People have asked us why Maxim didn’t call Jennifer’s group the “legal operations group”. Business operations professionals are increasingly becoming mainstream roles in corporate law departments.
Also published in eMag #7 2017
Titles, staff, and budgets for managing the data and operations of the legal team are now a reality. Jennifer reported directly to the GC, she had a budget, a staff. She supported the legal practice groups and operations. Given that, why didn’t we simply call her group something with the word “operation” buried in there?
Because we had a bigger idea. Legal operations existing as a distinct function of the law department grew out of the economic collapse of 2009. “Do more with less” became the law department strategic budgeting mantra, and “bring more in-house” the tactical plan. Combined with increasing data management tools and data storage capability, the corporate law department was becoming overwhelmed with data. Some valuable, some not. some entirely erroneous. Who could tell which was which, and how old was it by the time you received the spreadsheet? Ah, the birth of our bigger idea: Law department business data from multiple systems and sources combined into a cohesive central location and converted into visible information that is immediately actionable in running the law department. The Business Intelligence and Process Improvement Group (BIPIG).
“The legal operations function builds strategic systems within law departments 1) to manage budgeting, staff, technology, vendors and internal resources; and 2) to track performance data and measure efficiency, all for the combined purpose of enabling a legal department to execute its mission at peak performance.” (Association of Corporate Counsel, Legal Operations: Leading Practices in Implementing Strategy, Leading Change, and Advancing Law Department Excellence, October, 2017)
We wanted to implement legal operations, and more. Of course, our first concept was in 2011 and the suggestion of creating a legal operations group often met with head-scratching and mumbling about wasting department dollars. We wanted to reduce the 20 different systems and applications then relied upon by the legal department practice groups as much as possible, consolidate them into a centralized area (“dashboard” for lack of a better term), and define the operating norms in order to visibly identify the operational variances.
There was a clear need to simplify the running of the legal operations so attorneys could spend more time doing the strategic work. The vision was to do it in a visible fashion that enabled the identification of productivity and process improvement opportunities. The problem was that no vendors provided the solution and we could not find anyone willing to tackle the broad task of developing such a system for the entire law department.
The formal goal, as we defined in 2013, was to group all the legal systems into one functional review process by experienced database admins. Developing a group that can review technical workflow, educate end users and system administrators on efficiency, and build accurate visual analytics was the mission of Maxim’s BIPIG in 2013.
The idea first took hold in 2011 when we met while Jennifer was working for Thompson Reuters as a Professional Services Manager. We implemented process improvements to Maxim’s current matter management system. The need to simplify the law department’s operational data, and not inconsequentially the life of Maxim’s GC, by joining all systems into cohesive and actionable analytics was clear. As our vision unfolded and evolved this became an obsession without a cure, until Jennifer came on board at Maxim and we could combine our efforts under one roof. Now we had the GC vision combined with technical systems capability. With both of us being perpetually naïve and overly optimistic in what we can accomplish, we built the treadmill and climbed on. At the time, we believed it would be “plug and play” since we had recently updated the processes for the ebilling and related systems. It turned out to be four years of hard work and dedication by Maxim’s entire legal team. The lessons we learned apply equally well today. First, let us look at the term business intelligence. (BI) commonly includes the applications, infrastructure and tools, along with the best practices enabling access to and analysis of information to improve and optimize decisions and performance.
Having no one to call or benchmark BI for legal organizations in 2013, we started with the following steps:
We pushed our matter management data into Tableau on a daily basis
We designed visual dashboards based on how the individual practice groups needed to view the data
We built intricate dashboards for groups within the legal organization
We reviewed and re-reviewed the data with the legal groups
The outcome working through the steps in this order was that we ended up deleting most of our visual dashboards. What we found is that even through initial training to the end user, the processes and internal policies were not consistent enough to provide accurate, automated data through a single system. We had not yet explored all of the other legal systems at that time. In 2013, the standard process was to export everything out of the system into Excel and manually manipulate it in order to get it ready for the GC to review. It was not a direct “as is” export from the system.
Our first attempts at automated reporting through Tableau directly from Legal Tracker (formerly Serengeti Tracker) were not successful and thus spurred 3 months of process improvement, field updates, level-setting, mass closing of records requiring updating to new processes that changed (but not noted in the system), re-training, and policy review.
One small example of the data inconsistency was that the matter management system was set up to have many “matter types” as choices when you created a matter. Those matter types also determined which fields were optional
and which were required to be completed.
Over the years, some matter types were considered redundant and then de-activated in the list. We quickly learned that if you are changing a process going forward, you must change it going backward as no one will remember. Furthermore, after deleting a matter type, all the closed records under the de-activated matter type no longer showed up when running historical reports on current matter types.
This left many key matters missing, as well as their corresponding financial history because the underlying matters were not updated. Once this was discovered, it was painful to open, fix, and reclose all those matters by hand.
We constantly discovered processes that needed to be fixed, communicated, updated, and then re-tested in our newly built Tableau Analytics system. One system down, many to go…
Next Issue: Multiple systems
Why would you want joined legal data? The standard answer is to gain business insights and reduce risk, and so forth. Let’s take one of the the most obvious and self-serving reasons: Budget Season. The general counsel should easily be able to quantify workloads and productivity of the legal organization for budget defense and increases. This could be as simple as the number of legal matters, contracts closed, or patents filed that have been completed or actively being worked on this fiscal year by the organizational unit. It could also be the amount of legal budget that was used to defend, implement, or file the work requested on behalf of the organizations. Answering this question should not be a week’s worth of work for an analyst (or a week’s wait to a general counsel) to build a static report. It should be available and accurate at all times. Another reason to join the legal data is to identify trends so you can quickly identify productivity and process issues, and apply solutions. An example would be track the number of hotline reports or new internal investigations originating in a particular country or arising from a particular organizational unit.
Could there be an issue requiring closer review or training? We frequently used data incorporated from the company online training platform to identify needs for enhanced training in a business unit or geographic region. Likewise, we were able to correlate increased reporting activity to recent training which may indicate increased awareness. Of course, you then look to your data in that business unit or region to determine whether it is just the reporting activity that has increased, or the number of claims validated. The point being, by having the data easily retrievable and live, you can quickly view move through trends to analyze cause and effect on legal issues, processed, and productivity. The power of data from different groups, systems, and organizations joined together is where we can expect to find the business insights.
How Do We Get Organized?
Each record in all of the legal systems should answer some or all the following questions consistently. Part of the BIPIG analyst’s main role is being able to understand and communicate with the IT teams and the legal groups. The role is to translate the non-technical user’s needs into the technical IT person’s SOW. We needed to speak the same language regarding data and process.
Everyone needs to be on the same page. Processes must be clear, concise, and directly to the point. Questions that could be consistent (and documented) through the legal systems:
When do I create a new matter in the system? While it may be different system to system, knowing the answer will be key when explain metrics for contracts, litigation or patent applications.
Who are we doing this work for? This should be the organizational unit or business Unit within the company.
Who is responsible for the work within the legal organization? This is the practice group.
What type of work is this? This is the type of matter.
Where is the work being done or where did it originate from? This would be the location of the issue.
When did this matter start?
When did we resolved the matter?
When closing a matter is the result easily identifiable as favorable, unfavorable, or neutral to the company?
Those basic questions will capture consistent data and deliver a consistent, standardized report to the GC. From there, the GC and the legal groups will be able to springboard into building further visualizations by incorporating even more data from other systems. You never reach the end. Improvement is constant.
How did we come to understand this? Blood, sweat, and tears is the short answer. The longer answer is legal group coordination with our internal IT department and help from our system vendors. The short advice on how to start a large legal analytics project with multiple systems, is to start your system analysts with this sample methodology of process review in the following order when developing your project management plan:
1. People and Processes
Do we have the right people in the analyst positions?
Have they been trained on the system and processes?
Are the processes efficient? Are there steps that can be eliminated?
Is everything documented? Retaining institutional knowledge through documentation is key for future employees joining legal.
Is the system set up properly? Did we actually finish the implementation?
Are there any issues that need to be addressed before we join data?
Are there any integrations IT could provide to address fewer clicks and more workflow automations?
3. Business Insights (visualizations, analytics or metrics)
Build and audit the basic visualizations from the legal systems data. Is the data accurate? Where are the issues with getting the correct data? Are the issues process related or technical?
Build and audit the general counsel’s requested visualizations in a documented frequency.
Strong system knowledge, relentless pursuit of detail and process improvement, and keeping an eye on the longer vision were critical and enabled a huge growth curve for us throughout this process. Once you can access actionable data, though, you will never go back
About Jennifer Vandersmissen and Ed Medlin
Jennifer Vandersmissen is a Business Intelligence and Process Improvement Consultant. Previously, she worked directly for Ed Medlin as the Manager of Legal Analytics and developed the Business Intelligence and Process Improvement Group (BIPIG) at Maxim Integrated. In addition, she developed the Professional Services department for Thomson Reuters “Legal Tracker” (formerly Serengeti Law) and was a Global Legal Sr. Financial Manager at Levi Strauss & Co. With 18 years of experience in corporate legal organizations as well as legal systems consulting, her area of focus and expertise is helping find the right people, right system, right solution and right processes for the job.Those areas include developing BI and Professional Services departments, skills and processes for contract management, litigation & matter management, e-billing, law firm convergence, compliance support, NDAs, learning management systems, creating relevant online training, Tableau administration and dashboard creation, project management, SharePoint development, Legal system implementations, data migrations, integrations and global legal financial management and planning (FP&A).
She has worked in many countries over her career, but currently lives in Alameda, CA.
Senior Vice President, General Counsel, and Chief Compliance Officer, Maxim Integrated.
Ed Medlin joined Maxim in 1999 as Director and Associate General Counsel. Prior to joining Maxim, Ed had 10 years of commercial law practice and seven years of practical experience as general counsel at two other companies. He was promoted to Vice President in 2006, to General Counsel in 2010, and to Senior Vice President in 2015. Ed also serves as Maxim’s Chief Corporate Compliance Officer. Ed’s team includes Legal, Risk, Cyber Security, Administration, Human Resources, and Security. Ed is a member of the Semiconductor Industry Association Public Policy Committee, and has served as Committee Chair since 2016. Ed is a member of the National Association of Corporate Directors, and sits on the NACD General Counsel Steering Committee. Ed is focused on Board duties in Governance and Cyber Security. He is a sitting member of the NASDAQ General Counsel Advisory Committee.
Ed is a frequent speaker and moderator on the Practicing Law Institute Faculty. He has been a returning faculty member of the Santa Clara University School of Law In-House Counsel Institute. Ed also is a guest instructor at law school classes on various topics, including law department management, in-house practice, risk and crisis management, and the responsibilities of general counsel and boards of directors with respect to cybersecurity risks. Ed holds a degree in Economics from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and a Juris Doctorate from Santa Clara University.