Back in the 1990s, when labor and employment firm Littler Mendelson was setting up training programs for its clients, S.F. partner Scott Rechtschaffen spent a couple of months designing a board game. The idea was to create a fun way for managers to learn basic employment law.
Today, Rechtschaffen sits atop a 30-person knowledge management department playing a never-ending game of innovation.
Its latest plaything is a serious business tool really, a business process that Rechtschaffen says is bringing the firm work while driving down client costs.
It's called CaseSmart, and it stems from a conversation a few years ago with a big client that wanted to reduce what it spends on the 1,500 administrative actions brought against it each year by state or local agencies alleging employment violations. The matters aren't complicated, but the client sent them out to 40 or 50 different firms. "We said, give it all to us" for a low flat fee, Rechtschaffen explains. "The impetus will be on us to make it efficient."
When the client agreed, Rechtschaffen and his team went to work, breaking down every step in the handling of an administrative charge the flowcharts ran 100 pages so the firm could handle it as efficiently as possible and set an appropriate price. And then they built software (it took two tries) to guide and capture every step in every case.
Regulators are authorized to send new charges directly to Littler, which assigns a flex-time lawyer, working from home, to handle the matter under a partner's supervision.
The best part: Littler's program provides a dashboard that the client can use to see the precise status of every matter the firm is handling and click through to every possible detail and create all sorts of reports. You can see if, say, charges are spiking in a particular region, or against a particular manager. "Maybe some training is needed there," says Rechtschaffen. You can see how charges from a particular agency have been resolved in the past, and at what point. And Littler managers can use the dashboard, and data from the firm's existing time and task records, to make sure the work is being handled properly and profitably. "They get regular reports is one of our attorneys settling too many cases, or spending too much time?"
Today the firm is handling about 3,500 charges for five different clients through CaseSmart.
Now Littler is getting ready to roll out the same service for single-plaintiff litigation where the stakes, in the litigation and for Littler, are much larger.
"That's where we're seeing the most intense rate pressure right now," says Rechtschaffen.
Another project he's proud of is Littler GPS, or A Guide to Policies by State, a continually updated database of employment regulations for every jurisdiction in the country that clients pay for through a subscription fee.
Rechtschaffen jokes that his partners have grown tired of hearing him warn about competitive threats, evolving business models and the need for innovation. But his mission "looking at how we are delivering services and seeing what we could do to improve that" has probably never been more critical for the 57-office firm.