Law Department Management: Considering Legal Technology Choices

When I attend conferences for law department managers, four themes invariably get top billing: (1) controlling costs; (2) demonstrating the legal department's value to the organization; (3) managing staff and workloads; and (4) technology trends. Often, these themes are discussed in isolation of one another.


20 July 2009

When I attend conferences for law department managers, four themes invariably get top billing:

(1) controlling costs; (2) demonstrating the legal department's value to the organization; (3) managing staff and workloads; and (4) technology trends. Often, these themes are discussed in isolation of one another. On a typical agenda, there's a program about outside counsel fees. There's another one open only to chief legal officers about being a better leader. (That's the one they keep sending me to.) There's a program about outsourcing. And there's one about new contract management systems.

Practically speaking, of course, the themes of reducing costs, adding value, managing workloads and using technology are highly interrelated, and taking the time to understand how these themes converge can be quite powerful. When I consider purchasing a business technology solution, for example, I want to know "how will this solution help me maximize the utilization of our resources and deliver results aligned with the company's priorities?" That's a very different approach than asking "what does this thing do, and do I really need it?" If that's how you approach a potential solution, you're failing to consider its context and the broader impact it might have on your department's mission.

Take a simple example. Say you're approached by two vendors: One selling an invoice management system that promises to help reduce outside counsel spend by 15% per year, and another one selling a contract management system that promises to reduce sales cycles and eliminate common revenue recognition problems. They cost about the same amount and you can only afford one. Which one do you buy? The answer of course: It depends!

I don't know anything about the pain you're feeling on the issues addressed by these solutions. Will one of these products help free your staff from repetitive administrative tasks to spend time on higher value work? Will implementing one of these solutions solve a high-profile problem, demonstrate your leadership or show your interest in the problems of other departments? Will it help cure cross-functional dysfunction? Or will it help you position your company for a 2010 acquisition or other strategic event by nipping potential risk factors in the bud?

No doubt many general counsel take a serious, thoughtful view of the potential impact of technology solutions on everything from budget to talent utilization to business strategy. We just don't talk about it too much. And when we gather at conferences, we parse the subjects into neat 60 minute chunks. That's why I'll take an hour with a salesperson who understands the meaning of their solution in the context of my department priorities, over an hour at the legal conference, any time.

For those in law departments including corporate counsel, here are some of my favorite resources:
Association of Corporate Counsel
Corporate Legal Exchange
In-House Counsel