Promoting change in the legal sector in practice

Casey Flaherty, corporate counsel at Kia Motors America, does not just talk about changes in the legal sector. He is also acting to promote this change. With a background from BigLaw, where his practice focused on complex commercial litigation and electronic discovery, he has knowledge of how big law firms work and has developed a technology competence that he uses to manage his outside counsel.

When he was working at the law firm, focus was on selling billable hours, not working towards reducing the number of hours by reducing inefficiencies. At that time, he could merely witness how clients were charged for unnecessary busywork. It is now, in his new role as General Counsel, his skills in how to reduce billable hours has become valuable. The basis for his focus on inefficiencies is that Kia is a big buyer of legal work from law firms and a lot of the legal work is considered low value added work where focus not is on the skilled lawyer but on how efficient such work is being done, for example putting together exhibit binders for arbitration.

Since many commonly billed tasks rely heavily on programs and processes, he has initiated an important initiative with audit of outside counsel’s competence with technology to avoid inefficiencies in low value added work. It is actually quite a basic test of how the associates are using standard software such as Word and Excel and is done by giving them four different assignments to complete. The first assignment should take less than 20 minutes if the associate uses basic functionality in the standard software, but otherwise the assignment could take more than five hours to complete. That is hours that usually are billed directly to the client.

It should be noted that the law firms also got to select their best, tech-savvy associate for this technology audit.

This audit has proved Flaherty to be right on the hypotheses that lawyer, as a group, are deficient in their use of technology. Not one of the tested nine associates came even close to the 20 minutes on the first assignment. Considering that they are billing some hundred dollars per hour, letting these lawyers handle these kinds of low value assignments will be a waste of company money.

Naturally, the senior specialist lawyer is not in focus in this audit. Such lawyers are not hired based on their efficiency in using technology.  Focus in this audit is on those many commonly billed legal tasks that are both essential and labour intense. If technology is used in the right way for these tasks, the labour required for handling them can be substantially cut down.

The problem is not that law firms have refused to make major investments in information technology. The problem is that no emphasis is placed on training. Senior lawyers seem to assume that their young associates are technologically adept just because they are young. It seems to be some kind of belief that young associates using Facebook and playing games also automatically has mastered the skills in specific programs such as Word and Excel. Naturally that is not the case. Here specific training is required to gain the skills to become productive using a specific program.

If you are working at a legal department, the question you should ask yourself is if the associates are really trained in how to use your programs and systems so they can handle more commonly billed legal tasks in an efficient way. Maybe you need to put some more focus on training? If you are buying legal services, a technology audit might be a strategy to promote change towards more efficient use of billable hours?

Would you like to learn more about this? We are happy to have Casey Flaherty as a speaker at the upcoming Stockholm Legal Business Summit in Stockholm in November.

This blog post is based on the following articles from Law Technology News: