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3 Notable Examples of Big Law IT Innovation

3 Notable Examples of Big Law IT Innovation
“It is time to put down the broad brush used to paint BigLaw as inefficient and out of touch,” wrote Bill Henderson, in a commentary published on The Legal Whiteboard titled Ahead of the Curve: Three Big Innovators in BigLaw.

His writing reviews several IT projects presented by three large law finalists for an annual awards program held at the 2014 ILTA Conference in Nashville.  Mr. Henderson provides a great deal of nuance, detail and important context to each for each project – here are summaries of each – along with additional points of interest from other sources.

1. Simplifying Complex Law Firm Data

Every leader in business strives to get the entire team on the same page and one way to do that is by orienting the focus on metrics.  The challenge for a team, often comprised of people experience of varying degrees, is that not everyone is a statistician.

To help communicate the current state of the business, law firm Bryan Cave developed a dashboard to “educate its lawyers on the economics of its business” according to Mr. Henderson. The dashboard dubbed “The Octagon,” for its eight measurements, presents attorneys with a graphical representation for the firm’s metrics.

While a dashboard surely appeals to visual learners, but the firm also creates a story out of the data, for those inclined towards text.  Mr. Henderson says the firm uses a technology that algorithmically translates the data “into a diagnostic story of strengths, weaknesses, and, most importantly, specific prescriptive advice on how to improve.” The output is referred to as “The Rosetta.”

The project earned the law firm the top spot as the “Innovative Law Firm of the Year” category of the 2014 ILTA’s Distinguished Peer Awards. In a press release announcing the award John Alber notes the project was a derivative of “an approach to innovation that mirrors the research and development functions found in the best global companies.”

It’s worth noting that the visual presentation of data is an emerging trend we see developing in corporate legal departments.

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ILTA Keynote Summary:  Disruptive Technologies and Abundance

ILTA 2014 Innovative Law Firm Award – Seyfarth Shaw LLP from ILTA on Vimeo.

2. Law Firm R&D as Business Development

Seyfarth Shaw started a law firm research and development (R&D) initiative in 2012 with a little more than a half-dozen people according to Mr. Henderson’s post. Today it employs 35 full-time employees with duties and titles ranging from technologist to data analyst. “These professionals work in support of specific client projects, but also proactively solve entire clusters of legal problems and reduce bottlenecks that hinder great client service.”

While the R&D shop has developed client facing expert systems, document automation tools and predictive analytics – the most notable project this year is called SeytMap, which earned the firm ILTA’s “Innovative Project of the Year Award” – an award the firm has now won two years running.

SeytMap is a process map that has been transformed into an “interactive matter management tool” according to a press release announcing the award.  This sounds a like a highly customized project management tool that allows leaders to adapt legal project to unique client needs on the fly.  According to the firm’s descriptive announcement:

“By bringing process maps to life in this way, SeytMap allows lawyers and project managers to fully operationalize, tailor and manage a process in an interactive environment. It connects action steps in the process with key support items — such as instructions/tutorials, checklists and precedential documents — and facilitates administrative actions, such as time entry. The result is a higher-quality, more efficiently managed and coordinated effort.”

What’s unique about the overall effort is the perspective that R&D is a business development evolution as opposed to a cost center.  The video embedded nearby indicates this is a philosophy ingrained in all of the firm’s projects.  While the time the staff spends on projects is captured, the firm “also tracks engagements where Seyfarth obtains work because of the unique capabilities of the R&D team. Clients increasingly want to hear from the R&D team during client pitches,” Mr. Henderson wrote in his post.

Notably a customer facing metric – one that may well have originated in software development circles and routinely appears in our own internal communications – is “client delight.”  Yet it’s gaining traction in law too as Mr. Henderson writes, “based on my own firsthand experience, I know the presenters were not kidding.”

“Client delight makes it hard to reliably track origination credits. It also reduces the reliance on money as the glue that holds the enterprise together. Ironically, the client delight KPI will probably make all stakeholders wealthier in the future.”

3. Legal IT:  People, Process and Technology

In another example, this one presented by Littler Mendelson, Mr. Henderson explores a sampling of projects of which the one that stood out for us is the “Littler CaseSmart.”  Designed for “single-plaintiff employment” cases, he writes the project is a “sophisticated bundling of technology, process, and specialized human capital that can improve case outcomes while driving drive down costs across a broad portfolio of cases.”

His post makes two points clear:  the law firm is capitalizing on a legal specialization and the project isn’t solely about automation, but rather the integration of people, process and technology.

“With CaseSmart, the client is given a dashboard to visualize either a single matter or metrics across a set of matters, including geography. The cases are priced flat fee by phase. Further, the system is set up to reward high quality early case assessment and matter resolution. To ensure high quality and a fair profit at this lower price point, much of the actual legal work is done by specialized non-partner attorneys (research attorney, early case evaluation attorney, discovery attorney, brief writer attorney).”

We’ve looked for additional commentary on the project from the law firm itself or other observers – but it appears little has been published aside from Mr. Henderson’s very thorough coverage at the time of this writing.

* * *

In each of these examples of innovation, Mr. Henderson sees three common denominators – law firm leadership, investment and the expertise of non-lawyers.  He notes while specific projects or programs can be easily copied, what is harder to replicate is the “creation of a firm culture that embraces continuous improvement.”

Photo credit:  Taken during an ILTA key note presentation described here.

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About Frank Strong

Frank Strong
Frank Strong is the communications director for the LexisNexis software division located on NC State’s Centennial Campus in Raleigh. In this capacity, he leads communications efforts in support of software products for law practice and law department management and also litigation tools – across large law, small law and corporate counsel segments. With more than 15 years of experience in the high-tech sector, Strong previously served as director of public relations for Vocus, which developed marketing, PR and media monitoring software. He has held multiple roles both in-house with corporations, ranging from startups to global organizations, and has also endured the rigors of billable hours, having completed gigs at PR firms including the top 10 global firm Hill & Knowlton. A veteran of two year-long deployments, Strong has concurrently served in uniform in reserve components of the military for more than 20 years, initially as an enlisted Marine and later as an infantry officer in the Army National Guard. Strong holds a BA in Film and TV production from Worcester State University, an M.A. in Public Communication from American University, and an M.B.A. from Marymount University. He is a PADI-certified Master Scuba Diver and holds a USPA "B" skydiving license.