Rees Morrison, Esq., is an expert consultant to general counsel on management issues. Visit his website,, write Rees@ReesMorrison(dot)com, or call him at 973.568.9110.
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    « February 2008 |
    Main | April 2008 »

    Questions to consider when you think you might create a written policy

    It falls trippingly from the tongue: “Let’s draft and circulate a policy.” Say, for instance, a policy on when to close matters stored on a matter management system. The fundamental question is whether the effort to draft, communicate, and enforce a policy is justified by the benefits expected to come from having the policy (See my post of June 30, 2007: four steps to solutions of problems.).

    Problems abound. It is no easy thing to write a clear policy that governs in a muddy world. Nor is it easy to change people’s behavior to conform to the policy. Even how you communicate changes in policy is prickly. Do you email it around? Post it on the intranet? Mention it once in a staff meeting?

    On top of these questions, every change results in unintended consequences (See my post of Aug. 28, 2005: trade offs when actions are taken; Aug. 1, 2006: second-order consequences; Dec. 17, 2006: all practices have pros and cons; July 10, 2007: well-intentioned actions that boomerang.). Finally, each policy is a tiny piranha – one won’t hurt you but a school of them can eat you alive (See my post of Oct. 22, 2006: sclerotic bureaucracy.).

    All in all, though, I favor guideline policies in law departments because when promulgated judiciously they boost quality, efficiency, and consistency.

    Document-clustering software that reduces the costs of discovery

    The bubbling cauldron that is electronic discovery these days intimidates me. Unless you are immersed in this turbulent field, the enormous variety of offerings and competing claims for excellence can deter even the most confident blogger. That said, it does seem to me that software for litigation discovery review that clusters together documents of similar content should advantage law departments. A piece in the Met. Corp. Counsel, Vol. 16, March 2008 at 8, mentions this software and offers a metric.

    Discovery jacks up litigation costs dramatically (See my post of April 24, 2005.). Claiming that "a major component [of discovery] is the cost of review for production", one contributor to the panel (a vendor) notes that "clustering technology allows reviewers to complete their work in one-half to one-third of the time, compared to traditional review applications." If these productivity metrics are true, there must be some counter argument by other vendors or this technology would sweep the battlefield.

    Knowledge management efforts and technology at Cisco Systems

    A post by David Hobbie about an International Legal Technology Association (ILTA) session on Aug. 22, 2007, describes some of the knowledge management initiatives of Cisco’s Law Department. Cisco has 130 lawyers in the Silicon Valley and 230 total legal staff in 72 countries. They use DealBuilder (See my post of April 18, 2007: the software’s use by three law firms; Feb. 6, 2007: Microsoft and Reuters applications; and June 20, 2007: Cisco’s applications.) and have customized a contract management system. That system has guides for 26 types of contracts.

    To encourage collaboration and knowledge sharing among its far-flung lawyers, the Department created a “Legal Exchange Collaborative" where users can post questions and send e-mails to one or more groups of lawyers. The system handles 20-to-50 questions per month. Its downside is that the e-mails contain only a hyperlink, not the question or the subject, so people who are traveling cannot make full use of it. To address this drawback, the department is considering creating a wiki that can disseminate more of the information its lawyers need (See my post of Feb. 9, 2008: references to six posts on legal wikis.).

    Technology and Six Sigma applied to a flood of hard-copy invoices

    A post by David Hobbie about an International Legal Technology Association (ILTA) session on Aug. 22, 2007, describes some of the initiatives of Liberty Mutual’s law department. That department handles 1,600 law firms that submit electronic bills, yet they it still receives up to 6,000 hard-copy invoices every month. According to Mike Russell, Strategic Legal Technologist at Liberty Mutual, his team followed Six Sigma to improve processes that surround the deluge.

    They use Documentum WebTop to capture key information about the invoices and Adobe Acrobat Standard (6.0 Professional) to annotate and handle the invoices. Staff scan all invoices into PDF and import them into Documentum. They also track invoice information in Excel.

    The law department ships the original invoices to a vendor with a bar-coded cover sheet that describes what is in each shipment. The vendor destroys the invoices after 90 days. In other words, Liberty Mutual legal function, with the assistance of internal IT resources, re-purposed its document management system to treat bills as documents.

    A closer look at the physical appearance of in-house counsel

    All of us form quick impressions, as well as many lasting impressions, based on someone’s appearance (See my posts of Nov. 9, 2006: advantages of height; Feb. 1, 2007 #2: height and intelligence; and April 7, 2006: looks and height.). Much discrimination is based on inherited physical characteristics (See my post of Sept. 4, 2006: minority counsel compared to diverse counsel.) and life is littered with prejudices (See my post of March 17, 2006: gay and lesbian lawyers.).

    Whomped with the ugly stick some in-house lawyers may be (See my post of Jan. 8, 2008: homely looks of corporate counsel.), but there’s more to appearance on this blog than meets the eye. Appearances are nothing to dismiss in this youthfulness-worshipping botox culture (See my post of Jan. 25, 2008: smile your way to financial success.). Dress codes testify to the potency of appearance (See my post of Oct. 22, 2005: my iron-clad rule on dress codes.) and people even notice handedness (See my post of March 12, 2006: left-handed lawyers.).

    Sometime I will write about prejudice against over-weight lawyers. Better to work out diligently at the corporate fitness center (See my posts of April 16, 2007 on corporate health centers; and Feb. 25, 2008: exercise jogs the brain.). Otherwise, keep an eye on the mirror.

    Rees Morrison’s Morsels #69 – additions to earlier posts

    Legal services as a percentage of revenue. From Robert H. Frank and Philip J. Cook, The Winner-Take-All Society (Penguin Books 1995) at 219: "[L]egal services, which accounted for only 0.6% of gross domestic product in 1960, accounted for 1.39% in 1987.” The late 1980’s was about the time when the American Corporate Counsel Association got under way and law departments started becoming more prominent. What is cause and what is effect? Moreover what is the percentage more recently of legal services to the GDP? This is total legal spending as a percentage of revenue at the largest scale!

    More Web 2.0 offerings. Law Tech. News, March 2008 at 51, describes PreCYdent, a provider of public-domain law. “On the drawing board is a social network platform to help users find lawyers, and lawyers and lay persons to share knowledge” (See my post of March 16, 2008: Web 2.0 and in-house lawyers.).

    The frequency of RFPs by law departments. Law Firm Inc., Vol. 6, March/April 2008 at 38, states that Chadbourne & Parke has a chief business development and marketing officer, Iris Jones. At that 400+ lawyer US firm, Jones’s department “is involved in about 20 proposals a month.” (See my posts March 17, 2006: work set in motion by RFPs; and May 9, 2007: many RFPs issued in 2006.).

    More neuroscience for lawyers. Wired, April 2008 at 60, points out that you can use transcranial stimulation to increase your empathy (See my post of Aug. 19, 2007 #1: more on transcranial stimulation.).

    Listen to this prognostication: law departments will use hypersonic sound to communicate

    Hypersonic sound broadcasts audio in a focused beam, so that only a person standing directly in its path hears the message. The big brotherness of what I am about to write feels creepy, but it may be that law departments of the future will have hypersonic reminders to lawyers to review their backlog of bills, for example.

    Instead of e-mail reminders (how 20th century!) or announcements on the wiki intranet, the general counsel might turn on hypersonic reminders about the upcoming legal management meeting or the deadline for submitting evaluations of staff. These futuristic musings played in my mind after reading Wired, April 2008 at 60.

    Randomized tests and experiments by law departments

    Ian Ayres, Super-Crunchers: Why Thinking-By-Numbers is the New Way to be Smart (Bantam 2007) describes in Chapter 2 how business uses randomized tests to learn more about their markets. For one group of consumers, picked at random, they do something and for the rest they do something different, then pore over any changes in outcome. It made me think of ways that general counsel could harness the power of randomized studies (See my post of March 25, 2008: send sample matters to both external and internal counsel to see differences in cost.).

    As one instance, a law department might randomly choose matters to have their invoices carefully reviewed and the law firms advised of write-downs. Three months later look to see whether the effective billing rates or cost structure of those matters were any different than matters for which bills were not carefully reviewed. More precisely they could test whether the reductions end up with a cost saving net of the time it took to achieve them. Any change would be an example of what statisticians call the "treatment effect."

    A second test would assign similar cases at random to two capable law firms and then track the performance differences. Or use a disciplined ECA procedure on every other case for six months. If the two groups are similar in every other dimension, the department can be confident that any change in the two groups' outcome was caused by their different treatment.

    The activities of in-house patent lawyers, aside from litigation

    As with all in-house attorneys, patent lawyers need to be managed to help them most efficiently go about their duties. Law Department Management has accumulated quite a few posts on the range of work they do that is not adversarial (See my posts of Jan. 3, 2006: patent counsel and value delivered; July 18, 2006: 27 metrics for a patent group; April 12, 2006: total cost of IP legal services; Nov. 13, 2005: restructuring of Motorola’s patent team; April 8, 2007: Univ. of Virginia’s in-house patent attorneys; and May 14, 2006 #2: Intuit’s expansion of its resources.). After I labored to assemble this mass of posts that follow, I realized that my blog uses the word “patent” 681 times, and I had looked at each one of them.

    Evaluate inventions for patentability (See my post of March 23 2008: Patent Review Committees with references cited; and Dec. 4, 2006: set patent strategy at Palm.)

    Prepare and prosecute patent applications (See my posts of Sept. 27, 2005: offshore costs; Nov. 14, 2005: Motorola and Indian drafters; Oct. 10, 2005: DuPont; Dec. 7, 2007: percentage of IP work outsourced; Oct. 8, 2007: IBM’s extensive use of retired patent counsel; Feb. 4, 2007: SAP Canada’s productivity; and Feb. 10, 2007 #2: GE’s goal to boost patent applications.). To obtain patents they may competitively bid “prep and prosc” work (See my posts of May 23, 2007: fixed fees for patent applications; and March 9, 2007: Cisco.).

    They may participate in giving inventors awards (See my posts of Oct. 10, 2006: Dial Corp.; Jan. 27, 2006: incentives to researchers at H-P; and July 25, 2007: Halliburton Energy.) and handle other aspects of securing patent protection (See my posts of March 23, 2007: translation costs; March 3, 2006: Six Sigma and International Truck; Dec. 11, 2007: evolutionary design and its potential effect on patent volume; Aug. 3, 2005: Microsoft and benchmarks of patents per billion of revenue).

    Manage the patent portfolio (See my posts of May 13, 2007: Microsoft’s portfolio; Nov. 13, 2005: IP audits; May 1, 2005: integrating matter- and IP-management databases; Oct. 10, 2006: Avery Dennison’s database; Feb. 4, 2007: Honeywell’s IP e-billing system; Aug. 5, 2007: Hitachi’s efforts to prune; Jan. 30, 2006: customized software at RIB-X Pharmaceuticals; and April 10, 2006 # 4: Association of Patent Law Firms.).

    These tasks include paying annuities and renewal fees (See my posts of Aug. 7, 2007: many international matters involve patents and trademark local counsel; April 10, 2006: total law firms retained ought to exclude local IP counsel; and Nov. 30, 2005: Computer Patent Annuities (CPA) and its services.).

    License, buy or sell patents (See my posts of Oct. 19, 2005: collecting royalties; Jan. 16, 2006: Ocean Tomo auctions; and Oct. 29, 2006: Qualcomm.).

    Educate clients about intellectual property and its protection (See my posts of July 10, 2007: build awareness; and May 10, 2006: Kraft’s initiatives.).

    Assist with due diligence and negotiations in M&A (See my post of Jan. 3, 2006: many patents are worthless.).

    Assess the competitive landscape of patents (See my posts of Dec. 11, 2007: Microsoft’s software to classify large portfolios of patents; Jan. 13, 2006: no IP department is an island.).

    Track and influence to legislation and patent office regulations (See my post of Dec. 28, 2006: Community Patent Review Project.).

    All aspects of the patent value chain – from invention disclosures to letting patents lapse -- ought to be scrutinized for the value they create and the costs they incur (See my posts of March 21, 2006 and Jan. 13, 2006: value of US patents compared to cost to acquire; Dec. 8, 2006: data scarce on value of in-house patent counsel.). Sometimes an executive outside of the law department holds sway over these activities (See my posts of Oct. 30, 2005: Chief IP Officers; and Feb. 1, 2006: IP management groups at Avery Dennison and Honeywell.).

    Some data about plans of general counsel not to expand internal litigation support staff

    The recent report by Lexakos, Chief Legal Officer 2008 Strategic Planning Survey, draws on responses from more than 100 chief legal officers. According to Rick Wolf, founder of Lexakos, 86 percent of them “do not plan to expand internal staff dedicated to litigation support.”

    How you interpret this finding depends on the size of the law departments in the respondent population. A large number of law departments are too small to staff a position devoted primarily to litigation support (See my post of April 15, 2006: solo GCs.). Of the remaining law departments in the Lexakos sample, some number may already have the person or two onboard and they need no one else. If you have headcount constraints a standstill position says nothing about the value the top lawyer might perceive of such a role. The finding also may suggest that the cottage industry of litigation support providers has done a good job in providing services (See my post of Feb. 9, 2006: cottage industry of litigation support; and Jan. 28, 2007: litigation specialty providers.).