Where Collaboration Meets Design In Legal Service

by JD Supra Perspectives

Today more than ever in-house legal teams desire a greater degree of collaboration from their outside counsel. In fact some in-house lawyers want to co-create programs with their service providers using the same techniques found in their own company’s innovation centers. 

At one of Husch Blackwell’s clients in the Healthcare industry, the Director of Innovation is using design methods and metrics to tackle big questions like “What if a hospital didn’t have a waiting room? How would patients check in to get the treatment they need?” 

It’s the kind of question innovative companies like Uber asked about hailing a cab, or Southwest Airlines asked about a passenger’s seat assignment. So when two of Husch Blackwell’s clients started asking some big questions about certain areas of service, the firm’s lawyers and Legal Project Management team worked closely with their in-house counsel and used these best practices to transform the way those services were managed. 

Design Thinking

In this context design is less about aesthetics and more about how one approaches innovation.  “Design Thinking,” as it is called today, is a broad methodology that involves empathy, experimentation, rapid prototyping and testing to arrive at what customers really want.  

Of these characteristics, empathy is the hardest to put into action. Empathy requires putting yourself in your customer’s shoes and trying to understand what the user is trying to achieve by engaging the product or service. Empathy requires the listener to use their intuition, ask probing questions and look for context clues to discover more about the problem than what is often heard in conversation.  

Clayton Christensen, author of the Innovator’s Dilemma, describes this activity as “honing in on the progress that the customer is trying to make in a given circumstance – what the customer hopes to accomplish,” or in Christensen’s shorthand, the ’job to be done.’ This was the approach IDEO and Apple used in creating the iPhone.

Within the last few years the founders of Design Thinking have introduced these techniques to the legal industry at events such as the Association of Corporate Counsel’s (ACC) Legal Ops Conference, the Ark Group’s Business Intelligence Conference and the Legal Marketing Association’s Practice Innovation (P3) Conference. Husch Blackwell has found that focusing on design in collaboration initiatives improves engagement, the customer experience and the likelihood of success in achieving the project’s outcomes.

Attention to design can also make a significant impact on the bottom line. 


In addition to design Husch Blackwell has also introduced analytical tools into its co-creation engagements to provide additional insight in the planning and management of legal projects.  

Thomas Davenport, a leading author on the use of Analytics at Work, suggests that analytics operate as another form of leverage, where small improvements in a process, driven by embedded logic and calculations, can act as multipliers that reduce downstream work. 

For instance, analytics can help teams optimize their resources by highlighting areas where small changes in checklists, playbooks or project plans can reduce cycle time and accelerate throughput.  Today, embedding artificial intelligence algorithms within workflow streams to score data extracted from unstructured information can take analytics to the next level.  

ACC Value Challenge

Each year the ACC recognizes a number of its members as Value Champions for leading projects that reconnect the value and cost of legal services and demonstrate how in-house legal teams can effectively collaborate with their internal business functions and service providers. For the last two years, two Value Champions have partnered with Husch Blackwell to transform their legal work streams using some of the best practices of design and analytics.

Rethinking Square Zero

A primary example of these design principles in action involved the “Rethinking Square Zero” project, which received an ACC Value Champion Award in 2017. Four years earlier, Express Scripts’ in-house counsel Julia Brncic led the collaborative effort to transform Express Scripts’ approach to litigation by co-creating a legal project management program that now includes playbooks, process maps, budget tracking and an online collaboration portal. For the Husch Blackwell lawyers involved, operationalizing the preparation of litigation was a mindset shift - one that required the team to listen to the voice of the client and embrace new ways of working.

Chris Smith, a partner at Husch Blackwell, had a vision for how to accelerate certain aspects of the project management program by using a social-media-like platform that could be accessed anywhere in an instant. By working closely with Express Scripts’ lawyers to understand their needs, Smith was able to translate Express Scripts’ requirements to Husch Blackwell’s technology team and iterate through a process of design, prototyping and client feedback to create a customized and scalable solution. Furthermore, certain features of the platform ultimately went beyond the requirements and feedback as the firm’s developers explored more nuanced ways of monitoring work performance to minimize budgetary surprises and prompt discussion of scope changes in a more agile, fast-moving environment.  

By using design principles and analytics to ensure that the underlying needs of Express Scripts were addressed, Husch Blackwell was able to co-create a LPM program and technology platform that enabled timely, cost effective case management.  While the number of litigation matters rose by 35 percent during this four year period, the time spent per matter declined by 39 percent, alongside a 20 to 30 percent decrease in partner time, allowing the legal team to provide higher quality work under tight deadlines. Furthermore, Husch Blackwell’s team reduced the turnaround time for key deliverables to such an extent that Express Scripts broke its own records in the number of cases reported and resolved within the same accounting period. 

Next Generation Portfolio Management

In May 2018 the ACC recognized Monsanto and their partnership with Husch Blackwell as an ACC Value Champion in designing the next generation of litigation portfolio management. This project began more than two years earlier, when Molly Jones, Senior Assistant General Counsel, Litigation significantly expanded Husch Blackwell's  role to manage 8,700 toxic tort cases. Based on extensive research into the metadata and case history from the firm’s original jurisdictions, J.Y. Miller, one of Husch Blackwell’s partners, designed and implemented a comprehensive approach to early case assessment with Monsanto. Augmented by a proprietary algorithm, Miller’s team of lawyers performs a rigorous analysis and assessment of each case based on more than 100 parameters and evaluates the best path to resolution among the recommended alternatives.

Jones also decided that Husch Blackwell would take over management and payment of the large volume of invoices submitted each month by 17 local counsel firms. To efficiently provide this type of service, J.Y. Miller and the firm’s Legal Project Management team worked with the firm’s developers to build an outside counsel billing platform which would encapsulate Miller’s case management plans. Using the design principles described above, Husch Blackwell developed concepts and prototypes, and through an iterative review process extended the system’s features to meet work requirements of all parties.  

Now in the client’s third fiscal year, the benefits of integrating case management protocols with a technology platform to manage case strategy and review bills are clear to all stakeholders.  Since the program’s inception the team has reduced the number of active cases by 53 percent, reduced settlement costs by 30 percent and ensured a more predictable spend, which is also 10 percent less under the fixed fee arrangement. The Outside Counsel Suite provided Husch Blackwell’s litigation management team with tools to more easily identify variances from the case development plans and to better enforce budget expectations. For Monsanto the platform provided the in-house team with the visibility they needed to identify important issues and continue to make strategic decisions in the management of the litigation portfolio.

Designing For the Future

Husch Blackwell is fortunate to work with clients like Express Scripts and Monsanto who ask big questions and desire to collaborate with the firm to solve some of the pressing challenges of their legal departments. Today, Husch Blackwell continues to apply design thinking and analytics to connect the value and cost of legal services and develop solutions that substantially reduce legal spend, provide greater predictability and achieve better legal outcomes.  


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

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