Self-service legal models – the future?

In this article, Joanne Edgley explores how providers can add true value to in-house law departments.

It sounds simple, but actually listening to clients is crucial. She examines developing self-service legal models in partnership with in-house departments, to allow in-house departments the space and time to focus on strategic priorities.

‘Value add’ – most outside counsel promise this on websites and marketing materials. In fact, most RFPs for outside counsel demand it.  I wonder how often the value add offered by the provider aligns with what the in-house buyer of the service sees as a value add in reality, something that is actually useful. I suspect they are often misaligned.

So the question is, where can providers add the most value to in-house law departments? It sounds simple, but actually listening to clients is crucial.  We need to understand the GC/DGC/in-house labour lawyer’s priorities. These will differ depending on company size, where in their lifecycle they are, industry and values.

However, over recent years I have heard that the following priorities come through as strong themes:

  1. Retaining good and talented in-house lawyers by giving them the bandwidth to focus on strategic and interesting work – which also drives the best value in the business (since they actually know the business). Taking away the routine, transactional matters to enable this.
  2. Managing demand of those routine and transactional matters from the business – and having data which informs decisions about how to do this internally.
  3. Doing 1 and 2 through a self-service model for the business without compromising managing risk – since routine and transactional does not necessarily mean low risk.

Interestingly, what I don’t hear as a priority is receiving good quality, commercial legal advice from outside lawyers. It is outside lawyers that insist this is a value add. It’s a given and the choice of providers is vast.

Perhaps a controversial statement, but I also do not hear that technology is a priority in itself. That would be the tail wagging the dog. On the other hand, simple technology that enables 1-3 above is attractive.

I was recently at a conference where I heard a panel of esteemed GCs say that they wished that their partners (outside counsel and other suppliers) were pushing methods, including technology, to help law departments meet priorities such as those above. I heard that in-house counsel are valued within the business more than ever, having one of the key strategic seats at the table and partnering with everyone from the board to operations and ESG. Why aren’t outside counsel seeking to work with in-house counsel leaders to enable in-house teams to have the space and time to add their strategic value to the business? I couldn’t agree more.

So what kinds of value adds should law firms be offering in partnership with clients and what should a client be pushing for from us outside providers?

One such suggestion might be developing a self-service model for the business people to have direct access to outside counsel – using technology to enable it. It would have built in ease and efficiency for those business people – enabling them to seek advice direct from outside counsel via an online platform in a way that is intuitive for them (being non lawyers) and using process to maximise consistency, time and cost efficiency and minimise wasteful interactions. Such a model would only work with the right triage, controls and oversight mechanisms for legal. The business would be restricted on the matters that it could be used for, with built in training, triage and escalation processes to ensure that any strategically important matters were diverted to in-house legal either simultaneously, or instead of, to outside counsel. Built in mechanisms for legal to access the technology would enable real time oversight and resulting risk management. Finally, how to make the model and technology work as hard as possible? Analyse and report back the data captured within it, over time, to understand service levels, internal use, jurisdictional and work type spend and other metrics to assist legal making informed decisions about resourcing and training, for example.

We have been lucky enough to partner with clients who have the same vision as us about how to add value and do things differently. We worked with one such client to implement a self-service model in several countries, to be used by HR.

Rachel Roy, Deputy General Counsel at Evolv Technology (former VMware Global Employment Law Lead) comments:

“With rapid growth, comes the need to scale which can be difficult, especially when trying to navigate complex employment laws in multiple countries. The self-service model helped transform the inhouse employment team from a reactive role and bottleneck to foreign outside counsel, to a strategic role that focused on high-impact work. Even better, our internal HR clients received quicker response times which they loved, and the employment law team received data which we loved. We used the data to understand where to focus training efforts and make a business case for local headcount growth.

It was the first occasion I’d experienced outside taking such an innovative and ‘outside-the-box’ approach. It was refreshing!”

If you wish to discuss anything further please do not hesitate to contact Jo Edgley, or ask about what extra value we can provide you through our international ONE model.

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