibility into key data points, metrics, KPIs, and budget/spend information.
Secure, integrated software platforms that offer transparency into e-discovery workflows can help organizations to bridge the gap between the matter, its legal implications, and the related spend – turning metrics into actions. This allows the legal team to:
- Forecast and control spend while reviewing real-time performance metrics and invoices;
- Monitor case activity and audit data, so that inactive cases can be moved into near-line or cold storage;
- Monitor platform license users (so that inactive users can be deactivated); and
- Centralize data management and maintain information security.
Instant visibility into the financial and operational details of all of the organization’s matters is a key tool for counsel to control spend.
Avoid Waste Driven by Redundancy
Collecting, processing, and hosting data can be costly. Where possible, organizations should consider reusing data, especially for corporate litigation “frequent fliers” like the C-suite. Corporations should take advantage of the efficiencies that can be found by using the same data, and in some cases the same work product, across multiple matters.
In these circumstances, a multi-matter repository allows organizations to collect data one time, and then augment that collection as necessary in the future. The repository contains unfiltered, collected data for use on future projects, eliminating the need to re-collect or re-process redundant data sets.
For future matters, only new data outside existing date ranges, sources, or custodians is collected and processed. In some circumstances, work product from document review, such as privilege coding, can be reused in later litigations involving the same custodians. Using this type of data strategy allows organizations to react more quickly to future legal needs, while avoiding the cost of re-processing and re-hosting data.
In-house counsel has the ultimate responsibility to advance the best interests of the organization. The legal industry continues to evolve; in-house counsel will have an ever-greater role in the next phases of that evolution.