Legal Information Professionals: The Next Generation

Reposted with permission from AALL Spectrum, Volume 25, Number 2 (November/December 2020), pgs. 13-14.

By Toby Brown, Chief Practice Management Officer at Perkins Coie, LLP

Change, change, change. Blah, blah, blah. How many times can we hear that the legal industry is going through dramatic changes? Frankly, I lost count about five years ago.

For your convenience, I will not drag you through the typical recitation of how things are changing. Instead, I want to talk about how you can actually be an effective agent of change.

What is emerging in the industry are new roles for law firm information professionals that actually enable them to participate directly in the delivery of legal services to clients. By that, I mean that these are client-facing roles involved in reducing the cost of delivering legal services to clients.

Now that we’ve set the focus of the story, let’s step back to where it begins so you can look for ways to get involved in this new world.

It All Starts with Conversation

The pricing function at law firms can and should be focused on meeting client needs. At its highest level, this means talking with clients about their pricing pains and goals. Many times, these conversations are explorations, helping the client better understand which pricing approaches will bring them more value and make them look better internally.

Over time, these new pricing approaches have led firms to realize that investments in efficiency-driving processes and technology accrue to the firm’s bottom line.

Guess what? We have already arrived at the point where it becomes obvious that legal information professionals are in a great position to help meet these challenges. Let’s walk down a path for how this all might come together in a practical fashion. We will of course, start with a client.

In this scenario, the client has a problem. The problem is first raised via a request for some type of alternative fee approach. The client explains that they have an annual volume of contracts that needs to be reviewed. The client is struggling to understand exactly how many contracts are being reviewed, what type of contracts, and how much it costs them per contract.

One obvious pricing option is an annual portfolio fee deal, tied to the volume and complexity of the contracts involved. However, to make this truly work, a deeper scoping conversation needs to occur.

We are now at a critical juncture in our journey where the conversation with the client needs to extend out past the pricing factors and into the service delivery space. This is also the point where things start to get interesting for legal information professionals. The law firm needs to develop a game plan for how they will manage the work in a new way. This new way will need to actually become part of the pricing proposal. If it is not built into the deal, you should expect lawyers to default to their existing ways of performing tasks.

The game plan, to be effective, will need to include new (and not yet existing) law firm roles.

A New Opportunity for Legal Information Professionals

The first order of business is identifying people within the firm who can make this new approach work. The old saying, “People, Process, and Technology” will serve as our beacon. We need people who understand a wide spectrum of issues. People who can gather and assimilate a large quantity of information from a variety of sources. Then they will need to take this information, synthesize it, and add their thoughts to how it can be best acted on. Luckily, law firms already have these people. Yes, we are talking about you.

With all the insights you generate, the team can then move on to process. In our example, what is needed is a process, a built-in cooperation with the client that enables a new way of initiating engagements. This new process effectively extends matter intake into the client’s workspace. Instead of the laborious, inefficient, no-process email exchanges that traditionally occur, we need an actual process that has the client providing all of the necessary (and some additional) information needed to initiate a matter for the law firm. The emailed data currently acquired is not captured in the sense that it can be added to a database. With the new approach—via an intake form the client completes—the data is actionable. It can now be used to track the progress of a matter, report on the number of matters, and track their status through completion.

Your Role Is Very Valuable

This new role includes direct client interaction. This is the new world, the real change everyone talks about, actually happening. Our solution comes about by expanding the engagement team to include legal information professionals who become part of the client-facing aspect of the work. You will need to go on-site with clients to understand their needs, dialogue with them about how to solve those needs, then collaboratively design the solutions that put this into action.

You will also need deep support from the technology team, since helping our processes come to life and connecting the various technologies will be challenging. Yes, again you, the legal information professional, will be key in developing the list of requirements that technology will need to address.

Once we have the new approach designed, it is time to execute it. To actually manage a new, changed environment, we will need to assign new roles. Some have been identified already, such as legal project management (LPM). With defined scope and process, a role to manage this process will be very valuable. Some legal information professionals may already be shifting in this direction.

After an LPM is in place, a plethora of new roles will need to appear. I believe legal information professionals will not only be suited for these new roles, but that they are also well positioned to help define and build them. Who is going to manage the on-boarding process for new engagements? Who is going to support the new systems once they are online? Who is going to assist the partners as they expand their relationships with key clients?

All of these new roles require people steeped in information and process. People willing to adapt to a changing landscape. I strongly believe legal information professionals have the right skills, are in the right positions, and are best suited to take this on. The real question is: Are you ready and willing?

The Future Is Bright

Today is the day you, our highly valued legal information professional, can take this tiger by the tail. Look for the opportunities within your firms, with your clients, to make the change happen. You can be the ones who create the new future everyone else likes to talk about. I look forward to seeing you there—on the other side. Safe travels my friends.

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