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Making the Most of Legal Metrics

By Ari Kaplan.

In an interview published on the Reinventing Professionals podcast on April 27, 2020, Ari Kaplan spoke with David Cunningham, the chief information officer at Winston & Strawn in Houston, Texas, who is leading the Legal Metrics initiative, which is an industry-wide group designing a solution to understand and visualize legal operations data.


David Cunningham

Articles published in Legal Business World eMagazine #4

Ari Kaplan

Tell us about your role and the genesis of the Legal Metrics initiative.


David Cunningham

I am the chief information officer at Winston & Strawn and was fortunate to be invited to be part of the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC) when it was being created. Even though I work for a law firm, I learned to understand the perspective of the in-house legal operations community on how its members evaluate law firms, assess value, and determine the quality of the outside counsel relationship. I also noticed that everything they wanted to change quickly in the legal department was often changing more slowly in the law firm, and that the two groups often were not measuring themselves in the same ways. At the same time, the legal departments were capturing a broad range of metrics and creating balanced scorecards with objective and subjective data, including from survey feedback. Since law firms did not understand all of those metrics, we decided to solve the problem by creating a solution to address that gap.


Ari Kaplan

Why is the legal community so focused on metrics in the current climate?


David Cunningham

The concept of “legal operations” started in the corporate legal department and is associated with running the department as a business since managing legal spend requires measuring performance against predetermined goals and gauging progress at key intervals. The legal departments are the driver and many are quite advanced. Law firms have not really been measuring as much as their clients since they have historically focused on financial data. They have, however, done a good job of hiring legal operations professionals tasked with identifying what their clients want and how to leverage that information to provide better service.


Ari Kaplan

Can metrics really change behavior?


David Cunningham

I often hear that legal operations is a fad or that defining metrics doesn't change hiring decisions. While there has been some truth to that, it is now changing the buying behavior within the legal department pretty aggressively. When you have companies like Novartis and Intel, among others, saying, "If you don't meet our metrics, we either won't hire you or we're not going to pay all of your bill," it makes a difference. Directly on their dashboards, legal departments highlight their spending, rates, diversity criteria, survey feedback, and other metrics. A company may have a panel of firms that provides representation, but a law firm in that group may not realize that there is a big red mark across its profile because its rates and lawyers may be great, but its diversity isn't up to par, or an after-matter survey showed that some of its professionals were not good listeners. Ultimately, metrics do affect buying behavior and we are seeing a snowball effect that is really starting to pick up and change the general counsel's view of who they hire.


Ari Kaplan

What are the broad objectives of the Legal Metrics Initiative?


David Cunningham

Our primary objective is to help law firms see themselves as their clients see them. We also want to empower law departments to measure diversity more effectively. Finally, we want to give individual leaders within law firms a better understanding of how they and their teams are impacting the overall performance of their organization.


Ari Kaplan

Prior to the launch of this initiative, how has the legal community addressed this need?


David Cunningham

Legal departments have been moving quickly and law firms have increased their hiring of professionals focused on legal operations and client services, but neither has aligned their metrics, which has created an imbalance. Law firms, for instance, are often manually compiling diversity statistics, which can take hundreds of hours for some. They are not using that data to make decisions the way that legal departments do. In fact, in-house teams are rapidly becoming sophisticated data analysts, calculating whether the results match what they paid and if their satisfaction level is consistent with those results.


Ari Kaplan

How will you encourage a diverse array of organizations, including those who are competitors, to collaborate?


David Cunningham

You would think that would be a problem, but it is the opposite of where we stand. The Legal Metrics initiative has grown very quickly, especially because in-house legal teams have been reaching out to the law firms with which they work and encouraging them to participate. They are also interested in helping their panel firms work together more seamlessly. Law firms are similarly interested in becoming more sophisticated and familiar with their operations. As a result, competition or secrecy has not affected the response. Many participants are actually contributing metrics they have developed assuming that they will receive more in return than they give so it has been a great effort. In fact, we offer Metrics Mondays every other week to introduce new functionality, offer a list of new metrics, and respond to questions about roadmaps. Then, we give the groups two weeks to share feedback. It has been quite cooperative.


Ari Kaplan

What do you expect the end product to look like?


David Cunningham

We have just created our first real working dashboard and want law firms to more easily calculate, visualize, and share their data with clients. The initial use case is for law firms to provide select legal departments, which have declared their criteria publicly, with diversity metrics that they can measure against aggregate benchmarks.


Ari Kaplan

How do you see Legal Metrics helping law firms, law departments, and other legal organizations over the long-term?


David Cunningham

Our list of metrics is long and the more I promote this effort, the longer it gets. There is currently a list of 30 different areas to study. Simply making it easier to calculate metrics has increased awareness of the data points that matter. There has been limited visibility into any non-financial information to date and suddenly we are enhancing sharing. We envision greater real-time data availability and increased transparency.



Ari Kaplan (http://www.AriKaplanAdvisors.com) regularly interviews leaders in the legal industry and in the broader professional services community to share perspective, highlight transformative change, and introduce new technology at http://www.ReinventingProfessionals.com. Listen to his conversation with David Cunningham, the chief information officer at Winston & Strawn here: https://www.reinventingprofessionals.com/making-the-most-of-legal-metrics


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