The following commentary is a reprint of an article written by the author for Elevate Services. It posted on that website Feb 12, 2019 and is reprinted here by permission of the author and his firm, Elevate Services.
I started my legal career in New York in the late 1990's when Palm Pilots and pagers roamed the Earth, coffee bars were becoming a thing, everyone thought that if you added “.com” to your company it was worth 10x more and no one knew what a subprime mortgage was. Law firms basically lived on the concept that “more” was good (this also applied to lunches, and may have actually been the peak of human existence, but that is a completely different story). Anyway, “more” was ubiquitous and manifested in several ways:
- Client wants a document review? Throw more associates at it.
- Vendor comes back with markup? Get more eyes to review.
- A new deal is negotiated? Add more to the template we started from
It was a beautiful cacophony of over billing & inefficiency. But like all “good” (or “bad”) things, this came to end and we all evolved, spread out, and got better.
However, just like the remnants of the 1990's seem to reappear for no reason–I’m looking at you, boy bands & frosted tips–these bad habits still seem to permeate across legal, commercial and vendor management teams. Just last year I still saw all of the following from companies:
- Trying to solve volume issues by hiring more
- Incorrectly using existing technology, and buying more (this is a true story–I ran into someone whose department was running four competing document retention systems)
- Encountering something new, and adding more language to their templates/standards
Now, I still love “more” sometimes (this won’t be news to you if we’ve ever had a meal together!), but really, everything in business–if not the world–is telling us to use less and participate in more economical activities. Here is the thing though–to simply drop activities, without a proper plan for how to do so, would be as irresponsible as adding more. You wouldn’t give up on drinking single use water bottles without investing in a proper canteen. You have to (wait for it) invest to do less. Yes, you will be required to put down a little money up front, but in the long term it will pay for itself, it’s better for the environment, and really, it’s the clever thing to do.
Now let’s apply this simple idea to contract and commercial management. Here are some ways we see companies getting great return on investment by investing to do less:
Contract simplification & harmonization
It almost sounds too easy: if contracts are shorter, reviews should be shorter. However, beyond that, if there are terms which are closer to final positions, then cycle times will be shorter and speed to close will be faster.
Process simplification & streamlining
You know those email chains in which absolutely everyone is copied? A lot of companies use this approach for their approval processes or redlining. Imagine a world where only the people who needed to see something, saw it–less reviewers means more time for the organization. This more focused, properly allocated view of risk and approval takes some institutional maturity. Most of us are ready.
Automation, workflow and overall enablement
No blog from me would be complete without a note on technology. Technology (done right) is a vital enabler for “invest and do less.” Technology opens the door to self-service, better information to allow for focusing energies effectively, and even the chance to allow a “bot” to take over. However, technology done wrong can have the opposite effect. More on that later.
So what’s the solution? More is great; more with less is better. Either way you will need smart investment.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Craig Conte, a prolific author, leads the contracts consulting practice at Elevate, focusing on finding the right solution for the contract needs of customers by identifying the right configuration of process, tools and people, in order to save money, increase value and provide a seamless contracting process across multiple disciplines.
Elevate Services is a consulting firm that provides consulting technology and services to law departments and firms, offering practical ways to improve efficiency, quality and outcomes.