In a new blog series, “Ones to Watch”, David Curle, Director of the Technology and Innovation Platform for Thomson Reuters Legal Executive Institute, explores where innovative law firms are investing their resources in order to stay ahead of the competition while delivering superior results to their clients.
Meredith Williams-Range and Shearman & Sterling are on a bold and comprehensive mission to focus on the firm’s efficiency and to ensure that its processes and data add value for clients.
Williams-Range joined Shearman & Sterling in April as Chief Knowledge and Client Value Officer. She leads a number of teams — knowledge management, research and informational services, legal project management, conflicts, governance, records, and new business intake. Her mandate is to focus on the efficiency in the organization by examining all the processes driven by those teams. This is a massive undertaking. “For the next 18 months, we are focused on the systems, the data that we either have or don’t have, and improvement of our overall process within the organization,” Williams-Range says. “And we’re leaving no stone unturned.”
Getting People out of Silos
Within the scope of her mandate, she leads teams of professionals that were often operating in functional silos. Getting those teams to work together and think through the impacts that one team has on another (as well as the client deliverables) is the biggest challenge, she explains. Another is communicating with management to see where the firm will need to spend money and resources on foundational systems; and a third is getting buy-in from users so they can leverage the available systems and data more effectively. “The people aspect on all fronts is the most complex challenge — people struggle with change on all levels. But when we understand the struggles and communicate how this will or will not impact the individual, we win,” says Williams-Range.
Building teams across silos is fundamentally different. Cross-functional teams are more dynamic and nimble. Williams-Range used an artificial intelligence-focused legal technology team as an example. The team draws talent from the client value team, from knowledge management, and from the research teams, but also from security staff and a global technology team. “It’s a fluid group,” she explains. “We need them all to come together under this initiative umbrella to operationalize the strategy. We have to work with people to make sure that we understand what drives them, what engages them, and what their skill set is, in order to marry that with some of the new roles that we need.”
Join Shearman & Sterling’s Meredith Williams-Range and Thomson Reuters’ David Curle in “The Ones to Watch: Insights from Law Firm Innovators”, a one-hour webinar held at 1 pm, on December 11. You can register here!
Getting people out of silos applies to the firms’ lawyers as well as to other professionals. “In the long term, we need lawyers to be not only good lawyers who understand their areas of legal expertise, but we need them to be good legal tech and knowledge workers at the same time,” she says. “They need to understand the power of that data, the power of that tool set, and how all that can be actionable to make us better and faster for our clients.”
Data Strategy: Central to the Vision
“Where we struggle, and where 99.9% of law firms struggle, is in the data realm and the business-architecting realm,” says Williams-Range. Different teams own different systems, and many law firms wind up with no clear authoritative source for client matter data, or for work product data, for example.
This challenge also presents a great opportunity as well. “Firms have not traditionally seen the power of data, and how it can truly differentiate the firm. Taming all that data is a skill set that has been missing, but there are so many professionals inside the firm and out waiting to get into this space,” she notes, adding there are lots of opportunities for new roles in firms, like data scientist and data stewards and architects and engineers.
Where is the opportunity hidden in firm data? Williams-Range sees two main areas: data for efficiency, and data for predictions. Data for efficiency is leveraging all available data about the firm’s matters, to better understand what type of process other similar matters should follow. This type of data is somewhat easier to collect, since it’s mostly located in passive collections of data about matters, metadata attached to documents, and time entry data.
Prediction, on the other hand, is more complex, says Williams-Range. First, prediction by its very nature is never 100% correct. And data can include various biases that can skew results. “But if we are able to understand internal data around our documents, emails, time narratives, contextual data points, and then combine that with external data from sources like Thomson Reuters and public records, we can actually look at that data for insights and predictions for staffing, for pricing, for risk issues, and for predictive analysis around possible outcomes.”
The key here — and this is a challenge for any firm, she says — is to have a data strategy and not just let these separate data sources sit in their silos, unleveraged.
Client Impact: Responsiveness, Efficiency & Quality
Williams-Range hopes her firm’s work will impact clients in three ways. First, in responsiveness: “I was at a meeting recently with eight companies, and the entire conversation was about better, faster, and cheaper,” she says, adding that many clients “want everything done yesterday.”
“We think having a stronger data strategy will allow us to respond early to those needs, even prior to the work coming to us,” she says. “With legal project management, pricing, staffing, and predictive analytics, we’ll be able to provide more precise data to clients when they ask how much it will cost and how long it will take.”
The second big client impact is simply speed and efficiency of delivery. Here the key is continual refinement of firm processes — whether due diligence, contract drafting, or any other processes that could allow the firm to speed up delivery.
The third piece is the quality of the work. “If we’re able to use our data and leverage existing work at the time it’s needed — if instead of drafting from a blank sheet of paper, we can use intelligent tools with embedded knowledge — then we can focus on the critical relationship with the client rather than just getting something out the door and quality will improve,” she says. “Leveraging all this will improve on our speed, efficiency, accuracy, and our relationship with clients — and that’s all that they want.”