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Matter Management is for Law Firms

4 October 2019

In the face of increased pressure to do more with less, some in-house legal functions have tried (and mostly failed) to use Matter Management Systems made for law firms to track and manage their work. However, given the unique needs of an in-house legal team, Matter Management Systems usually fail for two main reasons:

  1. Data entry creates admin burden
  2. No productivity tools for in-house lawyers

Data Entry Burden

In the law firm context, matter management systems are critical– they help lawyers track their matters, but most importantly, how much time they spend on matters for billing purposes. Billable hours are the holy grail of law firms and lawyers are incentivised to use these systems lest be seen as not being busy. Over time these systems have added document management, but not much beyond this.

In-house lawyers are busy enough with the work they have on their plate without having to enter what they’re working on into a matter management system. The only incentive for them to enter their matters in these systems is so their work can be tracked and communicated…and so, they just don’t. As Charlie Munger, the famous co-founder of Berkshire Hathaway, said “Show me the incentive and I’ll show you the behaviour”.

Ideally, matters are created for legal by the business to largely remove this admin burden (we’ll talk more about this in a moment). Now, your executive team isn’t going to request legal support via an App – they’ll still call, email, pop by – but if you want your lawyers to use the system, they have to have incentive to do so, which is where the productivity tools are critical.

Lack of Productivity Tools

It’s no surprise really that there’s no productivity tools in Matter Management Systems – the work that in-house lawyers do is different than work that law firm lawyers do. In-house lawyers need to:

  • Keep track of all their matters, which can sometimes number over 100
  • Collaborate with internal colleagues and stakeholders
  • Provide advice and maintain an audit trail of that advice
  • Run approval workflows to get positions, advice and contracts approved according to their governance processes
  • Get documents signed by counter-parties and internal parties
  • Update the business on the status of their matter

If you provide your team with a suite of tools to make their lives easier, it’s our experience at Plexus, they’ll happily create the “matter”. The good news is that this results in faster turn-around times and the data that the business and General Counsel wants to measure, improve and communicate the performance of the function. That said, the most progressive Legal functions are going a step further and implementing Legal Service Management which has the business creating the “matter”.

Legal Service Management

In the 1980’s, the UK government’s CCTA (Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency) created IT Service Management with the objective of ensuring better use of IT services and resources. Fast forward nearly 40 years and other central functions like HR and Finance have adopted similar processes and systems to support, track and manage their service to the business. It’s time Legal did the same.

Currently, at most organisations most legal work comes in via email (and sometimes texts, phone calls, office visits, and sometimes all of the above!). Because most lawyers have a law firm background and a strong service orientation, they think this 1:1 approach is personal and desirable. In a day and age where we access most information and services via our phones, this approach is hugely frustrating for the business and unproductive for everyone involved. This is why progressive Legal functions (and most centralised functions) take the following view:

Failed Model and Progressive Model of Lawyer-Client relationships

Plexus Gateway includes Legal Service Management which provides five key features:

  1. Request Legal Support
  2. Advice automation
  3. Automated Triage
  4. Standardised Briefing
  5. Request status updates

Request Legal Support

This App allows the business to answer a few questions about their issue and upload any supporting emails, documents or contracts to initiate a request for help. The business can request help 24/7 from any device – no more searching for the right lawyer – and legal can track demand, real-time, from the business.

Advice Automation

Based on how the client answers the questions they’ll receive automated advice about their issue. For example, if the request is to review a supplier contract for a product/service less than $10,000 and no IP is being shared, they would be advised that “Legal does not review contracts of this nature”.

Automated Triage

Again, based on the facts of the issue, the request can be routed to the lawyer who can best support. In the event your team doesn’t have areas of speciality, the requests can also be routed to a shared task dashboard, where either: a) a lawyer and/or paralegal can manually triage to the right lawyer or b) the team can come and ‘Mark in Review’ the requests as they have capacity.

Standardised Briefing

Because we’re collecting the same facts for every issue, the lawyer always gets a complete brief and avoids the ping-pong that often ensues with the business seeking more information. Additionally, because the same questions are always asked, the business knows what information they need in order to effectively engage legal, resulting in less frustration on all sides.

Request Status Updates

Another productivity trap for the business and legal is the need to find out the status of a request. Plexus Gateway solves this by allowing the business to see the status of their request at any time – that is, who it’s with for approval or signature, which is often not legal.

Again, because the business is requesting the support and entering the facts about the issue, it is a huge time saver for all involved relative to a Matter Management System. We find that most business clients like using the App because they get value out of automated advice, knowing what facts are needed and having transparency into where their request is at all times.

Ultimately, Legal Service Management improves the relationship between Legal and the business and dramatically increases the effectiveness of the Legal team. In fact, Gartner found that an average of 25%–40% of a lawyer’s time is spent on matters that don’t require a lawyer resulting in $2.7 million in lost productivity for the average organisation. Legal Service Management solves this and many other challenges.

Legal Task Management

As discussed, Matter Management Systems were created for law firms for a specific purpose – tracking billable hours. At Plexus, we chose Legal Task Management to differentiate our technology from these systems because it serves the specific needs of an in-house lawyer with the ability to:

  1. Create new legal tasks
  2. View, search and filter tasks
  3. View, edit, and collaborate on tasks, documents and contracts
  4. Provide, track and review advice
  5. View, edit and initiate approval workflows
  6. View, edit and initiate signatures

Create Legal Task

In the event that an organisation doesn’t use Legal Service Management, or when the CEO walks into your office with an issue, a member of the Legal can create a legal task much the same way as the business does – with all the facts of the issue.

Legal Task Dashboard

A single dashboard to see all legal issues across the business. This can be secured such that people only see the things they should see, but also filtered to see any task in any state: Awaiting Review, In Review, Pending Approval, Pending Signature, Approved, Executed, Closed, etc. These can be further filtered by requester, business unit, request/contract type, counter-party, contract value, dates, etc. These filters allows in-house legal teams and the business unprecedented views into their transactions and legal issues.

Legal Task Dashboard - Filters

Legal Task Details

Once inside a legal task, a lawyer has everything they need at hand to be productive with the ability to:

  • view and edit documents from within Plexus Gateway – simultaneously with others, including counter-parties, permissions permitting – and Gateway will automatically track all changes and manage version control throughout the review, approvals and negotiations process,
  • see all answers the business provided (as well as any other facts/meta-data about the issue), with the ability to edit/add additional facts/meta-data for search and reporting purposes,
  • provide and view history of advice to the business through Gateway that is tracked for audit purposes,
  • view/edit/initiate approval workflows,
  • view/edit/add signatories and signature status,
  • view/edit/add key dates/milestones with alerts.

Legal Task Details - NDA

Once a task is complete (closed, executed) it is then stored in the Legal Information System such that when an issue arises, or it’s time to renew/renegotiate a contract, you can go back and look at the complete history from inception, through approval, and negotiation to close. This obviously saves time by making it easy to find complete records, but it also gives your organisation an advantage to be able to re-secure previously fought positions across your contracts.

Ultimately, Legal Task Management dramatically improves the efficiency with which Legal is able to get its work done. In fact, organisations that have adopted Legal Task Management have seen a 30% increase in lawyer productivity by having the tools that a lawyer should have always had.

Together, Legal Service Management and Legal Task Management change the game for in-house Legal functions to the point that Matter Management Systems no longer, well, matter. An outcome most lawyers are only too happy to see.