The Service Delivery Review — More Than Just Basic Tech Competence

I’ve been labeled a Legal
, an Innovator,
and a “humorless
.” The last one I understand. But the first two have always struck me
as a slightly silly. I feel like what I am best known for—the suggestion that legal
professionals should get slightly better at using the machines
they’ve been
staring at eight to eighteen hours a day for the last twenty years—borders on
banal. I took a while to realize that the innovation was not in the call for
increased proficiency but in the approach.

Instead of throwing work over the
wall and then reactively complaining months later about inefficiency while reviewing
information-poor invoices, I tore down the wall to proactively address root causes. I defined the problem. Measured it. Analyzed it. Then I sought to improve
on the status quo and maintain control of the improvements. One would think some
form of this methodology would had have
been in use for the past 60 years,
at least. Unfortunately, in the legal market, any disciplined approach to process
improvement is somewhere between innovative and revolutionary.

What was once the Legal Tech Audit is now the Service
Delivery Review (“SDR”) because (a) the word “audit” makes people
uncomfortable, (b) the audit concept is too one-sided, and (c) a
comprehensive vendor management program has become confused (my own fault) with
its most well-known component, Basic Technology Benchmarking. While the lack of
basic technology training garnered the headlines,
it is only one out of ten categories in the SDR. The categories are:
  • Hardware/Software
  • Mobility
  • Training
  • Staffing
  • E-Signatures
  • Document Assembly
  • Process/Project Management
  • Knowledge Management
  • Data/Analytics
  • Billing Hygiene

Each category is supplemented by an
onsite review. I will discuss each category and the onsite review in subsequent

The conceptual foundation of the SDR is this: with people and
pricing in place, process offers the most levers to drive continuous
improvement. When deployed correctly, the SDR serves as far more than just a
finger-wagging exercise. The SDR is the initial step in an ongoing structured
dialogue. As inside counsel, it was my responsibility to set priorities and
communicate clear, achievable expectations for my outside counsel, rather than
just complain in vague terms about inefficiency. It was also important for me
to listen and understand how my internal team and I could assist outside
counsel in achieving their objectives.
To take one example, my first SDR was of a firm that
preceded my tenure in-house and, no matter what happened, was going to be there
long after I left. They were the quintessential sacred cow. And for good
reason. They turned out to be some of the finest lawyers (and people) I’ve ever
had the pleasure to know. Not only were they true substantive experts in a
rather niche area, but their institutional knowledge of our mutual client was
also unparalleled. While I do not think incumbency should be unassailable, it
does confer legitimate
which this firm had earned.
But to say that they were the very best at what they did is
not to say they were perfect (no one is, author included). To their eternal
credit, this group of domain experts was genuinely interested in improving the
more generic aspects of their legal service delivery. They greeted the SDR with open minds (despite being professional issue spotters). When the SDR was complete, the relationship partners
and I had a frank dialogue about what the findings meant and the concrete steps
that should be taken as a result. They committed to a number of process
improvements, which they delivered. These included better associate training on
basic technology. But that was only one aspect of the review and one area in
which they measurably improved.
It is worth noting, however, that, beyond their substantive
expertise, these long-time incumbents also had the best knowledge management
practices I ever reviewed. While, like every other firm, they got dinged where
they performed below expectations, the SDR also resulted in them earning
substantial goodwill in the many areas where they excelled. Combined with their
commitment to, and subsequent delivery of, process improvements, the end result
of the SDR was a deeper, more collaborative relationship.
Collaboration runs both ways. I, for example, needed to get
more disciplined about putting new matters into the system earlier (most
matters were initiated with an email, and the matter management system was
updated later) in order to facilitate better accrual practices and quicker
turnaround of invoices. We also developed a secure file sharing protocol that
meant they had ready access to the regular reports, rather than waiting for my
paralegal or me to respond to an email request. This firm was a critical piece
of our workflow and better integration benefited both parties.

In short, without yet knowing the term, I had adopted a strategic sourcing perspective on supplier relationships:

All this was a bit of a surprise to me. I moved in-house
with the attitude that many of the problems with the legal market are result of
inside counsel being too soft on outside counsel. I still think that is true to a certain extent. But, as I will detail in my next post, there are different
approaches to taking a firm line with long-term suppliers. My initial impulse
to rely solely on strong-arm tactics was misguided. I owe a debt of gratitude
to the law firm partners who showed me a better way. Commitments to
collaboration and coprosperity were important evolutions in my thinking about
the relationship between inside and outside counsel.


Casey Flaherty is a lawyer, consultant, writer, and speaker. He believes that there is a better way to deliver legal services. Better for the clients. Better for the legal professionals. Better for the bottom line. Casey is creator of the Legal Technology Assessment, an integrated Basic Technology Benchmarking and training platform. Follow Casey on LinkedIn and on Twitter @DCaseyF

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