The legal industry is more collaborative than ever. This is particularly true with corporate law. Throughout their careers, corporate attorneys will collaborate with countless other lawyers and legal professionals.
Some of those interactions will be fantastic. The co-counsel will be extremely capable. They’ll stay on task, and quickly and thoroughly analyze complex issues. They’ll give measured counsel and keep you well informed. These are the sort of hired guns you want on your side of a legal battle. They can take you further than you could ever go on your own.
But of course, it won’t always be easy. With more than 1.3 million practicing attorneys in the U.S., there are bound to be a few folks with a lax legal approach, subpar communication habits, and sluggish productivity.
Without proper management, this can result in missed deadlines, ignored strategy sessions, careless filings, and general ignorance of updates to current state laws.
In one situation I witnessed, outside co-counsel failed to depose an essential witness. His defense? “I didn’t follow-up because I didn’t think you expected me too.” His inaction resulted in a company shelling out $50,000 to settle a case that they should have won.
When collaborating attorneys won’t stay on track, what can you do?
Some years ago, I had the opportunity to work closely with famed management and leadership-guru, Warren Bennis, to publish his book Managing People is like Herding Cats. Bennis’ thesis was that, regardless of instructions and established processes, employees are quite often inclined to do things their own way. A wise manager learns how to get the most out of his people. Bennis then offered ideas and strategies to help achieve objectives via a diverse workforce who have an inclination to stray outside the lines.
To set the tone, Bennis opened with a quote from T.S. Eliot about the cat, The Rum Tum Tugger: “For he will do as he will do, and there’s no doing anything about it. When you let him in, then he wants out; he’s always on the wrong side of the door.”
Managing cases staffed by multiple attorneys, all with different work ethics and personal styles, is difficult. Often, the biggest challenge is knowing how to keep outside counsel motivated, on schedule, and communicative about important case happenings and dates.
Of course, there is always the option of letting an unresponsive attorney go. But that doesn’t have to be the first line of defense.
The answer is collaborative, cloud-based case management software. A collective system can clarify and document responsibilities. It promotes secure communication. And it keeps all team members fully informed of the latest developments in their cases.
Here are three real-life examples from my own experiences as a corporate attorney that show the need for such software:
1. Which case was that?
As a corporate attorney, almost every day, a board member or someone in management asked me about a specific case. The typical questions are about statutes of limitation, frequency of contact with interested parties, upcoming dates for filings and court hearings — and my favorite: “How much is this costing us?”
My typical response was, “Let me double-check and I’ll get back to you.” Without case management software, this means grabbing a large case binder and rapidly flipping pages to find the answer. The process was time-consuming, onerous, and a general bothers, especially when I’ve already answered the same questions numerous times.
The solution to repetitive questions is automated case monitoring, aka #Auto-hashtags. Indexing each case with hashtags enables us, with just a few clicks of the mouse, to instantly know any relevant aspect of a case including costs, important dates, and contact with our witnesses and opposing counsel. Whatever our team wants to know quickly, they can hashtag.
Best of all, board members and management can customize hashtags for what is important to them. In addition, they can check the status of any case from anywhere, as long as they have an internet connection. They don’t have to wait while an attorney flips through pages — they themselves have the answer at their fingertips.
2. What is this … Dial-up?
In one case, a former employee sued the company that fired him several years prior, claiming the company promised to make him CEO. With several hundred thousand dollars on the line, the case was important to the company. Their defense was straightforward—besides being completely unqualified, he admitted in several emails that he knew from the beginning that he would not become CEO.
This company was tired of baseless suits from plaintiffs looking for easy money, hoping they would quickly settle to make them go away. Wanting to make an example, the board directed attorneys to litigate hard—to bombard him with interrogatories and discovery requests until he could no longer afford to hassle them.
As part of the defense, the legal team gathered hundreds of pages of emails and documents buttressing their position. Unfortunately, when they attempted to email them to the outside attorney, each email bounced back. The reason: the attorney lives in a small town and his ISP has a limit of 20 MB for email attachments.
The legal team had to send a thumb drive containing the information along with hard copies of 800 pages of emails and documents. It cost them two days of an administrative assistant’s time to print and compile the physical documents, along with an overnight delivery charge.
Had effective, cloud-based legal case management software been in place, we could have easily and securely shared vital records with this attorney, saving us time, money, and stress.
3. Which attorney should we put on this?
Corporate attorneys often find themselves in situations where they must placate board members and management, particularly when they all have “friends” or “family” who can handle a problem. I’ve witnessed companies get stuck using attorneys that consistently overcharge. In one case, an attorney had a lower hourly rate than other attorneys, but he padded his hours like he was stuffing a mattress. However, he was friends with a board member, and the legal team felt pressure to continue using his services instead of going elsewhere.
Case management software can be a huge ally in the fight against cronyism like this. It can help us easily audit attorney performance. It shows us who hits their deadlines and who gets us the best settlements. Through hard numbers and performance metrics, it guides the decisions of which team-members to continue using and who to drop.
The legal profession is only going to become more collaborative, international, and complex. Companies and law firms need to invest in proper case management systems immediately. With clear data analytics, communication tools, and real-time case monitoring, case management software can help companies and law firms meet their goals and increase their value.