Taking More Work In-House

Given the state of the economy, it has been no surprise to find a host of recent articles concerning cost-cutting among corporate legal departments. Everything is on the table, including reductions in fees charged by outside counsel.

An Oct. 22 article (subscription) in Atlanta’s Fulton County Daily Report captured the ongoing discussion through quotes from several prominent GCs and legal department heads regarding various ways they are reducing costs. Almost every one of them mentioned “in-sourcing.” Robin H. Sangston, vice president and associate GC of Cox Communications Inc., offered a comment that many of the GCs echoed:

We have used a variety of approaches to controlling legal fees, including: bidding out 'commodity-type' work, moving work from higher-priced large firms to lower-priced smaller or boutique firms with lower overhead, using contract lawyers, implementing e-billing with our billing guidelines ... Given the state of the economy and the impact on almost all businesses, I would also expect that many companies will not entertain rate increases for next year.

The sum of it is that more and more work that would normally be the purview of outside counsel is being done in-house and costs are being reviewed closely; and the use of contract attorneys certainly fits well within this evolution. There are more flexible billing options and work arrangements and with the sheer number of talented attorneys leaving the traditional practice, the quality of the work performed is excellent.

What other measures are you taking today that you weren’t a year ago? Are these changes temporary or permanent in your department?

Coming Next Week: Q&A With Sue Dyer, HCA

Next week, we'll post a Q&A with Sue Dyer, Hospital Corporation of America's Senior Litigation Counsel. HCA owns and operates approximately 168 hospitals and 113 freestanding surgery centers in 20 states and London, England. Sue and HCA are doing a lot of great things, so it should be very informative.


"IM" Reviewing That Data

All the discussion in e-discovery typically revolves around e-mails, and obviously that’s where the bulk of electronic communication takes place. But we can uncover some very helpful information from Instant Messaging, too.

Yes, that’s correct – all IM conversations can be collected and processed for review when using the right review software tool (and there are many good ones out there). That means all those employees who keep their Yahoo or AOL messaging open all day represent another significant source of data than can be classified as electronically stored information (ESI).

While there’s been a moderate amount of discussion about this issue, in many industries it has flown under the radar screen or been pushed to the side because it was seemingly too difficult of a matter to deal with properly. That’s not the case. A recent example: I managed a team of five attorneys that utilized Attenex software to review the e-mails and IMs of a corporate client. As a content analytic review tool, the challenge with IMs is that the slang used in texting is very distinct from normal communications and offers a different type of challenge when trying to organize these files by their concept. However, by segregating the IMs and combining them with advanced timeline and keyword searches, we were able to review the universe of IMs in context and with great efficiency. In fact, each reviewer averaged more than 3,000 document decisions per day (e-mails and IMs), which resulted in dramatic cost savings in reviewer expense for the client.

There are certainly some very robust tools that can make the IM part of the review go smoothly; the point is that it should not be forgotten (or avoided) in the process and to make sure your project manager is asking the right questions on the subject.

The Client's Best Interest

Recently I participated in a conference call with a prospective client about a voluminous e-discovery assignment. The call involved all of the players: several of us from Counsel On Call, the corporate legal department and its outside counsel (a prominent East Coast firm). These collaborative meetings are occurring more frequently now, which is refreshing. 

This trend roots from the determination that most law firms were not created to handle today’s e-discovery, but are better positioned to oversee and manage the discovery phase of litigation at a macro level. The client wants to save money on the review, let the law firm manage the process, and have an efficient communications process -- so a team approach involving corporate counsel, law firm lawyers and companies that provide litigation support services is practically a requirement today. It is this collaboration -- and open communication from the assignment's onset -- that ensures an excellent work product, as all of the players are working at their best use from Day 1. The process is more efficient, quality control is central and it ultimately better serves the client's interest and goals. It’s a business-partner approach.

Buyng into this approach is a big step for a law firm to take, but a very necessary one because legal departments need real business solutions and cost containment. The days when a firm can justify the cost of 50 associates (at $250+ per hour) conducting a large e-discovery review are over. What was somewhat surprising about the conference call, however, was that the law firm was Counsel On Call’s biggest advocate, as opposed to viewing us as the competition. But it seems that many law firms realize -- some organically, some by necessity -- that developing quality partnerships can be an asset to their practice (and put them in a better position with their clients). The ABA also seems to recognize (and bless) this outsourcing trend, as its Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility recently came out with Formal Opinion 08-451 outlining lawyers’ obligations when outsourcing legal support services.

Much like what this law firm coordinated (and what legal departments are insisting upon these days), it's always good to get everyone at the table together, bring all the challenges/issues out, and discuss the best possible solutions. We're seeing a lot more of this, and it's because a lot of money can be saved throughout the process by collaboratively hammering everything out on the front end.

What The Heck Is A Returnship?

Just when we think the only news about corporate America is either depressing or horrifying, someone goes and does something refreshingly wonderful.

Sara Lee has announced that it’s launching what it is calling "returnships" -- four- to six-month internships at the Downers Grove, IL-based foodmaker for mid-career professionals who have been out of the workforce for a few years.

Spearheaded by CEO Brenda Barnes, a mom who stopped and later returned to her career after some time off to spend with her kids, it seems like a win-win. What a great way to tap into a market of trained professionals, address some projects flexibly, and build good will with the shoppers that form their company’s target market, all at the same time! Absolutely brilliant! I would imagine that after what amounts to a four-to-six-month on-the-job interview, they will make a number of permanent hires out of the group.

I think there are plenty of ways the legal profession could piggyback on this -- we've certainly seen similar situations work out very well for both our clients and some of our attorneys who return to the practice of law. 


Schedule Control Isn't Just For Female Attorneys

We’ve received some very positive feedback from an article in The Tennessean last month about our company and our induction into the Nashville Chamber of Commerce’s Future 50 Hall of Fame (unfortunately there's no link to the special section in which the article ran). There’s just one point I’d like to clarify.

The article makes it seem as if a majority of our attorneys are moms and other female attorneys who left the profession due to life circumstances (and wanted to get back into the profession). While we are fortunate that many women choose to practice with us, in reality, the attorney breakdown at Counsel On Call is basically a 50/50, male/female split. So yes, we do have many working moms – I am one and it was a big reason why I started this company – but many of our attorneys practice law with us while pursuing other interests (whether it’s as a sports writer, a teacher, or a musician) while others have chosen more of a work-life balance for their careers (like wanting to spend more time with family or to work only 40 hours a week).

Those pursuits, and the many others we’re fortunate to help facilitate, certainly aren’t gender specific.