Arguably the biggest change in the legal profession’s “New Normal” is the extent to which it demands and rewards collaboration to manage scale and complexity. Today’s client-driven demand for greater collaboration is leading us away from the days when rampant individualists thought that everything they did was unique but disconnected, and that every lawyer should be free to do everything in his or her own way (an autonomous mindset that has been no less evident in legal departments than in law firms).  Today we need more systematic approaches for planning, controlling and executing legal matters.  And oh, yes, for playing for effectively with each other.  The new maxim: Collaboration Rules.

“What collaboration?” you may ask. “Collaboration among whom?” In the complex business matrix in which legal departments must operate today, the collaborators include a broad spectrum of players and interests: the legal department’s own lawyers, paralegals and staff, their internal clients like finance, sales or HR, outside counsel and outside auditors, and other resource providers (e.g., legal process outsourcers, or LPOs) – plus all the other stakeholders who at all times must be in the loop, fully aligned, fully informed, and speaking the same language.

A Whole New Kind of Collaboration Engine

But what about the technological tools required to support all this collaboration?  We’ve seen scores of platforms, templates, dashboards, software solutions designed to fill the bill, most for law firm use in LPM, far fewer for legal departments.  By and large, they are high on IT whiz-bang and low on user friendliness for lawyers.

But now comes a potential game changer.

Courtesy of our frequent contact with Paul Lippe, CEO of OnRamp Systems, we recently got a peek under the tent at what is best described as “collaboration technology.” Enter ORX, short for OnRamp Exchange, which Legal OnRamp developed and now licenses to sophisticated legal departments, such as Pfizer, HP and CBRE.

Described by Steve Harmon, Senior Director of Cisco’s Legal Technology Solutions Group as a way to “make our lawyers efficient and make our law department cost-effective,” ORX was developed for corporate legal departments at Cisco’s request and with their … collaboration.

ORX defies easy description in traditional IT terms.  As Lippe says, “successful legal department initiatives are built around (i) leveraging existing knowledge and (ii) identifying expertise to avoid re-inventing the wheel.”  So, ORX is a multi-functional platform that fosters those goals.

It’s A Bird…A Document Management Bird

ORX is a robust document management tool, aggregating documents and workflows in a way that is easy to use.  But, it is far more than just a static holding tank or electronic filing cabinet.  And, it is more than a set of legal project management templates.  Instead, it is a shared, secure, compartmentalized & hosted repository.

Relevant precedents from the legal department, and general information and client-specific information from firms, are readily available with easy to use search function.  For example, when searching for contracts, key fields of legacy information (counter-party, termination, and material terms) allow for quick identification and comparison for easy reference.

Lippe points out that “within a legal department, most issues are resolved in the same or similar fashion as related issues, i.e., “law of the corporation,” as opposed to corporate law.  Global consistency – or at least awareness -is key for quality and compliance.” ORX permits stakeholders to create and easily access “playbooks” – indexed and searchable wikis that foster collaboration leading to continuous evolution of standard company legal positions and precedents.

It’s a Plane…A KM Plane

It’s not simply a knowledge management library.  Steve Harmon calls it a “Knowledge Capture Hub,” a tool that allows the easy exchange of information among internal lawyers, their clients, outside law firms, and – note this – peers in other companies’ legal departments.

“In a Facebook world,” Paul Lippe says, “law departments should have accessible detailed information about everyone on their extended team – including areas of expertise, authored documents, relevant work and even relationships and assessments. It can identify and compare expertise across firms and broaden the links between constituencies that historically did not communicate.”

Cisco’s Harmon puts it differently: “It takes the water-cooler discussions about who can do what to a whole new level. Its Q&A exchange and user forums can be accessed and leveraged by a variety of users using almost any smart device. It’s open communication that goes far beyond email.”

No, it’s More…It’s Super Metrics

One of the major areas of legal spend is on outside counsel.  By treating the inhouse and firm(s) teams as one team, ORX gets firms to make three big value leaps:

  1. Better shared awareness with client;
  2. Better tools & processes together with client; and
  3. Better shared knowledge, to avoid re-inventing the wheel.

How Does ORX Work?

The following abbreviated screen shots suggest how ORX works as a configurable tool for managing matters, projects or processes across an entire legal department.

The first example shows how all matters dealt with by the legal department can be captured in a dashboard that shows summary information about each matter.  The dashboard presents the top-level matter information in sortable columns, so the GC can quickly see the trouble spots and drill down – or go home early if there aren’t any. Summary data is linked to collaboration spaces for a deeper look.

On another note, a key capability for management is generating various types of reports. With ORX, reports can be run against certain regions, and results by attorney, matter type or business unit can be generated. This allows more effective and efficient management, for example to determine how to optimize workloads for greater efficiency.

User Friendlier

Lawyers hate being intimidated by technology, by steep learning curves and lengthy training, by the fear that they will be overpowered, obsolesced or made fungible by technology intended to make them more efficient performers. To address these barriers to acceptance, ORX has been built around several user-centered design parameters:

  • Lawyers must be able to master its use with virtually no training.
  • It must be easily accessible through a variety of smart devices, especially today’s iPads and iPhones.
  • Access can be easily compartmentalized depending on the level of confidentiality and privilege the collaborators share.

When you see ORX in action…Wow. It’s like a Swiss army knife with “smart” blades that enhance the use of other blades. It’s like a toolbox that teaches communication.  It’s like a go-to resource for countless types and levels of information, knowledge and wisdom. It’s like a platform that can retrieve the past, chronicle the present and shape how lawyers and information are managed in the future.

Where to Now?

ORX is designed to evolve continuously and to be licensed by a variety of types and sizes of legal departments.  In addition to Cisco, early adopters beating a path to ORX’s door include HP and Pfizer, who recognize its signal characteristic: it is designed to facilitate the way various stakeholders interact, collaborate and communicate, rather than to stand as a technological platform. ORX doesn’t replace the powerful brains in a client’s legal network, it connects and empowers them.  ORX is designed to grow and change, to let technology do what it can do and free up skilled people to do what they do.

OnRamp has written a white paper on ORX if you want more information about this new approach to Collaboration Technology.