Do More With Less – CBALC

Last week I had the pleasure of attending part of the Canadian Bar Association Legal Conference in Calgary. In addition to connecting with friends and colleagues, exploring the other vendors in the marketplace and chatting with people about law librarians and the value we bring to the legal community, I attended some of the excellent programming offered.

With my personal focus on process improvement, the session that caught my eye on August 14 was:

FRIDAY AUGUST 14 — 9:30 AM – 11:00 AM
Whether you are in a private practice, in-house legal department or a government agency, these words have become a mantra for the legal profession. This facilitated roundtable discussion will provide the forum for open dialogue with your colleagues on solutions and ideas that have worked, have failed, or are just waiting to be tested.

Joe Milstone – Cognition LLP
Frédéric Pérodeau – Autorité des marchés financiers
Jeff Vallis – BLG
Glenda Cole, Q.C. – City of Calgary

Joe Milstone chaired this well balanced panel and started the session with a query for examples how budget scrutiny of legal departments requires nimble reflexes.

Glenda Cole, Calgary’s City Solicitor, offered some insights about the world of the law department for the City of Calgary – a rapidly growing city that has had some major challenges of the ‘mother nature’ variety: flood, an underground fire, severe snow and also drought. Her legal team is focused on risk management. They are successful because of three core values” Being visible, being credible, and being resilient. She works hard to motivate members of the law department to think about their work in a different way. There is a very good reason for her team to focus on their processes right now. In the next 18 months, the department is having a zero based review. They are using this challenge as an opportunity to gather evidence on what their business should and could be.

Glenda uses her attendance at council meetings to understand the focus of the organization and to be visible in her seat at the table. It is hard to manage risks if you are not aware of what challenges are faced by organization. Glenda’s team is shifting to results based accountability – they measure who is better off because of their work (analysis, standardized templates, etc.).

Joe offered that articulating value is easier with true financial reporting, not hours times rate, but rather real dollars.

Frédéric Pérodeau, ties all of his departments work to the organization strategic plan and it’s value is articulated with alignment.

Both Glenda and Frédéric mentioned that their internal clients have a good understanding of what the legal department’s responsibility is. Glenda’s internal clients often have business degrees. They are used to the time-cost-quality model. She advocates standardizing then push work to the right group; stop doing low risk tasks: the law department must stay on track with what they should be doing – where they bring the best value.

Joe asked about enabling people who work outside the law department to use its resources like standard contract forms. Glenda measures outcome of standardization. Frédéric offered four elements to being successful with having the law department act as an enabling body: educate, develop, train, and support. This could look like instructions to use a standard contract form and only re-engage the law department if changes are needed for particular clauses. Frédéric offered the analogy that it is scary but necessary to trust technology for litigation document review. The machine is as likely to find the smoking gun as a bunch of tired juniors reviewing documents day after day.

Jeff Vallis offered support for the idea of using technology to do more with less. He said that resistance to using technology has passed. Clients don’t want to have to wait for results, resources, or information. There is significant dependence on software in litigation in order to be cost effective. Predictive coding is necessary.

Glenda said that people in her department track time. They use the analytics from that to understand resourcing needs and also to show the value they bring to a project. Frédéric offered that when law departments are going through a review of processes they should remember that their projects are NOT IT projects. Technology is an enabler and legal process belongs to the law department not IT.

Joe asked about staffing. He suggested that it used to be a fight to hire or not. Now decentralization is common with legal process outsourcing and technology legal projects can be groups of disaggregated services. There are lots of options to choose from for sophisticated purchasers of legal services

Glenda said that the City of Calgary uses outside counsel when there is an expertise gap or a time crunch. If they are outsourcing for a knowledge gap, they insist on partnering with inside counsel to build their knowledge base.

Frédéric as corporate counsel doesn’t want his job to be to managing disaggregated services. He would rather leave the options about proposing sub-projects and the project management of them to external firms. The idea of his outside counsel as the project managers where he only manages that external counsel was more palatable. He wants to know the matter is advancing.

Jeff offered that quality assurance and quality control of disaggregated services is a big job. He shared that BLGs exploration of Lean and Six Sigma have evolved to accountability for results.

Frédéric’s final thought summed up this session very well: Innovation takes time, it is important to build in capacity for that; not necessarily be as lean as possible on the staffing side, but rather enable staff time to think about how to make things better.

The CBA Legal Conference was commented on extensively on twitter with #CBALC.

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