2018 CLOC Institute Shatters Traditional Collaboration Models

by JD Supra Perspectives
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...we should all unpack our own assumptions about what collaboration looks like and explore the possibilities that arise from CLOC's extraordinary case studies and proposals.

As the 2018 Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC) Institute heads into its last day, the in-house operations teams and their industry partners have once again shattered the traditional models of what collaboration looks like.

At its core CLOC's mission is to foster greater engagement among legal operations professionals across the legal ecosystem. Recognizing that solutions built in silos are less effective, CLOC strives to have its members and partners design and build solutions jointly to achieve greater efficiencies and drive ongoing value creation within the broader community.

This year the examples of law department to law firm as well as panel firm collaboration broke through existing norms and frameworks for how teams can work together to meet their business objectives.

From Convergence to Collaboration

For those law departments who have completed their convergence initiatives and for others who have adopted a different strategy, collaboration has taken center stage as the means of driving greater value in the legal organization and for their businesses.

The focus of working together must start with a shared understanding of the legal department's pain points and priorities...

Among the 2018 CLOC Institute sessions which touched on this topic, several common themes emerged. Initially, clarity around objectives was critical to an effort's success. The focus of working together must start with a shared understanding of the legal department's pain points and priorities, so that collaboration doesn't become a solution in search of a problem. This often requires open ended conversations and discipline on the law firm side to listen closely to the challenges faced by in-house teams.

It is also essential that in-house legal operations professionals ask their law firm partners to connect them to their peers in private practice. Many law firms have multi-disciplinary experts, if not teams, who have worked with the same types of scenarios and systems which are emerging within a law department. Law firm partners don't always extend this invitation on their own, but they will include other professionals when clients insist on their participation.

Joint Exercises

A couple of examples from the Institute illustrate just how far these joint exercises have gone to create value. On Monday the session titled Collaboration: How Legal Departments and Law Firms Can Work Together To Enhance Value showcased the legal operations initiatives at Medtronic. In one instance, two of Medtronic's panel firms collaborated on a single matter under the same fee arrangement because each firm had a complimentary set of expertise which together could produce a better outcome. Under the arrangement, the relationship partners also decided on how to split the monthly fee and not always on a 50/50 basis.

Shelia Kennedy, the Senior Director of Legal Operations at Medtronic, noted that the keys to making this approach successful were not so much the financial structure and incentives, but rather the fact that the two firms had intentionally developed a level of trust in their relationship and that Shelia's team set clear expectations and guidelines for the legal strategy.

After the session, I asked one of Husch Blackwell's clients what he thought of this approach. While he was intrigued by the idea, he thought that the tendency of most law firms would be to try to outshine the other. To overcome this challenge, this kind of arrangement would require a law department to lay a foundation of panel firm cooperation through summits, quarterly business reviews and other exercises as well as the right kind of chemistry between the law firms. 

On Tuesday the session titled Driving Diversity & Inclusion Outcomes Through Legal Operations highlighted the need for collaboration in enlarging the pipeline of qualified candidates for both law firms and law departments, in addition to new roles in the industry, because siloed approaches only exacerbated the situation.

Like other areas of legal operations, the panel emphasized that the place to start was framing diversity and inclusion as a business issue, since research has demonstrated that diverse teams deliver more effective solutions and raise shareholder value even more than homogeneous teams of experts. This interactive session explored everything from new business models and work structures to shared sponsorship and professional development opportunities as a means of moving forward in a collaborative way. With regard to diversity and inclusion, we are truly all in this together.

Pulling Back the Curtain

Also on Tuesday the session titled Driving Value and Innovation Through Client and Law Firm Collaboration tackled this topic from the law firm's standpoint. 

Toby Brown, Chief Practice Management Officer at Perkins Coie and founder of the P3 Conference, began the session with a discussion of how to move beyond initial conversations around pricing and e-billing to a broader conversation about legal operation's pain points and law department priorities. He emphasized that many law firms have deep expertise and resources in a wide range of areas. Once these conversations get started, the opportunities to collaborate are almost endless.

Some of the examples from this interactive session included collaboration on knowledge management programs, vetting technologies in the marketplace, joint pro-bono activities, sharing cyber-security information, providing training materials, developing workflow solutions, conducting Legal Project Management and budget sessions, developing operational road maps, providing business skills coaching, introductions to artificial intelligence and helping legal operations professionals structure data for metrics and analysis.

Husch Blackwell's own experience corroborates just how broad the range of opportunities are once those relationships are in place. Reducing friction and adding value begins with engaging our legal operation's peers, listening for their pain points and then creating joint solutions focused on their business objectives.

Break Through Collaboration

For those teams who are already working together on projects, some speakers explored how to take collaboration to the next level.

For example, some companies created incentives to reward firms which were innovative in structuring and developing these partnerships. Others were moving towards summits dedicated to legal operations in order to focus on relationships, conveying business objectives and providing opportunities for legal operations teams to discuss how they could collaborate across a panel. Others proposed the development of multi-disciplinary teams that spanned their networks to help co-design solutions to business problems which required multiple types of legal expertise but also process skills and technology tools.

As the 2018 CLOC Institute moves into its final day, we should all unpack our own assumptions about what collaboration looks like and explore the possibilities that arise from the Institute's extraordinary case studies and proposals.

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[Lann Wasson is Associate Director of Legal Project Management at law firm Husch Blackwell.]

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