This article was originally published in the ACC Legal Ops Observer, a newsletter for members of the ACC Legal Operations section. ACC thanks the Novus Law LLC Client Solutions team for contributing this article and producing the newsletter.
ifteen years ago, during a yearly medical checkup, a doctor would take your blood pressure and weight. Ten years ago, a nurse would perform these tasks. Today, a technician weighs you and takes your blood pressure, sometimes also tracking your biometrics through an online portal.
"You want the doctor to do the highest level of work," says Bruce Goldberg, corporate counsel and director of legal operations at Chicago-based insurance giant Allstate. "You don't want to pay the doctor if you can pay someone else to do the job effectively at a more reasonable price." In Goldberg's view, law should be no different.
"One of the things I love the most about this role — this notion of being at the intersection of business and the practice of law — is helping the law department run like a business," says Goldberg, who leads Allstate's legal operations group.
"Corporate legal departments have very large annual budgets — often hundreds of millions of dollars. They can't be an anomaly within the corporation," he says. "All other units are run like a business with defined goals, budgets, metrics and processes. We should run the legal department that way, as well."
"I am fortunate to report to a general counsel who not only sees the value of operating the law department like a business, but insists on doing so," notes Goldberg. "I know this may sound like pandering to my boss, but the fact is that robust support from your general counsel is an important element of success in the legal operations space.
"One of the most exciting parts of the job is the opportunity to identify initiatives that work in big business and apply them to 'big law,' " says Goldberg. "Think about implementing technology and process improvements in the law department. Rather than 20 lawyers doing the same thing 20 different ways, we develop ways to 'chunk out' work so senior attorneys aren't doing everything from soup to nuts. Our focus is to have the right level of people do the right kind of work — and do it using common processes."
For Allstate, that means leveraging the expertise of lower- and mid-level attorneys, paralegals, law clerks and other specialized individuals to deliver legal services, and corporate in-house consultants to create process maps for the legal department. This mapping often is done by reverse-engineering current workstreams.
"They'll work with us to take a workstream from end to end, break out pieces, and look at each process and who does which piece today. This allows us to determine what work is most appropriate for different position levels and what changes need to be made in order to make our processes more effective," says Goldberg. "You don't need senior-level lawyers doing everything. Some steps are now done by mid-level and junior lawyers. This frees up our most experienced attorneys to spend more time serving as strategic counselors to our business units — which is what our clients say they want. It also affords our attorneys a more rewarding career path.
"We also focused our in-house operations to identify opportunities to take over work at a more appropriate level and price that otherwise would go to junior attorneys or paralegals at our law firms." A closer evaluation of work and who is responsible for its custodianship and completion is particularly impactful in the discovery space, according to Goldberg.
Although Goldberg has held Allstate's head legal ops role for more than eight years, he began in the position with little "business of law" expertise, having spent the prior 20 years practicing in-house at Allstate.
"I like to say I was one of the rule violators, whereas now, I'm a rule enforcer," Goldberg laughs. "I'm the second person in this role and was offered the opportunity to step in with no experience. But, that's the fun thing about it — there are a lot of people with relatively little training in legal ops helping to transform corporate legal departments. We all learn from each other.
"I'm sure you've heard the phrase 'a learning-network.' Legal ops professionals cannot thrive without a very strong learning network," Goldberg explains.
"There isn't an established playbook for this job. There's no college major in it. Law schools don't teach it, although a few are starting to dabble [in legal ops]. What the ACC has done with the development of the Legal Ops section is to create a learning network to help us all evolve in these roles."
Goldberg also considers Allstate's outside counsel — roughly 20 law firms culled from a group of nearly 400 who are part of a 'preferred provider program' — as learning partners.
"We worked with our preferred firms to come up with the dimensions of our annual client satisfaction surveys — where we ask our in-house lawyers to rate the firms they work with — because we thought it was important that they have a say," he says.
The surveys are part of a program devised by Goldberg and his colleagues to measure outside law firms' responsiveness, clarity and effectiveness of communication; willingness to collaborate; commitment to diversity; adherence to budget and billing guidelines; and success at achieving desired outcomes.
"One of the things that we're trying to do this year is to have more robust conversations with our [law] firms, and have more action items come out of the surveys. If a firm isn't doing well on a particular dimension, we can hone in on that area and collaborate with them to develop a plan for improvement."
Goldberg also hopes the surveys will provide useful data that can be measured and analyzed — rather than just collected into a database but never acted upon.
"There are at least two things you can do with data. You can simply report it, which can be helpful and interesting — say, to track progress and observe trends — or you can do something with it. Data that is actionable is, perhaps, the most valuable.
We want to leverage the data we collect — such as from our electronic billing system — to develop tighter processes that can create opportunities for big changes."
However, "You really have to be willing to try things," Goldberg cautions. "You can't always deliver everything perfectly. You have to be willing to make adjustments along the way and even fail at times. I have to admit that, as a lawyer who is trained to focus on the details, this notion of taking an iterative approach is still a struggle for me at times — but then you find a couple of opportunities that are really beneficial to the business, and you're glad you did."
About Bruce Goldberg, director of legal ops at Allstate :
Bruce R. Goldberg is corporate counsel and director of legal operations at the department of law and regulation of the Allstate Insurance Company in Northbrook, Illinois. His responsibilities include management of the business operations of the law department and support for the office of the general counsel. Mr. Goldberg is accountable for managing the law department's preferred provider program for outside legal services, expense management, IT strategy and support, employee education including CLE, and the law library. Additionally, he serves as the flexible work options program coordinator for the Allstate law department's corporate legal services operation and is a member of the department's diversity and inclusion council. During his time at Allstate, Mr. Goldberg has held a variety of attorney positions including several that entailed providing compliance and counseling services to the company's property and casualty organization and marketing department, and litigation management. Mr. Goldberg received a BA from Loyola University and is a graduate of the John Marshall Law School.