We recently had the privilege to speak with Mary Mack, CEDS, CISSP, Executive Director of ACEDS, the Association of Certified E-Discovery Specialists. Mary’s background including serving as counsel to technology corporations, including software platform and SaaS providers. Prior to entering the field of e-discovery, Mary worked for 20 years in corporate IT; she is also a certified telephony engineer. At ACEDS, Mary is focused on facilitating the global expansion of the organization and the up-leveling of their offerings, including working with other groups to raise the positioning of ACEDS’ cross-functional members. Mary notes that, as part of BARBRI, one of ACEDS’ primary missions is to help attorneys to improve their e-discovery and technical competence to meet new state bar standards for attorneys. One of ACEDS’ new offerings is surrounding the language of finance: a Mini-MBA delivered both online and in person at client sites. The modular course is designed to increase the financial competence of ACEDS members to better serve their organizations and clients.
We began by asking Mary what value means to her. Mary begins by stating that value usually depends on perspective – namely, whether one is imparting value or whether one is receiving value. Mary says that, if she is imparting value, value does not mean what she as the service provider wants to do, or even what the customer wants to do. Instead, Mary believes that imparting value means ascertaining what is the problem that the customer wants solved. This means, as Mary puts it, “thinking creatively and collaboratively [about] what can be brought to bear to solve that problem”, including valuable solutions not expected or envisioned by the customer, and helping the customer achieve their desired state of career, business, personal life, etcetera by using the customer’s “stated goals and principals…and taking those into consideration”. When receiving value, Mary says each organization defines their own value, noting that some organizations see value as having things done their preferred way. However, Mary sees value in time, ease of doing business, transparency, capabilities and limitations, pricing, and integrity.
We asked Mary how value is defined at ACEDS. Mary begins by stating that one of the primary value metrics ACEDS looks at is renewal rates – ACEDS wants to know whether its clients are happy with ACEDS’ service offerings and willing to stay. ACEDS also monitors its delivery of value through customer service calls, along with certification exam pass rates and specific exam questions; in turn, ACEDS develops new program offerings and modifies existing programs to address subjects that participants have particular difficulty with. Mary notes that ACEDS has many other triggers that are reviewed weekly to alert the organization to issues with existing offering and opportunities for new offerings. Ultimately, when it comes to value, ACEDS is concerned with ensuring that it is fulfilling its primary mission to help legal professionals improve their competence and experience in e-discovery and legal technology.
In her past experience with software platforms, Mary notes that value was often defined by cost displacement – in other words, “what did they spend before they brought e-discovery in-house and what did they spend after they brought e-discovery in-house”. Mary also notes other kinds of value that customers looked for, including reducing the number of staff needed for a project or reducing the time spent on a project. For SaaS platforms, Mary notes that having transparency allowed legal teams to more accurately budget for quarterly disclosures or represent “where the status of a matter was during meet-and-confers or motions to compel: electronic billing also provided high value in removing friction in billing and in allowing billing by matter and custodian. delivered a high level of value to customers by enabling them to receive influxes of reimbursed costs from insurance during ongoing legal matters. Mary further notes that customers and clients in her past roles saw value as service providers delivering better ways of doing things, even if it required a short-term financial expense to deliver greater value in the future. Mary also notes that clients valued providers who were flexible to the customer’s/client’s way of doing things – some firms moved very quickly on projects, whereas other liked to take their time – and didn’t try to impose the provider’s way of implementing the project. Lastly, Mary notes that clients always valued providers who are willing to admit mistakes and work to rectify them and prevent them from happening again. Mary believes that there is danger in commodity pricing when the market expects and needs white glove service.
We asked Mary about her thoughts on how value is understood and communicated in the legal industry. Mary sees a lot more talk about value in the legal industry ever since the launch of the ACC Value Challenge. Since then, Mary sees greater understanding of and conversation about responsiveness (which Mary likes to call reporting), transparency in billing, and alternative fees. Mary also believes that increased understanding and use of e-discovery is allowing legal professionals to head off more problems that arise during legal disputes. However, Mary says there is further room for improvement. For example, Mary believes that legal professionals can still ask themselves what really needs to be done to more efficiently resolve disputes – it is necessary to go to court, or can the matter be resolved through alternative dispute resolution; can litigation “pre-nups” avoid conflict and disputes?
Ultimately, Mary believes that current methods in the legal system still aren’t especially conducive to delivering value. Mary notes that many businesses, especially the smaller ones, still do not have access to legal resources and technology that efficiently get them through the legal system. Mary further argued that the legal industry may currently be a broken business model, in that it makes some fabulously wealthy without serving the legal system’s actual purpose of achieving justice – Mary notes that there are many kinds of disputes that need speedy and inexpensive resolution, but the legal system as currently constructed is just too expensive and takes too long.
We asked Mary for her opinion on how software platforms such as vendor selection and vendor management tools facilitate the communication of value between clients and vendors. Mary argues that the best vendor selection and management software tools and services should be customized to assist the customer’s or vendor’s workflow. But Mary notes that any tool requires that an organization’s personnel be trained on the tool; otherwise, the tool becomes dangerous because it can take up more time than it saves and falsely give the impression of cost savings. Mary believes that the best tools are the ones that allow in-house counsel to manage acquisition of legal services – in-house counsel know their company’s data better than outside counsel does, so any tool should allow in-house counsel to effectively communicate with outside counsel.
Specifically, Mary notes that vendor selection and management platforms like ClariLegal allows firms to more efficiently run their procurement processes. Remembering the processing of filling out RFPs and how much time that process took, Mary argues that such tools are a “no-brainer” for vendors, since it allows vendors to have a central reservoir of pre-filled answers for basic information and standard questions and instead focus on answering the project-specific questions, which represents a huge time-savings. For law firm and corporate clients seeking services, Mary sees the value in such platforms having “pre-vetted, recommended providers that answer their RFP very, very quickly”, and in giving clients the opportunity to provide review and performance and satisfaction metrics. Mary believes the value from a platform like ClariLegal will show up on a client’s quarterly and annual reports.
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:
James Johnson is principal attorney of First Venture Legal, a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based law practice focused on corporate and transactional law for very-early-stage startups. James assists entrepreneurs and small business owners with corporate formation and structuring, contracts, commercial law, employment matters, and early-stage fundraising. His practice utilizes alternative fee structures to deliver value-based service to early-stage ventures.
In addition to practicing law, James works with ClariLegal, focusing on building out its innovative platform and spreading the word of ClariLegal’s mission to reduce cost and complexity in legal vendor selection and management for law firms and corporations.
Cash Butler is the founder of ClariLegal
A seasoned legal technology innovator, Cash has over 18 years of experience in the legal vertical market, primarily working in eDiscovery, litigation & compliance. Cash is an expert in legal vendor, 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