By Cash Butler and Joanna Roman.
It was during a walk around a lake in 2014 that Greg Kaple first discussed his vision of an efficient and fiscally-sound legal department. Greg’s companion on the walk was Mark Zemelman, General Counsel for Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc. (“KFHP”). This was more than just an ordinary stroll; it was Greg’s interview for the KFHP legal department’s first legal operations leadership role.
Greg was unencumbered by perceived limitations of what transformation could look like for a legal department. He approached it like he did all his business ventures. He responded by describing a legal department driven by data and guided by accurate financial forecasting with adherence to budgets, just like every other professional services business. Under his guidance, the legal department would align with KFHP’s enterprise goals to execute on a strategy. It would have strong spend management and would meet key performance indicators. It would have the right people in the right roles to achieve this metamorphosis. And above all, it would deliver value to the enterprise and help shift the legal industry.
Entrepreneurial Expertise leads to New Opportunity
A self-described bootstrapping Appalachian from Dayton, Ohio with a penchant for musical theater and troublemaking, Greg did his Bachelors in Marketing and Finance at Ohio University and his Masters in Technology Management at Stevens Institute of Technology. He was the first graduate from the Ohio University Sales Centre and one of the founding members of the Ralph and Lucy Schey Sales Centre Advisory Board, where he also served as an adjunct professor teaching entrepreneurial sales in partnership with the Ohio University Entrepreneurship Center.
Greg will tell you that he is “an expert by necessity, a salesperson at heart, an economist by nature, and a serial entrepreneur.” He honed his professional sales skills in New York City as a Global Account Executive at AT&T with clients in professional services, law firms, healthcare companies, and higher education institutions. His entrepreneurial instinct eventually took over, leading Greg to co-found Integrated Management Services (IMS), a group of two dozen management consultants specializing in cost reduction, process improvement and technology implementation for AMLaw 250 and Fortune 50 corporate legal clients. The IMS team became particularly astute at estimating scope of work and offering fixed fees for complex professional services engagements. By 2008, Greg had become an early innovator in the legal industry, teaching firms like Squire Sanders and corporations like Lucent Alcatel how to properly price and procure professional legal services.
By 2010, Greg relocated back to Appalachia in Parkersburg, WV to start a family and begin investing in new business startups. Through his private investment company Great American Kompany Cubed (GAK3), Greg supported capitalization and strategic business development for turning around a franchise of high end men’s barbershops in Orlando, FL; launching a new media agency in Columbus, OH and starting a ServiceNow legal workflow technology company in New York City, NY.
In 2014, the opportunity to transform a large legal department led Greg to Oakland, California.
The concepts Greg described must have resonated with the General Counsel that day. Almost nine years later, Greg is the Senior Director of Legal Business Solutions & Services with KFHP National Legal and leads a team of 13 legal operations professionals who are dedicated to evolving the legal department into a modern day, best-in-class professional services operation.
As he prepared for this new professional adventure, he packed three principles for success: infrastructure, collaboration, and transparency.
Well, It’s One for the Money
Data is essential to drive better results. In his first week, Greg began utilizing KFHP’s already available data and making long term plans for enhancing systems to improve that data for better accountability in the KFHP legal department.
Before joining, legal expense accountability was dispersed throughout the KFHP organization. By consolidating both the control AND accountability for legal spend with the attorneys, KFHP was able to dramatically reduce costs and increase the certainty of outcomes for legal matters.
Greg instituted quarterly and year-end financial accruals to “shrink time to money” in the legal department. Industry statistics reveal 25% reductions in costs by ensuring providers submit their invoices timely and accurately. The result of these measures was immediate savings of more than $4M annually.
He also introduced the concept of a legal operations portal and service desk connected to a ticket management system. The service desk data allows Greg’s team to track workloads, system issues, and trending problems to proactively address issues, identify solutions, and make strategic improvements.
During his time with KFHP, he has implemented four versions of outside counsel guidelines and two electronic billing systems. The most recent iteration, Mitratech’s TeamConnect, integrates directly with KFHP’s financial system resulting in a significant reduction of manual labor and “freeing talent to do higher value work and hold personnel expenses flat.” The system has also taken their data into the 21st Century by utilizing dashboards to report on and analyze matter budgets, reserve liabilities and settlements (to name a few!) and to understand the diverse mix of timekeepers on matters.
Two for the Show
Greg believes, above all else, the key to executing is putting “the right players in the right positions on the field.” Initially as the leader of the KFHP sourcing and vendor management, he knew he must place both external and internal team members in roles for which they are best suited. Continuing his sports analogy, Greg notes that it would be a mistake to put a hockey player on a baseball field and expect to achieve the desired result.
His objective is to build high-performance teams that maximize peoples’ talents to get the most of what each person can offer in a collaborative effort to “git ‘r dun” together. Greg invests heavily in communicating with stakeholders, continuously aligning roles and responsibilities to meet changing demands and measuring progress toward goals with KPIs attuned for each team member. He’s mastered unique social network profiling tools like fourgroups.com, a combination of Carl Jung psychology and Clayton Christensen innovation, and blending art and music into the business day consistently delivering “thought to reality with zero friction.”
Included in his “people matter most” philosophy are vendors, outside counsel, and consultants. They play distinct roles from his internal group and are part of the team working toward the same shared goal. “In today’s world of detailed information technology, the focus turns to micro-organizations at the level of individual matters, individual projects, and the individual people.” Like his internal team, Greg scrutinizes the data related to his outside teams to know when hard discussions are needed and changes to be made.
Greg’s view is that “we’re all playing the game together and hold ourselves accountable together for keeping score.”
Three to Get Ready
Of course, the right tools and players will only get you so far before someone needs to draw up the “play book” and start coaching the team to the championship. Greg cautions ambitious leaders that “one hour of strategy creates a hundred hours of tactics which generates a thousand hours of work,” and he adds “no one will care how great your strategy was if you cannot deliver.”
Because execution is vital to success, Greg’s method has always been an open and iterative process communication, trials, learnings, setbacks, and success. “Executive leaders care about what resources (money, labor, etc.) are needed for an investment to succeed” and they want to know with certainty “what they will get in return and when”. He views executives as asset owners and his role is to protect those assets and deliver returns that create value for the business. Greg points to his success investing more than $30M in legal operations initiatives and driving savings of more than $100 million over 5 years from financial consolidation, engagement negotiation and legal project management. His “secret sauce” has been marrying cross governance and subject matter disciplines at many levels to deliver to a standard of excellence and then exceed expectations.
Now Go Legal Services Go!
Greg’s entrepreneurial spirit has helped KFHP thrive through intrapreneurship. The drive to always innovate led his growth first as the Director of Legal Sourcing and Vendor Management, then the Senior Director of Legal Business Services and now the newly reorganized Legal Business Solutions and Services function.
He was originally skeptical of the concept of an intrapreneur. He had been an entrepreneur, taking the financial and emotional risks of starting, running, and owning his businesses. Over the last eight years, he’s recognized that “an intrapreneur takes different kinds of risks,” which includes organizational culture and change management challenges sometimes created by the very owners, investors and executives expecting results.
His role with KFHP has honed his skills as a “professional at professional legal services.” His expertise in finance has been invaluable as an intrapreneur whether it be successfully lobbying for funding his department’s projects or leading his legal team to deliver proven savings. He considers the knowledge of business - the language, the processes, the risks, and the desired outcomes – to be an important key to unlocking successful and sound legal solutions and services.
Today when Greg takes a stroll around the lake, you’ll find him with a skip in his step, carrying one of his favorite harmonicas and wearing the purple alligator skin Stacy Adam shoes he bought at a thrift store on Telegraph Ave in Oakland. You can’t knock him down or take his place, so spread his name all over the legal ops space. He can do anything you want to do, uh-huh legal, dancing and singing in his purple alligator skin shoes!
Disclaimer: The statements of the interviewees in the Value Article Series are opinions and observations of a personal nature and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and policies of their respective employers.
About the Authors
Joanna Roman is the Director of Client Engagement at Platinum IDS. She is responsible for building and maintaining healthy business relationships with clients.
Joanna draws on expertise in ESI and digital litigation garnered over 30 years in federal and state courts across the country as a complex litigation paralegal, eDiscovery liaison, forensic strategist, project manager and investigator. Her background puts her in a unique position to act as an advisor, consultant and champion of services. Spearheading several strategic initiatives, Joanna creates new business opportunities with existing clients by strengthening relationships across the firm or organization, spotlighting the full breadth of the company’s services and capabilities, elevating new technologies, and garnering actionable feedback to improve internal performance.
In her personal time, she is involved in numerous organizations, including ACEDS, EDRM and Women in eDiscovery, where she is currently serving as the Director of Meetings for the Denver Chapter.
Cash Butler is the founder of ClariLegal and R3Ex, a consulting organization focused on bringing efficiency and effectiveness to legal operations. A seasoned legal technology innovator, Cash has over 18 years of experience in the legal vertical market, primarily working in expert in legal operations, legal vendor management, pricing, and project management.
ClariLegal is a preferred vendor management platform for legal services that improves business outcomes. Made for legal by legal experts. We match corporations and law firms with preferred vendors to manage the work through a fast and complete RFP and bidding process. ClariLegal’s platform allows all internal client segments to improve business outcomes across the board – predictability, time and money. Learn more