In the first part of this series, we discussed some of the potential value propositions of enterprise software vendor app development (App Dev) platforms within legal operations. In this installment, we explore a few specific use cases for this emerging approach to managing legal matters with advanced technology methods.
As previously explained, app development platforms are toolkits most commonly hosted by large enterprise software vendors which allow for rapid build-outs of new applications within these platforms.
Within legal, there are numerous areas where App Dev platforms can be of great use, such as matter management, calendaring, and cost containment. Let’s explore each in more detail:
Clearly, the management of mass tort litigation falls into the crosshairs of App Dev platforms. While litigation, of course, follows a standard structure, every client has their own unique needs. At a minimum, the entities and issues involved in litigation (companies, products, law firms, courts, damage issues, etc.) vary considerably. More significantly, operational nuances (e.g., how corporate law departments prefer to track and manage their matters) are increasingly diverse as well.
Digging deeper, the universe of protagonists on a matter are often quite diverse, too. National counsel, local or trial firms, and corporate law department members are the most obvious participants. But other functional areas — testifying experts, insurers, and a client’s administrative and finance functions being some prime examples — also are interwoven into the litigation ecosystem.
How an App Dev platform can help
Every company views the world through a different prism. One company’s division is another’s operating unit; some companies track product issues by SKU, others by brand; and most have their own methods of classifying matters and plaintiffs into different risk profiles.
Using app development platforms to configure new functionality — without the cost of programming — provides great value. Indeed, these benefits might be thought of as the technological equivalent of a flexible manufacturing versus the traditional mass production lines of the past, all without incurring some of the complications and higher initial set-up costs seen in heavy industry.
App development platforms are toolkits most commonly hosted by large enterprise software vendors which allow for rapid build-outs of new applications within these platforms… within legal, there are numerous areas where App Dev platforms can be of great use.
Furthermore, the ability to connect disparate users (like those experts and insurers) into a unified network is also beneficial, helping to improve collaboration. And if those parties happen to be employed by a company that holds a global license with a worldwide software provider, the cost of licensing application access is likely considerably lower than the norm.
With App Dev platforms, a development team can start with a base matter management blueprint and quickly configure tracking fields as per an individual client’s requirements.
Calendaring (deadline management)
Large scale litigations can become monolithic beasts, thus tracking all the dates and deliverables of large numbers of matters can be a daunting challenge. Filing deadlines, court appearances, attending depositions, coordinating experts, and discovery or trial preparation milestones all must be managed.
Attorneys and legal professionals using personal, individual calendaring tools provide some level of coverage, but these can be cumbersome to collaboratively share among a large, distributed legal team.
How an App Dev platform can help
Of course, the principles of rapid development apply to all areas, but as it relates to date-related events, two specific core benefits — workflow and notifications — are critical engines in the calendaring App Dev platform.
Indeed, one does not need to be a Rhodes Scholar to understand how an email notification engine based on the status of a task can help with the management of any deadline. When this functionality is embedded into an existing app dev engine, it just makes building out features like this even easier (and cheaper).
How does this benefit the legal function in real-life practice? First, it allows the user to stay abreast of deadlines among different teams, matters, and jurisdictions by sending timely notifications to the necessary team members, without overburdening those who aren’t responsible or involved in that matter or jurisdiction. Further, this flexibility allows certain events or trends to be communicated to all teams to ensure that the entire team is aware of the latest trends and court decisions as they develop.
But the benefits don’t stop with notification. Predictive analytics can also be applied, allowing sophisticated app dev environments to “learn from the past” and accurately forecast outcomes and actions for similar tasks. (For example, a system could prompt a user who just took a deposition, reminding the user to prepare and transmit a summary for national coordinating counsel.)
Building functionality like this from the ground-up — meaning coding it within an individual developing team in a specific programming language — can be costly and complex. However, folding in these capabilities, which are already resident within a development framework, is a true win-win for both the development organization and end-user community.
Given the pandemic, cost containment in legal matters is obviously top of mind for many law firms. For many firms, there are two primary considerations: i) understanding legal spend; and ii) cutting costs. Generally speaking, the first objective is usually a prerequisite for the second.
What exactly does understanding legal spend mean, however? One objective, examining data at a micro-level, can be achieved by using task-based billing to specifically quantify invoices that a legal ops team receives from their outside counsel. For example, drilling down into e-Discovery processing costs is another way to access this type of micro-analysis.
But there is a macro viewpoint to be cognizant of as well — the operational viewpoint by which a corporate law department seeks to summarize and parse through the fairly vast umbrella of all its associated legal costs. That’s easier said than done, of course, considering the fact that many legal expenses do not directly flow through legal operations.
Once legal financial data is collected, those charged with mitigating spend should be able to easily illuminate and zero-in or the areas of greatest opportunity (e.g., the highest spend areas, or areas with repeatable processes that could be improved.)
How an App Dev platform can help
Once again, just to reiterate the prior theme, every legal operations team is a bit different. The implementation of varied billing rules or the slicing and dicing of costs in a specific manner is made easier with flexible development tools that allow for rapid deployment of customized applications.
But there is another element here as well. In today’s world, reporting dashboards are all the rage; however, the software must be able to summarize data in a way which is relatable to business professionals. App dev platforms can help in that regard. And marrying these bolt-on type offerings with sophisticated matter management systems specifically constructed to meet individual client needs will accelerate opportunities to interpret and reduce spend within the legal ops field.
Legal operations are no exception to this burgeoning phenomenon. In certain areas of litigation, there are roughly 10 key data points for analyzing almost any case. Invariably, different clients and team members will value these data points differently, and some clients may only be interested in a subset of these data points for purposes of quarterly reports or settlement discussions. This makes it necessary for the law firm to tailor its reports to provide the subset of requested data points and respond quickly and with flexibility if clients suddenly expand the information they seek.
Other common app dev technologies such as process engines and business intelligence tools also offer rich potential areas for productivity gains. More specifically, when systems analyze thousands of transactions associated with typical legal processes (for example, like the common steps following an initial case filing), the data can be mined to facilitate process improvement recommendations.
How does this specifically apply within legal operations? Potentially, some tasks, like the assignment of attorneys to depositions, can be automated; or the development of certain types of documents, like interrogatories or contracts and agreements, may be streamlined via the use of linguistics technologies. Further, there are often many legacy tasks — those that are completed in an antiquated and time-consuming manner “because we always did it that way” — within any functional area that could be identified as low-value or even extraneous and improved.
As any work with App Dev platforms will show, any determination that certain tasks are no longer required or can be satisfied with minimal human involvement are the biggest wins of all in the war against non-value added costs.
Dennis Vega, a partner at Tanenbaum Keale, LLP, contributed to this article.