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In-house Access Insight & Commentary for In-House Counsel Worldwide

Working Together to Make the ACC Value Challenge Work

Posted in ACC Value Challenge

 “Automating broken processes won’t make us smarter; it can make us stupider faster.” ~ Steven Levy

Participating in a panel discussion at the International Legal Technology Association (ILTA) conference last month was yet another opportunity for me to engage in a discussion about the ACC Value Challenge.  But, instead of speaking to in-house counsel and law firm partners, this time I addressed technologists.  It was an excellent opportunity to discuss IT’s involvement in the initiative to close the gap between the cost of legal services and the perceived value clients received from those services. 

Tim Corcoran (Altman Weil), John Alber (Bryan Cave) and Constance Hoffman (Bryan Cave) provided a number of practical examples culled from their own experiences, explaining how technologists can play an integral role in strengthening the relationship between law firms and their clients. The questions from those in attendance reinforced the significance of this group’s involvement in the ACC Value Challenge.

Steven Levy, principal of Lexicon Steven Levy & Associates and former senior director of Microsoft’s Legal Information Systems Department, addressed this same topic in a recent Law Technology News article by focusing on trust and productivity. Levy discussed 10 ways IT Departments can work together with their law firms to “deliver more value,” and in doing so, he honed in on how an IT department can not only assist its law firm in strengthening the relationship with its clients, but also help it to be more responsive – and proactive – in this effort.

One of Levy’s suggestions resonated with me: Don’t Automate Broken Processes. Improving processes should not be confused with moving things around to just look different.  This does not work.  I often hear, “Sure things are different, but they aren’t better.”  Technologists need to listen to their lawyers to hear what it is the clients want and how they can help the firm change systems to achieve that goal.  By conducting internal reviews, such as document management system assessments, data can be analyzed to actually improve productivity and not just “shuffle things around.” 

Indeed, it’s a two-way street and the weight of this endeavor should not be dropped on the IT Department’s shoulders.  Lawyers must convey the information correctly and provide their technology team with the necessary information to effectively implement these changes.  The IT Director needs to ask the right questions, repeat the issues and concerns and confirm what he/she believes the intended results should be.

An even better solution would be to bring the IT Director into client meetings. As Hoffman noted during the ILTA panel discussion, she has been involved – on the front lines – working with Bryan Cave clients to identify needs and determining the best practical applications to ensure success.  Her intricate knowledge of the technology involved enables the firm to be better prepared to not only respond to client requests, but to also appreciate how working together can strengthen the relationship between clients and firms.

By involving IT in the process – from the start – law firms are better equipped to manage client expectations.  As Levy so aptly noted, “Unlike Wine, Bad News Does Not Get Better with Age.”  Law firm attorneys cannot afford to be in the dark, nor can they keep their clients in the dark.  When an open dialog between attorneys and technologists exists, there should be no surprises.  No surprises means keeping clients abreast of the progress – and the delays. For those of us who travel frequently, we know the feeling of sitting on a plane, delayed on the tarmac … wondering what’s causing the holdup.  When the pilot explains that air traffic control has delayed our take-off by 20 minutes due to incoming traffic, our expectations are managed and we can relax.  Without the pilot giving us an update, we’re left to fret and to worry (or get agitated!). Being honest, upfront and providing assessments throughout the process ensures a win-win for all involved.

An underlying principle of the ACC Value Challenge is to “promote a dialog among corporate counsel, law firms, law schools and others who are interested in driving an alignment and focus on value.” The success of the initiative encompasses the participation of everyone within the legal services industry.  The ACC Value Challenge is not a “silo” initiative where everything is compartmentalized. It’s an initiative based on collaboration and sharing, and IT’s role cannot be overemphasized. Value is in the eye of the beholder and without effective communication and sharing, this, too, will fall into the bucket of automating broken processes that yes, “will make us stupider faster.”

Frederick J. Krebs

Next Up: The Chief Marketing Officer’s Role in the ACC Value Challenge

Fred Krebs
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