On 19th June, I co-chaired a valuable day-long discussion event in Paris for General Counsel (GCs). The Consero General Counsel Executive Roundtable was an opportunity for European GCs to share their thoughts about the business of law in the modern European corporation. Targeted sessions addressed a spectrum of topics that interest GCs. There were discussions on:
- The GC’s role in driving innovation and change
- How KPIs help law departments demonstrate their value to the business
- Best practices for strengthening collaboration with internal business partners as well as outside counsel
- Promoting a culture of compliance and ethics around the world
During the discussions with panel members and attendees, it became clear that there are a number of common goals that are shared by many European GCs who face similar challenges. Examples of the goals that participants have include:
- Gaining greater visibility into all of the legal department’s activities
- Improving the legal department’s relationship to the business
- Correctly predicting spend and remaining within budget
- Managing risk more effectively
- Providing KPIs that demonstrate legal department performance to executive management
Technology Can Help
On the business side of corporate organisations, an arsenal of technologies is already in place helping to achieve visibility, productivity and efficiency goals. For example, enterprise tools such as PeopleSoft and SAP simplify global financial department management and allow deeper transparency into financial performance. Now legal departments also have a number of technological tools available, each with its own particular approach and level of detail. The array of options currently available allows GCs to pinpoint the specific areas they want to target for improvement, such as those listed above, and select the solutions that will help measure progress and reach those targets with the most appropriate investment.
For example, a small to medium-sized corporate legal department may track matters on spreadsheets. When the number of matters – and the number of lawyers working on them – is relatively small, this can be an efficient and low-cost solution. But as time passes and an increasing number of matters is opened and closed, the time it takes to manually groom the list of matters increases and more time is consumed with the effort to keep the spreadsheet updated and current. In addition, the importance of matters with a high degree of reputational or financial risk can be lost in a flat spreadsheet tool that lacks specific features for flagging and measuring these concerns.
Furthermore, spreadsheets do not provide sophisticated reporting. When the GC asks a question such as “Since 2012 has our spend on Intellectual Property litigation in the European Union increased or decreased?” it likely takes several hours to comb through a spreadsheet searching for relevant matters, summing the manually recorded spend on each, and evaluating the trend over time. But with a matter and spend solution that includes reporting, the answer to the GC‘s question can be determined in a minute or two. Visibility is increased, spend is understood, and lawyers can concentrate on legal work, rather than administrative.
Good data is the key to sound decision-making and improved performance. Tools that provide reliable data in real time give a GC the insight needed to make informed decisions that align with the company’s vision, reduce risk, and demonstrate critical support to internal stakeholders.
Matter and spend management are not the only areas that rely on good data for success.
Compliance Across Jurisdictions
Compliance is often a challenge in this region because European companies need to track and adhere to regulatory requirements across multiple jurisdictions. Again, this is an area where the right technology tool, housing important data, can save time, effort, and cost, yielding enormous value to the legal and compliance functions.
For example, a tool that can provide centralised access to regulatory updates helps to ensure that changes to the evolving regulatory landscape are not missed by in-house staff. Some solutions combine this capability with policy trackers that show exactly how relevant regulations are addressed and communicate compliance instructions to the appropriate audience. An investment in such technology can save a corporation the far greater expense of responding to regulatory breaches that tend to occur when monitoring is less rigorous.
Use of up-to-date technology in the legal business can have a positive impact far beyond the immediate processes and tasks addressed by a specific tool or suite of tools. When a legal department’s leaders remain open to considering technological improvements, in-house lawyers see their efficiency improve. As business partners they are also able to spend more time applying their legal expertise and providing the right advice to internal clients and less time executing inefficient tasks only tangentially related to law. Progressive legal departments are able not just to retain and recruit the most promising, competent in-house counsel, but to make their jobs more interesting and to better recognise when their performance is strong.
When a legal department collects complete, accurate data on matters, spend, and law firms, it is well positioned to maximise leverage with those firms and insist on alternative arrangements that share some of a matter’s risk with the firm. The ability to effectively negotiate these terms requires data on past spend and satisfaction with a firm – it is a matter and spend management solution that collects such data. Once a pricing agreement is in place, the same solution can help the client to control expenses by monitoring spend and applying customised rules that force adherence to agreements and budgets.
Exchange of Ideas
The Consero General Counsel Executive Roundtable event was a superb forum for GCs to exchange ideas on all of these challenges, their potential solutions, and many other common interests. The European legal community is fortunate to have such resourceful, insightful members who are willing to communicate with others about their thoughts, and experiences.
To view additional events that ELM Solutions is participating in this year in Europe and North America, visit our Events page.