For Philadelphia-based ACE Group General Counsel Kevin Rampe, the process of revamping his legal department has focused on better leveraging in-house talent and creating the technology to help a geographically dispersed legal team know who knows what. For Pittsburgh-based MSA Safety Inc. Associate General Counsel Stephanie Sciullo, reining in the company’s litigation costs meant partnering with a lead outside counsel to better leverage the company’s outside defense team and help manage a virtual law firm.
While one looked inward and the other sought management assistance from outside counsel, both legal departments were among 16 entities honored with the Association of Corporate Counsel’s 2014 Value Champion awards.
When Sciullo was hired in 2010 as MSA’s first in-house litigator, she was tasked with reducing the company’s litigation costs, particularly across its toxic tort products liability litigation portfolio. And there were no plans to increase the four-attorney legal department’s headcount.
Instead, in 2012, Sciullo teamed up with Reed Smith partner John Hooper in New York to lead the company’s global toxic tort litigation strategy across 30 to 40 jurisdictions and manage a virtual law firm of select defense counsel who were elevated to defend the company’s most complex cases.
Sciullo said she initially got questions about why a Pittsburgh-based company would go to a New York partner.
“The vision and the understanding of what is value and what drives value is something that that team really understood from the beginning,” Sciullo said Wednesday during the ACC’s announcement of the Value Champion winners. “John and his team help us shape our overall strategy and they are excellent, day-to-day, at executing that strategy.”
Hooper and his team help match MSA’s best outside counsel for the right projects regardless of their location. Sciullo said moving from a geographic-based approach to a model of staffing based on expertise has made the process more efficient.
So, too, has Hooper’s creation of standardized reporting and budgeting templates.
Before Hooper came on board, MSA would get ad hoc communications from its outside defense counsel whenever those counsel felt there was something important to share and in whatever format those counsel chose. Now, every Monday all of MSA’s outside counsel report on weekly defense activity, Sciullo said.
MSA also now color-codes by litigation risk its trial docket and case activity charts to help in identifying emerging risks and cost-drivers, she said.
Reed Smith also works with MSA on creating an annual budget monitoring process. The law firm and the company jointly develop each year a targeted budget that aims for greater cost savings than the year before by finding greater efficiencies, Sciullo said. The litigation work is then tracked bimonthly against the pre-established targets.
For MSA, this team approach hasn’t all been externally focused. The company has also revamped its own technology to have a clear access to information and trends. The company did away with having multiple portals for multiple law firms and clients to get and add information about MSA and its litigation portfolio. That old process required the same documents to be uploaded multiple times. Now everything is on a cloud-based portal that can be accessed by all authorized to do so. All of MSA’s intake process is also now electronically automated.
The goal both internally and externally is to ensure the lawyers are doing the essential tasks and that the processes that can be streamlined are, Sciullo said.
“The best national counsel is the in-house lawyer, except when the issue gets so large that it can’t be handled by one person,” Hooper told the ACC. “We tightly manage around a strategy that is consistent across the country, and ensure that only the necessary work gets done.”
Sciullo said MSA has achieved a nearly 20 percent reduction in its toxic tort litigation defense costs since 2011.
Removing the Silos
ACE’s Rampe has spent the last few years looking to change the legal department’s culture.
“We had a structure that was heavy with individual GCs that would oversee business divisions … and we found that we were not as nimble and didn’t have the expertise we needed and attorneys were siloed and not coordinated,” Rampe said Wednesday.
While a number of law departments have lawyers assigned to business units, Rampe said he did away with that model because it was creating repetitive work and increasing reliance on outside counsel.
The lawyers assigned to a unit felt as though they had to handle all of the needs of that unit, and if they couldn’t they went to outside counsel, Rampe said.
Rampe’s goal was to create a culture in which the lawyers know “to reach inside first before reaching outside.”
To that end, he did away with the unit GCs and created legal service coordinators to serve as liaisons to the business units while also ensuring there were more specialists within the legal department.
With 69 lawyers throughout 11 offices across the United States, Rampe had to create a way for those lawyers to know who to lean on. That spawned “The Link,” a knowledge platform solution created in-house through the company’s SharePoint system.
The Link is a digital library with thousands of documents ACE has amassed internally or through outside counsel. It is also used to post news articles relevant to the company and compile a skills inventory of the members of the legal department so that in-house counsel know who they can call on internally before going to outside counsel, Rampe said. The legal service coordinators also help in that pairing, he said.
Rampe said ACE has also focused on training and CLE programs to enhance the internal specializations.
Rampe’s team has also implemented a balanced scorecard that consistently measures metric trends year over year, the ACC said.
The legal team’s initiatives have created a better team environment with ACE, Rampe said, and have reduced the department’s costs by about 10 percent.
The other ACC Value Champions for 2014 were Peoria, Ill.-based Caterpillar through its work with Baker & Hostetler, Pangea3 and Heyl Royster; Toronto-based CSA Group; San Jose, Calif.-based eBay; Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Embraer; nuclear submarine manufacturer Huntington Ingalls Industries; Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama; JPMorgan Chase Consumer and Community Banking; Microsoft through its work with Perkins Coie; and sales and marketing consulting company ZS Associates.