Corporate Clients Want Legal Expertise & Tools, and Law Firms Want to Deliver, Panel Says

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ORLANDO, Fla. — Efficiency, value, and competitiveness remain the bedrock key performance indicators for corporate legal departments and outside counsel, according to a recent panel comprised of both constituencies. The panel, facilitated by Charlotte Rushton, Managing Director of Thomson Reuters’ U.S. Law Firm Segment, examined the evolving and increasingly lean legal environment through their respective lenses.

The panelists’ insights shared a common theme: legal departments expect outside counsel to deliver greater value by being right on the law, but also by providing value-added services at lower cost. At the same time, corporate counsel are exploring expense-management initiatives and solutions that drive internal productivity and efficiencies.

Tech-enabled legal research tools — e.g., timely legal updates, exhaustive checklists, document access and drafting, and “how-to guides” — continue to play a critical role in achieving desired outcomes by allowing attorneys and their clients to move ahead with confidence and peace of mind. “My department’s sole purpose is to make lawyers efficient and smarter and successful,” said one Associate General Counsel panelist, adding that the legal research tools “allow us to be efficient throughout the life of the deal and to give the best legal advice to our own clients in a particular circumstance.”

“My clients want a practical answer to a legal question,” a partner at a large law firm said. “What they don’t want, is for me to say, ‘Give me a couple of days. I’m going to get back to you.’ That’s just not going to work in our competitive field.”

And this is precisely what clients expect, said one panelist, a partner at a large law firm. “My clients want a practical answer to a legal question,” he said. “What they don’t want, is for me to say, ‘Give me a couple of days. I’m going to get back to you.’ That’s just not going to work in our competitive field.”

The capacity of today’s legal research tools to find the right answers quickly, accurately, and cost-effectively levels the playing field for firms of all sizes to compete across a broad range of practice areas and geographies with equal vigor and success. “The utility of today’s technology not only gives you ‘a wise person in the room,’ but also ‘more people in the room’,” said another panelist, a partner with a midsize law firm, adding that this technology has broken down barriers that used to exist for smaller firms to pursue clients and matters in other jurisdictions.

The panelists agreed that today’s tech-savvy clients are less focused on head count in assessing a firm’s aptitude to handle their complex matters. “Clients are now asking, ‘Are you ‘with it?’, meaning is your firm using the tools and resources available that generate the right answer, in a cost-effective way, and with the sense of urgency that clients expect,” a panelist asked. Firms that are “with it” in this way feel like they have more people in the room, more offices across jurisdictions, and greater expertise to provide the right solutions to clients’ problems, the panelist added.

Other panelists agreed. “For me to compete against the national firms that are in every state, I need to market that my firm can handle business in every state,” one law firm partner said. “We may not have an office in every state, but technology allows me to be as efficient in Georgia (as Florida) because I can get the answers just as quickly as any Georgia lawyer.”

Indeed, several corporate counsel on the panel admitted they were wary of using law firms that fail to leverage every opportunity to increase value and decrease costs. “If outside counsel isn’t using the most up-to-date technology and service, I’ll notice,” he said, explaining that he actively screens invoices, looking for extra research time that’s been added on for something that he could’ve done himself, or should’ve been done more efficiently. “And I’m not going to pay.”

Other corporate counsel agreed that these efficiencies were vital not just for law firms to pursue but for in-house legal department as well. “It’s not only the reduction in expenses and costs that Practical Law offers, but it’s the time. It’s being able to have that answer at your fingertips and being able to generate that answer yourself. I think that’s hugely important,” said one panelist who specialized in regulatory and compliance matters at his firm.

For example, one corporate law department panelist discussed how these legal research tools can give the in-house team a sense of the size and scope of the legal matter they’re dealing with and, in fact, leveraging technology in this way can help them determine whether matters require hiring outside counsel. “I’ve found these tools actually help reduce our involvement with outside counsel because we’re able to handle things more in-house,” the panelist said, adding that his own research investment yields considerable dividends on the back end, as it allows him to pose directed questions to outside counsel, constructively narrowing the scope of their examination and review.