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Why ACC Value Champs Depend on Legal Ops to Succeed

Photo: Avis Budget Group Inc. General Counsel Michael Tucker shares insights at ACC Value Champion roundtable.

W hether leading innovative initiatives or implementing creative solutions to address pain points, legal operations executives are increasingly the key power players to transform corporate legal departments.

The importance of operations took center stage when ACC Value Champions past and present gathered at the ACC Annual Meeting in Washington, DC this past fall to celebrate their many accomplishments and share some of their challenges of the past year.

Avis Budget Group Inc. General Counsel Michael Tucker kicked off the discussion by gesturing to Vivek Hatti, director legal operations, at his side, introducing him as his “right-hand man” within the legal department.

“None of this happens without his daily efforts,” Tucker said of Hatti's leadership of the department's innovative initiatives. The organization recently completed a non-traditional convergence program, reducing the number of law firm partners from more than 600 to seven. “We have a unique engagement model with outside counsel and set of metrics that gives us the ability to do a number of things. We're not only managing the costs of matters but also the impact we have on the business from EBITDA and revenue to operations and lowering the risk profile of the company.”

In fact, Avis's legal department has cut its budget by 33 percent from 2014 to 2016, inclusive of hiring six in-house lawyers, launching new matter tracking systems, and hiring an additional legal ops manager under Tucker's watch. “We've overhauled the legal department in a way that's never been done before,” added Tucker.

Ops critical to success of massive legal departments

Another celebrated legal ops "win" came from ACC Value Co-Champions Express Scripts and Husch Blackwell which also implemented a massive operations overhaul - this time restructuring their processes for litigation, arbitration, and mediation through the creation of standardized playbooks, assignment maps and work streams, automated budget tracking, and an online collaboration portal. The two organizations then worked together to retrain outside and in-house teams to ensure uniformity and allow for detailed analysis and improvement of processes in real-time.

“As the legal demands for Express Scripts and Husch grew tremendously, we realized that few of us had the historical knowledge of these types of disputes,” said Husch Blackwell Partner Chris Smith. “We didn't need more people, just the tools to work more efficiently.”

“The biggest frustration was managing budgets. Things would be broken-down in the wrong segments; there were delays; we'd send a bill [to Express Scripts] and afterward get [an internal] report saying it was over-budget on a metric. That's not the position you want to be in,” said Smith. “You don't want a report that you're over-budget after you've sent the bill.”

With the support of Husch Blackwell's technology and accounting teams, they reconfigured how budgets were broken down and tracked. With uniform procedures and standard billing practices in place, they're now able to effectively view costs in real-time and across large groups of cases to quickly identify and address problem areas before they grow.

The biggest challenge to introducing legal process management and operations initiatives to commercial litigation at Express Scripts and the law firm wasn't technological or lack of resources. It was the mindset of the status quo, including those who routinely insisted that the bespoke nature of litigation made operationalization impossible.

“That was the biggest hurdle,” said Urmila Paranjpe Baumann, assistant general counsel for litigation at Express Scripts, “to get people out of that mindset that litigation is a black box that you can't operationalize.”

Just as Express Scripts' merger triggered an operational transformation, Bankrate tripled its growth through a private equity purchase. For the legal department, that meant a huge need to tame out of control contracting. VP and senior counsel Jessica DeBianchi Rivera explained that they started at the beginning, putting together a legal intake process, collecting the necessary information. Additionally, noteworthy in a legal department of only three lawyers, Bankrate on-boarded a legal operations professional.

“She is managing the business of the legal department; so we can take on more," said Rivera. By leveraging a full complement of new tools and techniques, Bankrate reduced conflicts and, thus, legal spending.

Ops revolutionizes day-to-day functions of legal departments

In contrast, the grind of daily operations was burying the legal team at Ricoh Americas. In-house counsel were “drowning in the day-to-day; being reactive instead of proactive,” said Jami Segota, senior vice president, general counsel, and secretary.

The legal department partnered closely with its ACC Value Co-Champion Reed Smith to build a collaborative, online knowledge management (KM) system that ultimately relieved the in-house lawyers of 90 percent of administrative duties so that they could focus on more substantive work and strategic initiatives, Segota said.

Value Champions round table

Photo: Bassli talks best practices at ACC Value Champs roundtable.

The key to the platform's success was some “tough love” teaching the organization's business and sales professionals to intuitively go to the site to “self-serve,” such as using the portal to retrieve readily available information rather than bogging down the in-house team with questioning emails.

Past champions chimed in with tips to achieve strong adoption of knowledge management systems, including mirroring the search engines users are already accustomed to using, holding the legal department accountable for keeping content regularly updated and using good, old-fashioned change management skills.

“If the site is outdated, you lose credibility immediately,” said Lucy Bassli, assistant general counsel, legal operations and contracting at Microsoft, “When the first employee hits a dead link it's over. You have to take ownership to keep it fresh,” she added.

“There are ways of pushing and encouraging clients to do things,” said Greg Stern, former vice president and deputy general counsel at Chubb (formerly ACE). “Humans don't like change, especially when they're already really busy doing stuff that is really complicated. If you ask them to indulge in change on top of that, it's hard. You'll be much more successful if a change is a natural progression to what they're already doing.”

Learn More About the ACC Value Champions and how to be named a 2018 ACC Value Champion at

This article was originally featured in the ACC Legal Ops Observer, and sponsored by Novus Law LLC Client Solutions Team. Follow them on Twitter @NovusLawLLC.

About the Author

Rachel ZahorskyRachel M. Zahorsky, Esq. is the director of marketing at Novus Law LLC, where she is responsible for developing marketing strategies, overseeing internal and external communication, and preparing media content for the firm. She is a frequent contributor to the ACC Legal Ops newsletter.

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