The award for the in-house legal operations team of the year, sponsored by Digital Legal Exchange, sees a number of contenders that managed to tap into their teams’ capabilities and external resources to reinvent how they worked and better serve the rest of their business.
The general counsel at insurance business Markerstudy, which underwrites over 5 per cent of the UK motor-market, wanted to become more efficient to handle a rising workload. Chris Payne, who is also group company secretary, assembled a legal operations team in 2018 helmed by legal operations manager Laurence Cook and part-time legal operations assistant Lauren Turner, who decided to adopt technology to solve inefficiencies.
Without relying on any external budget, the general counsel initially created a contract authorisation form to gather instructions. Building on the idea of this form, the legal operations team collaborated with the IT department to create an online cloud-based legal front door to receive and manage instructions through an automated process and prioritise incoming work by using a system that allocates mandates to the team members based on their expertise and experience. The legal front door reduced the time between the arrival of new mandates and work allocation by 25 per cent, which shrunk backlogs and made the in-house team more responsive. They could see which work was coming and management knew what the team was working on.
A self-service function, integrated with Docusign, allowed people in the company to generate templates without having to call up the lawyers. This shortcut reduced admin time in the legal team by 500 hours per year and saved the lawyers about 600 hours in the same time frame that could be spent in more complex work.
The need for a standardised system to better handle work became a priority for another legal team. In 2017, the legal function at London education publishing company Pearson was tasked with reducing its budget by 25 per cent as part of a broader mandate to shrink business costs by £300m by the end of 2019. Over two years, a team of internal professionals and externals consultants set out to build a digital system to handle legal requests globally. They bid farewell to the days when lawyers would accommodate the business like concierges.
Their solution was the Transaction Services Center (TSC), a system that included a self-service portal to automate contract and NDA drafting through standard templates and automated passages to drive the whole negotiation process – the infrastructure was developed with delivery consultancy Morae Global and built on top of technology from provider Onit. An analytics dashboard allowed to better manage work and track the engagement of the legal function with the business.
The lawyers trained thousands of business users on the platform with a number of sessions and workshops that focused on introducing everyone to the new workstreams, playbooks and templates. The introduction of TSC, with its automated processes and level of insights, contributed to a 35 per cent reduction in annual cost of service delivery – about $1.5m. Pearson said: “The combination of technology and scalable resources will drive process improvement on an annual basis, enabling increased volumes and more complex work to be performed at no incremental cost, without any compromise to customer satisfaction or business results.”
Innovation within legal departments often responds to a need to be more aligned to the rest of the business. Helen Wilson, head of legal at cereal maker Weetabix wanted to change how her team worked in line with the company’s business improvement priorities. Weetabix asked the team to be more focused on the internal customers and to be more accessible. The function used to rely on a provider for its legal triaging of matters, but it proved to be an impersonal option and one that generated delays.
Wilson collaborated with Shoosmiths to implement software application ‘matter+’, which had been developed by the firm to help GCs better manage their work. It took one afternoon to implement it, but its benefits run to this day. By using the software, Weetabix could instruct counsel with an email that would automatically create a matter in the system before being allocated to an individual. Wilson could then share matter information with the rest of the team, manage budgets, prepare documents and schedule reminders.
‘Matter+’ allowed the team to have a better handle on 1,700 matters last year, meaning it had visibility over what mandates where coming in, how they were dealt with and who was taking care of which aspects of the work. The legal team is now able to use analytics to tell management how long and how much they spared by avoiding to involve external law firms. The trends and insights derived from the platforms have been crystallised in ‘Weetaguides’, bulletins that provide business with guidance on simple legal matters to avoid calling in the in-house lawyers.
For the in-house lawyers at Vodafone, a restrained budget prompted a push to find new ideas to do things better. Head of legal operations Amy McConnell led a business legal operations team, which includes lawyers, project managers and business analysts. They began a transformation process in 2014 following cuts that required adjustments. The project, called Colibri, aimed to improve the contracting process and to integrate in a single platform a series of digital tools acquired in 2017 that included DocuSign, contract lifecycle management platform Swift and regulatory governance tool Canary.
The resulting platform, VBL Digital Lawyer, mapped the telecoms giant’s products across the world, providing information on legal entities, licences, regulatory requirements and billing capabilities. The use of Swift allowed VBL to function like a self-service programme to generate pre-populate contracts, which saved an average of 312 hours per month. The self-service contracts now make up 46 per cent of all the contracts handled by the function. The team mapped all the contracts into a maze of family hierarchies that outlined each of the contracting relationships the business has with customers. To help lawyers, a “how-to” interactive process map was set up to show provide guidance and fill knowledge gaps internally, complemented by forums where staff are invited to ask questions and get help. The combined effect of the VBL digital lawyer platform reduced the contracting time by 20 per cent, pulling revenue forward by €6m.
The legal function at FTSE 100 water company Severn Trent faced a similar challenge. As part of a company efficiency plan, between 2019 and 2020 the legal team focused on the adoption of new tools to improve their own operations and revised performance analysis of their internal resources and external advice.
Judith Worrall, senior legal counsel and legal operations manager, led on the building of a digital platform that includes a new document management system, Unity, to create and store legal files, as well as billing information portal Apperio to track data around the performance of panel firms against the budget set out for each matter. To control the number of instructions, the team has put in place a system that prevents new mandates from being authorised without the approval of the legal team. It helped manage workflow expectations and set the right budget across the company’s units.
Meanwhile, the team wanted to demonstrate the financial value brought to the company based on the reporting of income and savings contributed by lawyers. The creation of a ‘net contributor’ model showed that, in 2019/20, the function had achieved 15 per cent savings on its legal spend, which helped avoid reductions of its budget next year. These improvements were channelled into a legal tender process in 2019 to move from its traditional sole provider model to a panel structure focused on cost efficiency and niche legal knowledge.
In 2019, general counsel Fergus Speight tasked the team with a mandate to identify strategic priorities, revolutionise business as usual work through outsourcing or automation and to find ways to add value to the in-house legal team’s work.
A legal operations team led by manager Jenny Hacker and lead lawyer Peter McCusker took it upon itself to create a resource allocation group made of four lawyers and an operations specialist that picked a lawyer to lead a programme. Together they tapped into historical data and talent to drive a four-year resource plan. Collaborating with Pinsent Masons, they analysed which work was handled in-house and which mandates went to external counsel to identify priorities and elaborated a learning and development programme crystallised in a know-how environment shared on platform HighQ, which was meant to drive continuous improvement over the years. A scorecard was created to list key performance indicators for the team and the external lawyers, frequently checked by project survey teams and carrying the potential for additional remuneration as a reward. I
n a virtuous cycle, the in-house team focused on finding new ways to work with the external law firms, scoping out opportunities for shadowing and secondments. The external lawyers collaborated by embedding the findings gathered in the know-how platform to improve workflows through the adoption of technology and by providing updates on their own development, as well as giving the in-house lawyers at Royal London opportunities for specific training.
At National Grid, chief counsel and global head of legal operations Mo Ajaz led on a project that resulted in cost savings for the business and with the company’s panel firms arrangements. The team worked on changing the way they worked internally to then drive better behaviours among external advisers. They set out a strategy by mapping out processes and laying out technology investments, deploying a contract lifecycle management platform used globally and a matter management system. Extensive training was provided to the team, which was also on the receiving end of investments though a new focus on career planning and a project management skillset development exercise around work allocation and design of strategic decision trees.
The team developed a concept that extended these improvements to the panel of law firms used by the business. A new scorecard around performance aimed to bring down hourly bills and reduce budget spending, as well as ranking the firms with an anonymous system. The changes boiled down to the panel review carried out by the firm, which slimmed down the roster to a handful of law firms that demonstrated their ability to support National Grid not only on day-to-day mandates but also on opportunities to grow the company and help it prepare for a technology-based future. The team conveyed their learnings to the panel firms through workshops, collective exercises and surveys.
Legal operations team of the year – in-house
Sponsored by Digital Legal Exchange
- Markerstudy Group
- National Grid, Group Legal Operations
- Royal London
- Severn Trent
- Vodafone Business
- Weetabix (in conjunction with matters+ from Shoosmiths)
The Lawyer Awards is going virtual for 2020! The ceremony, in association with Travelers, will take place online on the afternoon of 3 November. Visit the awards website to register.