Inside Counsel recently published the article “Operational Empowerment” about the critical role that operations officers play in driving the efficiency of an organization. As a business analyst with many years of experience in implementing legal matter management and e-Billing solutions, I have seen that the difference between success and failure on a project is having, and executing on, a clear operational vision for the law department. Many times, organizations look at technology as the magic bullet and not as a tool. By having a legal operations director who is empowered to make decisions about operational objectives, it is possible for the organization to make clear strides towards meeting those objectives.
Consider two law departments that are implementing e-Billing. In law department “A”, the operations officer has the stated objective that all outside counsel firms will bill using a consistent definition of rates according to a set of billing guidelines. A billing policy has been clearly defined and presented to firms. In law department “B”, each attorney has the ability to approve whatever rates they see fit for the particular work they are doing. While a billing policy exists, each attorney can enforce that policy at their discretion.
Both law departments are implementing a new e-Billing solution and want their guidelines enforced by the new system. Because law department “B” works by exception, each guideline in the system must be developed to account for these exceptions. While all technically feasible, a great deal of time is spent in the project developing and testing exception cases. Also, when the project is implemented, the staff at law department “B” needs to take more time with each matter and invoice to make sure that all of the exception management is in place. It would be easy for law department “B” to forget a potential exception and have to go back and adjust guidelines post-implementation. At law department “A”, the project goes much quicker and the implementation cost is reduced. The work is simply a review of the policy and then making sure all related guidelines are appropriately built. Extensive exception processing is not needed because the policy and guidelines are clear. Also, once the project is implemented, the staff has a much clearer path to getting work done. Because law department “A” has an operations officer that is empowered to drive and enforce the policies, they are in a better position to leverage the capabilities and maximize the return of the software solution they have implemented. For a large corporate legal team this could be the difference between reducing legal spend by 5% without vs. 10% with a structured policy in place.
While the above example is for e-Billing, nearly any aspect of the legal matter management space can have a similar contrast (e.g. document management, contract management, etc.). By having an officer responsible and empowered to achieve the department’s operational goals, a company can much more effectively drive true value from their investment in technology – a loftier goal than simply improving efficiency. In Mitratech’s recent white paper, “Putting the Pro in Legal Process Optimization”, Tim Strong, Managing Director at Duff & Phelps, confirms, “The operations role is critical for departments of all sizes.”