Getting to the top takes hard work and perseverance. But staying on top requires constant innovation and reinvention. That’s a mantra this year’s IC 10 winners know well and one they’ve implemented to achieve tremendous success in their legal departments.

Whether it’s simplifying the RFP process down from dozens of unnecessary pages to three pages and a tweet or creating an in-house version of Wikipedia that synthesizes the whole department’s knowledge, our winners have developed inventive solutions that have launched their legal departments to a higher level.

On the following pages, InsideCounsel profiles the 10 most innovative legal departments. Their stories and successes are inspiring, proving what a difference just a little original thinking can make in ensuring their legal teams remain a vital business center within their companies.

Healthnow New York: On Track

During 16 years as an attorney and assistant general counsel in the HealthNow New York Inc. legal department, Ken Sodaro became acutely aware of several operational shortcomings. These included an uneven distribution of work among the department’s five attorneys; a perception by many business clients that legal was a black hole into which their requests for assistance disappeared; and a failure to track the progress of matters the department was handling.

“We weren’t tracking assignments properly, and we weren’t being responsive to customers,” Sodaro says. “I felt we had to get rid of the black hole mentality regarding legal, and one way was to have a better way to track things coming in.”

Some of the problems emanated from bad habits the business clients had fallen into–dropping off a contract or request for information on their favorite attorney’s desk or handing it over in the lunchroom. Others resulted from attorneys failing to enter the necessary data into a matter management system.

In 2004 when he became general counsel of the Buffalo, N.Y.-based parent company of BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York and BlueShield of Northeastern New York, Sodaro resolved to fix those problems. He rehired former employee Carol Lynch in 2007 to be the legal department’s manager, with a mandate to be the traffic cop on lawyer assignments and workflow. When he presented Lynch with his to-do list, she decided to start with an Excel spreadsheet showing when matters came in, from whom they came and to whom they were assigned. Over the next two years, she worked with the company’s IT department to evolve that simple system into an interactive Legal Request Tracking Database, which went live in January 2009.

Now when a business person submits a question or requests a contract by filling out an electronic application on the database, Lynch or one of two other administrators immediately receives an e-mail message with a link to the application. Once the matter is assigned, the client gets an e-mail with a link allowing him to see to whom it was assigned and the target date for completion. The system tracks every message sent regarding the matter as well as redlines and comments on any associated documents.

“It started out as a way to improve client service,” Lynch says. “We have enhanced it further so there is functionality to track other things, such as litigated cases and special projects for regulatory matters.” Such information is accessible only to the legal department and aids in its reporting requirements.

Client feedback has been very positive. “I see significant improvement with the overall business workflow of the department with the new legal tracking system,” one wrote. “This procedure works great and is very user friendly,” commented another.

Sodaro says the system has significantly improved the department’s image.

“It eliminates the black hole issue,” he says. “People get assignments in a more timely way. Work is distributed more evenly among attorneys. Turnaround times improved significantly. And clients can go in any time and see where their matters are.”

–Mary Swanton

Cisco: Making Connections

With offices in locales as far flung as Shanghai and San Jose, Calif., Cisco is long past the days when one of its attorneys could pop into a colleague’s office for a casual conversation. Yet there’s tremendous value in being able to collaborate easily and informally, even across oceans. E-mail is one way to do that, but it doesn’t necessarily include everyone in the conversation. And with the rapid rate of change in legal information, a company as spread out as Cisco needs a way to efficiently and uniformly update its legal department’s knowledge base.

“With approximately 250 members of the Cisco legal team worldwide, we needed an efficient, secure and highly-functional collaboration tool to keep our team connected,” says Cisco General Counsel Mark Chandler.

Enter OnRamp Exchange (ORX), a multifaceted tool developed in collaboration with Legal OnRamp, a website where attorneys share information and correspond with each other, that gives members of Cisco’s legal department a centralized way to communicate, pool resources and learn from one another. ORX, launched in late 2008, functions like a hybrid of several Web 2.0 tools, such as Wikipedia and Legal OnRamp. The design team, attorneys from across practice areas in Cisco’s legal department worked closely with the technical team from Legal OnRamp so that the website would mold to Cisco’s needs and not the other way around, says Risa Schwartz, Cisco’s head of knowledge management for legal.

All of Cisco’s shareable legal content, such as sample documents, contract clauses and information on issues such as open source software, reside in a centralized repository that each member of the legal team can view and edit. A moderator approves all edits to the content, but users can review all pending edits before they make their way into the actual text.

Discussion forums have been integrated with e-mail so that any e-mail sent through a particular topic thread is captured and published under that heading. The tool allows attorneys to communicate informally while at the same time preserving and making public valuable information from the exchanges.

Schwartz says the response from within the legal department has been fantastic, noting she’ll see attorneys on the phone negotiating a deal with ORX on their screen.

“They can be in the throes of a deal and get real-time responses they can use in the negotiation,” she says. “People refer to it on a daily basis. It has become the central repository and communication tool for the legal department, unequivocally.”

Eventually Schwartz hopes to build a bridge between ORX and Legal OnRamp so that outside counsel and attorneys from other legal departments can benefit from the nonconfidential information on Cisco’s site.

“Our vision is to build a tool that allows us to access in radiating circles the institutional knowledge of the legal department, its internal customers, its outside counsel and peer legal departments,” she says. “We’ve started with a tool that will allow us to do that. … It’s going to change the way we do business.”

–Lauren Williamson

Yeshiva University: Mission Driven

During the past three years, law firms have done more than $1 million worth of legal work for Yeshiva University–for free. That’s because Andrew Lauer, Yeshiva’s general counsel, has leveraged the interest of alumni, as well as others who support the Jewish university’s mission, beyond mere well wishes and into tangible results.

With full support from the university’s president, in April 2008 Lauer launched the Yeshiva University General Counsel’s Council, an advisory board of both general counsel and law firm attorneys who help retain pro bono counsel for the university. Lauer got the idea from Lincoln Center General Counsel Lesley Friedman Rosenthal, who implemented a similar program at the performing arts complex and now is also a member of Yeshiva’s Counsel’s Council.

“People have a strong affinity for universities but especially for mission-driven universities,” Lauer says. “People who believe in that mission want to see it thrive and succeed. We took that idea and built on it.”

Lauer approached law firms with alumni ties to Yeshiva, many of which already provided paid legal work to the university, and offered to provide them with meaningful projects for summer associates. The 15 or 20 projects assigned each summer, as well as a few portioned out during the rest of the year, come from across the university–from a comprehensive review of real estate holdings to updated policies and procedures for the IT department. Each averages $50,000 in value.

Law firms that donate their summer associates benefit by attracting top talent because they can advertise meaningful, project-based work rather than the more tedious tasks typical of summer associate programs. They also get to forge a stronger relationship with an organization to which they may in the future, or in some cases already, provide legal counsel.

“One key aspect of service delivery for outside firms is knowing and understanding your client’s business,” says Julian Millstein, senior counselor at Morrison & Foerster and a member of the Counsel’s Council. “Participating in the Counsel’s Council ensures that we always have a handle on that. And it does make you feel that you are a preferred provider, and for good reason–because the relationship works for both parties.”

In addition to helping law firm relationships, Lauer says the program has also improved the legal department’s relationship with the rest of the university.

“People generally look at the Office of the General Counsel as a cost center and obstacle to business,” he says. “What we are doing here is reaching out to the university saying, ‘What can we do to help you? We will solve your problem over the summer–and it won’t cost anything.’”

So far, things couldn’t be going better. Within a week of releasing each summer’s list of projects, nearly all are spoken for. And over the past three years, more than 150 attorneys have donated their time to the university. “Even at the beginning, almost no [law firms] said no,” Lauer says. “But now three years in, law firms are asking me about it. It’s a real win-win for both.”

–Lauren Williamson

The Hartford Financial Services Group Inc.: Culture of Creation

In 2007, aware that IP protection is no longer central only to those traditional research and development units embedded in manufacturing and tech companies, the Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. launched an Intellectual Property Law Unit to centralize the evaluation and protection of IP created by the insurance/financial services company’s numerous business divisions.

“The idea of IP protection with financial services companies has really taken off in the past couple of years, where 20 years ago it wasn’t so focused,” says David Cunningham, vice president and director of patent law, who has headed the unit from its formation. “Ten years ago, banks started to focus on it, and in the past couple of years, even insurance companies have recognized that many of their innovations can be protected.”

At Hartford, Cunningham explains, those innovations take the form of unique solutions across the company’s financial services and insurance divisions to optimize the processing of what can be millions of pieces of information.

In its infancy the unit consisted of just two attorneys, a patent analyst and an administrative support person, tasked with educating the company about such innovations. But the condensed unit was up to the heightened challenge when Hartford’s CEO at the time, Ramani Ayer, tasked it with creating and nurturing a new era of IP culture.

Central to the initiative was the creation of a companywide “Inventor Recognition Day” to educate employees on the importance of IP protection and showcase company-created innovations. This year, the company recognized more than 80 Hartford employees listed as inventors on patent applications or granted patent protection for innovations such as a sensor technology to reduce on-the-job injuries.

“The employee inventors feel really great about the acknowledgement and senior business leaders taking interest in them,” Cunningham says.

The recognition isn’t reserved to one day a year, either. Inventors are showcased year-round on the company’s internal website and in monthly newsletters. And because one day a year doesn’t create an environment of continual learning, the unit supplements Recognition Day with ongoing educational activities to solidify the new companywide culture of IP recognition–presentations tailored to the various business units, and IP question and answer sessions.

In part because of such new tools and lines of communication, the IP Law Unit has succeeded in enhancing the company’s culture of innovation–patent filings have increased by more than 500 percent since the unit’s formation, and the number of patents the U.S. Patent and Trade Office has granted Hartford has more than doubled.

“Company culture has changed on a number of levels,” Cunningham says. “At the senior business level, there’s a greater appreciation for protecting IP, and they also appreciate that we highlight innovations to them, in some cases more than would otherwise have happened.

Cunningham encourages other companies aiming to centralize IP education and emphasize innovation to develop similar initiatives. He offers some pieces of advice: First, get senior management to buy in. It’s critical to show that they care about innovation and protecting it. Second, plan ahead. Inventor Recognition Day can take months of planning–and it’s only one piece of a larger strategy. Third, cultivate key business relationships. In companies like Hartford, with numerous business divisions, having a touch point in each of the units can be invaluable.

And finally, be persistent. “You have to get out there and meet with individual groups–and not just once but continually,” Cunningham says. “The law, but also the company, is constantly innovating, so get out there on a regular basis to discuss those innovations.”

–Melissa Maleske

Qwest: Ethics Effort

Go to any legal conference and you’re likely to find standing room only in the ethics sessions, now that many state bars mandate ethics credits as part of the CLE requirement for attorney registration renewal.

But in most cases, those courses are designed to address the ethical dilemmas of law firm lawyers. The distinct issues faced by in-house attorneys often aren’t covered.

That shortcoming, and a dearth of literature on in-house ethical issues, created a need that Qwest General Counsel Rich Baer decided to fill.

“When we see something missing, we see room for innovation,” Baer says. “I thought this would be a great opportunity to address a real need and for the Qwest law department to be viewed as a leader on an important issue.”

In 2009, Baer formed a 20-member committee of Qwest lawyers, including himself and Deputy GC Andy Crain, tasked with developing a state-of-the art ethics training program and other resources for the law department’s 79 attorneys.

“We wanted to take training above and beyond the typical lawyer training, which is a boring lecture,” Baer says. “This fall we will present scenarios on four or five key ethical issues. Participants will have electronic clickers to vote on the issues, and we’ll use that to generate discussion.”

For its May training session on in-house ethics, Qwest partnered with an outside law firm and the University of Denver College of Business and opened the session to all Colorado attorneys. Of the 110 attendees, 65 were from other organizations. The upcoming fall session will also be open, but with a new twist. Qwest will charge for attendance, but the company will underwrite all costs and donate the fees paid by attorneys from other organizations to a local charity.

Another effort of the ethics committee involved divvying up the Rules of Professional Conduct to create subject matter experts in the various aspects of ethics covered by the rules. They will provide counsel to their colleagues who confront a relevant ethical issue. Attorneys can submit questions and concerns via an email ethics hotline, to be addressed by the appropriate committee member.

A final aspect of the program is taking shape as committee members work on an opinion on whether there is a problem inherent in being in-house attorneys for a company with offices in multiple states.

“We can be on a phone call with one employee in Washington state and one in Texas talking about entering into a contract in New York with a Delaware corporation. Is this the unauthorized practice of law in these other states? We think we are fine, but we are working on an opinion on that,” Baer says.

That opinion will launch a library of ethical opinions to be available to Qwest lawyers anywhere in the country via a SharePoint site. “That should provide some security for the lawyers if they are confronted with those issues down the line,” Baer says.

For Baer, all the opinions and the training revolve around one key point: “It always boils down to, you have to do the right thing. We should never miss an opportunity to reinforce that.”

–Mary Swanton

Transamerica Life Insurance Company: Learn then Leverage

At Transamerica, a branch of the Netherlands-based insurance, pension and investment group AEGON N.V., the corporate law department’s goal is to learn, then leverage that information for the benefit of the company. As the corporate legal team, the department is expected to spot important trends that affect the business unit legal departments, analyze them and then propose remediation to prevent damage to the company. The challenge was finding an effective way to share relevant information with the company’s many business and legal departments.

In response, the corporate litigation unit developed a low cost, five-part program that allows them to leverage legal knowledge and educate not just other lawyers within the company, but managers on the business side as well.

First, they produce “Take 15s”–monthly 15-minute education presentations on issues that have been identified as important to the company that are available to management 24/7 online. Second, they publish “The Legal Monitor,” an electronic, quarterly newsletter that features articles geared toward other lawyers within the company. Third, each issue of “The Monitor” promotes teambuilding by spotlighting a company lawyer or paralegal. Fourth, they link the Legal Monitor to an internal SharePoint website that serves as a library of template documents and briefs. Finally, they began hosting “Legal to Legal” webinars for company lawyers and paralegals. They apply for CLE credits for the one-hour presentations from outside counsel which are presented at no cost to the company.

“I honestly never envisioned it this way in the beginning,” Vice President and Associate General Counsel Jill Handley says of the development of Transamerica’s solution. “Different people in the department came to me with these different ideas, and I saw merit in all of these different approaches. I supported each person’s initiative.”

Integrating so many different ideas has worked to improve operations at Transamerica from all sides. Handley says the team building aspect of the program has been invaluable. And financially, the Take 15s, SharePoint site, “Legal Monitor” newsletter and “Legal to Legal” webinars have proved to be cost effective solutions to leveraging legal department knowledge and expertise.

The Take 15 presentations cost Transamerica about $24,000 out of pocket annually and are accessed by more than 750 managers each month. The out of pocket costs for the SharePoint site and newsletter, which are available to more than 200 attorneys and paralegals within the company, are nominal. Production costs nothing. The “Legal Monitor” and maintaining the SharePoint site costs just $111 per year. The “Legal to Legal” webinars, however, have had the biggest financial impact, Handley says.

Outside counsel offer the presentations to Transamerica free of charge and Handley says the quality is typically very high because the presenters value the exposure. Handley says a one-hour “Legal to Legal” webinar costs Transamerica about $1,150 to host, but with an average of 50 attendees, the cost for one CLE hour usually averages about $20 per attorney or paralegal, versus $150 per person for an external CLE hour.

Though Handley says the webinars are both the easiest and most cost-effective solution other law departments could borrow from Transamerica’s plan, the Take 15s have the most universal appeal and flexibility. Denise Mineck, assistant general counsel and chair of the Legal Practices Committee, which produces “Legal Monitor” and the SharePoint site, says the key to employee satisfaction with the program is that it’s tailored to meet Transamerica’s needs.

“The number one complaint I hear at conferences is that large companies–even law firms–know they’ve got a lot of talent and information within the company, but they don’t have any way to share it,” Mineck says. “Our departments find ways to share it. That’s pretty valuable.”

–Kayleigh Roberts

DuPont: Paralegal Aid

In 1992, DuPont’s legal department went through a transformation. Management wanted to cut costs, increase productivity, improve the quality of its services, open the door to new opportunities for its staff and solidify relationships with its client and service providers. It took time, but the effort paid off, evolving into the most well-known best practices system within the corporate legal discipline–the DuPont Legal Model.

One of the model’s secret weapons is its incorporation of paralegals. DuPont’s legal department historically had employed paralegals, and with an increase in litigation in the early ’90s it saw a greater need for more, so it bulked up its paralegal staff. This influx of paralegals coincided with the development of the department’s new model. Department management thought it would be a good idea to place more focus on these employees and created the DuPont Paralegal Utilization Model as part of the DuPont Legal Model.

Initially, the program focused on assigning paralegals to relieve the in-house lawyers of some of the litigation work. For several years, that was working well. But Marybeth Davies, manager of the paralegal program, believed there was much more her team could do. So when Tom Sager, who spearheaded the DuPont Legal Model project and has since become the company’s GC, asked Davies what the department could do to provide greater support to paralegals, she was ready with her answer: “You need to focus now on using paralegals as an even greater resource–not just in litigation but across multiple disciplines. There are just things we do better, quicker, more efficiently and cost-effectively.”

Getting the green light from Sager, Davies began spreading her team of 58 full-time paralegals into different areas of law where their skills and efficiency could truly be used. “We now have paralegals in every practice area,” she says, “ones that had never had them, like patent and trademark and international trade.” Additionally, there are several practice groups, such as immigration and bankruptcy, where the paralegal–albeit supervised by an attorney–is doing all this work.

“The paralegals will take as much off the attorneys’ plates as possible to allow the attorneys to be more involved with the business,” Davies explains. “My focus is to continue to motivate the paralegals and help the lawyers better utilize them.”

With a strong, successful paralegal program in place, the team decided to share its experience to benefit other legal departments. Several years ago, Davies pulled together paralegals from both her in-house team as well as outside firms to create “Dollars and Sense of Paralegal Utilization: The DuPont Paralegal Utilization Model,” a publication that offers best practices for using paralegals to their fullest potential. It’s available for purchase at

“At DuPont, we’ve created a culture where paralegals are partners with the business people as well as colleagues and partners to the lawyers with whom they work,” Davies says. “In this economy, we have to do more with less, and paralegals are really stepping in to fill that gap.”

–Cathleen Flahardy

Westfield Insurance: Waking the Grade

Law firms often complain that while inside counsel are quick to challenge their fees, they are much less likely to provide feedback on performance. Sometimes the first indication that the client isn’t satisfied comes with a notice that the relationship is being terminated.

But the 50 primary law firms that work with the Westfield Insurance Claims Legal Department can’t gripe about that. They receive regular report cards from the Ohio-based insurance, banking and related financial services group.

Claims Legal Support Leader Dan Winkler developed the concept for the report card and its design in 2002.

“I had been charged with moving litigation management efforts forward,” Winkler says. “The first step was selecting a vendor to provide e-billing and matter management, which was CT TyMetrix. Working with the implementation team, we were able to move forward with an evaluation process and counsel report card” incorporated into the e-billing/matter management system.

Using the electronic system, claims representatives grade the outside counsel who handled their files at the close of each matter. Grading falls into three categories: knowledge and skill; service; and file management. Under each category, they grade the firms on a scale of one to 10 on a series of questions.

“In addition, there is a section in the report card where the claims professional can add a note specific to a matter–good, bad or indifferent. They can include a short narrative on the handling of the file by the attorney or attorneys,” adds Michael Cronin, senior claims counsel.

The claims reps scores are then married with analytical data from the e-billing system. In addition, the legal department keeps a log book on the firms to note trends, both positive and negative, that are incorporated into the annual evaluation.

The outside firms get a numerical score that can be translated into a letter grade; for example, a score of 88 equates to a B+. The legal department sends the evaluations electronically, along with an invitation to the firms to follow up and discuss the issues raised.

“We find that our best partners are the ones who look forward to the evaluation and embrace the discussion points,” Winkler says. “We are somewhat disappointed in firms that don’t follow up when they receive the evaluations.”

Winkler adds that the follow-up discussions are a two-way street.

“The best counsel partners seek information from us and also provide thoughts on how we can do better, too,” he says. “It’s a team issue. It’s a trust issue.”

Cronin says the report cards have been well-received “even by firms that didn’t get an ‘A.’ It allows them to identify trends that they can correct in order to improve their partnership with us and our claims professionals.”

Winkler believes very few legal departments provide such regular, rigorous evaluations to their
outside counsel.

“I know our firms in general seem to be starved for this kind of information,” he says.

–Mary Swanton

FMC Technologies: Reinventing the RFP

In 2008 FMC Technologies spun off its airport and food equipment businesses–and with them, more than 60 percent of the company’s litigation, many of the company’s litigation firms and several in-house lawyers. Fifteen cases remained, only two of which were significant.

“A couple of firms we really liked were working only for those business units,” says Jeffrey Carr, FMC’s general counsel. “So a challenge was how to keep firms that share our culture and approach in our team recognizing that we were going to have reduced volume.”

The natural first step for most law departments would be to conduct a standard RFP, but the legal team at FMC was armed with the knowledge that most law firms hate RFPs–and their value can be limited because law departments lack the time and attention to crunch and use all the data they collect.

FMC’s first step toward a better way to identify, vet and engage their law firms cut out the lengthy questionnaires that many RFPs employ–and law firms hate. It discarded a 56-page RFP it previously had used and instead invited law firms to fill out a one-page, yes/no questionnaire posted on Legal OnRamp, a social networking site aimed at in-house lawyers and their collaborators, along with one page of FMC’s engagement terms and a description of its pay-for-performance system–in all, three pages. Then FMC published its historic litigation data and invited the participating firms to rank themselves by type of litigation or litigation competency, provide their historic data and metrics, and provide their default ACES budget for the major types of litigation FMC has.

The next step may have been a first for RFPs. FMC held what it called a “Tweet and Greet,” challenging the law firms to come up with a 140-character Twitter post to woo it.

“It wasn’t just frivolous or trendy,” Carr says, noting the legal department wanted to target law firms that were tech-savvy, future-looking, succinct, fun, creative and social network-capable. “Saying something useful and clearly in 140 characters is an incredibly useful discipline that many lawyers lack. … The tweets themselves were fascinating–some were poignant, some funny, and some showed a true appreciation for our culture of innovation, change and value.” Carr’s favorite entry in this phase was from a law firm that created a rough “behind the scenes” video of the making of its tweet.

Of the 52 responding law firms, 32 made it to the Twitter phase, and from there 16 were selected to meet and “wow, not woo” Carr and other FMC in-house lawyers face to face. At the end of the undertaking, six firms remained, and FMC decided to form a joint venture among them, wherein new cases are handled by a team the law firms form. Sometimes the team consists of one firm, several or even all of them.

“The JV is administered by one of the outside counsel on retainer with a performance-based hold back,” Carr explains. “All cases have a default target budget [based on an FMC-designed pay-for-performance plan] lower than our historic data. The overall savings will be shared between FMC and all the firms, with the distribution reflecting how well they worked with the other firms.”

Since the RFP’s completion, all of FMC’s legacy cases were reviewed and reassigned to new teams, and new cases are assigned based on the joint venture system. Although the initiative is still in the implementation stage, and furthermore FMC has fielded little new litigation since launching the joint venture structure, several litigation and claim matters that the law firms teamed up on have been successful, all while avoiding torturing interested firms with a lengthy RFP.

“Traditional RFPs have a reputation for being complicated, mostly useless and quite painful, but it doesn’t have to be that way,” Carr says. “So, out with the 56-page RFP, little of which is used in the ultimate decision-making, and in with the three-page non-RFP.”

–Melissa Maleske

Tastefully Simple: Breakfast of Champions

When Christy Caspers arrived at Tastefully Simple nearly eight years ago as chief legal officer, she was its first and only in-house counsel. Not surprisingly, she had her hands full–particularly sorting through the mismanaged contracts.

The company, which sells gourmet food products through consultants, had agreements with multiple vendors. And those contracts needed some attention.

“Contracts were being signed without full review, few people were docketing key dates for renewal, there was a lack of consistency of important terms, and there was no overarching strategic contract vision so that the company could best leverage each vendor relationship,” Caspers explains. “In fact, several teams were contracting the same vendor but didn’t realize it.”

Caspers immediately made contract management a priority–creating the Contract Administrative Process. Ensuring her own time and resources were being used as efficiently as possible, she began identifying individuals who should be heavily involved with contracts affecting their functional areas. She assigned each of the company’s departments a “contract champion,” who–along with his or her assistants–must attend Contract Administration Training.

Knowing nonlawyers weren’t likely to find the training exciting, Caspers created a short, targeted approach to teaching her students about contracts. “Who wants to sit and listen to a lawyer talk about contracts?” she says. “But people need to understand how important contracts are to our business. So we decided to keep the training to one hour, and make it fun.”

While Caspers handles part of the session herself, her assistant Tess Evink and Site and Contract Manager Claudia Bursch–Caspers’ poster child for best efforts in contract management–also take part in leading the training. In one hour, students learn what their responsibilities are with regard to contracts, how to negotiate contracts, various tricky elements commonly found in contracts, how the administration process works and how to best interface with the legal team.

The session also includes training on the three types of contracts Caspers has identified for the company. The first and easiest is template contracts, which are previously drafted by legal and preapproved for use. The second, vendor contracts, are template contracts that Tastefully Simple’s vendors provide to the company. Champions learn about their responsibility to review these contracts and send them off to legal for approval–flagging any issues if necessary. The third, most difficult type of contract is one that has to be drafted from scratch. These tend to be time consuming, as Caspers works directly with the contract champion involved to better understand the deal, then drafts the contract herself.

“The goals of the process are to push as much work to the contract champion as makes sense for the deal, to streamline contract review and approval, and to keep those who ‘own’ the contract accountable for the relationship management and follow up,” Caspers explains.

In a given year, Caspers will review more than 200 substantive, high-value contracts, and the turnaround time from champion to legal has dropped about 50 percent. Caspers says now that champions can understand the terms of the contracts, by the time contracts hit her desk for review, they’re much closer to a final product than they’ve ever been.

“We have a win-win contract negotiation philosophy, and our Contract Administration Process Training helps to ensure that our philosophy is shared, understood and followed,” Caspers says. “We have exceptionally strong relationships with our vendors and work hard to ensure that their success is our success and vice-versa.”

–Cathleen Flahardy

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