Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
Background: In early spring 2001, Degussa AG merged with SKW Trostberg AG. Degussa AG is an international diversified chemical company that serves a broad range of industries and conducts business operations through its North American subsidiary, the Degussa Corp., headquartered in Parsippany, N.J. The merger created a new business model with three tiers: corporate centers, service centers, and business units. Degussa retained the legal department in Cleveland primarily to serve the former SKW companies. At the time of the merger, I became head of Degussa’s legal service center for the NAFTA region. Challenge: Our challenge as a group was to combine the two legal departments — a staff of five in Cleveland and nine in Parsippany — so everyone would work together seamlessly as one uniform department. My challenge was to integrate two geographically separate and structurally different data management systems. Approach: I believed that introducing a comprehensive total department system that started everyone thinking from the same perspective would be an ideal way to get people to work together and meld a collaborative working style. Degussa’s legal and accounting structures did not line up with its new business structure. The company has more than 80 separate legal entities, and the legal department has more than 100 classifications of internal clients: service centers, business units by product line or group, divisions, and corporate centers. Without a uniform system of charge codes, this was a nightmare. We needed a system that could help us automate a tedious internal and external billing process. Before the merger, the Cleveland department was using a series of MS Access databases for litigation and agreement/contract matter management and Excel spreadsheets for quantitative analysis. Degussa had been using LawQuest for matter management since 1998. Legacy programs included Lotus Notes for e-mail and MS Word and WordPerfect for word processing. Both Degussa and SKW had incorporated management systems for the office of the corporate secretary into their legal departments. This included corporate records for all entities under the corporate umbrella. Degussa was using Secretariat for all matters pertaining to the duties of the corporate secretary, and SKW was using CT Corporate Profile. Early on in the project, I selected a senior paralegal in the Parsippany legal department to act as project leader. She had extensive experience in implementing and managing many legal systems over the past 15 years, both in the law firm and corporate legal department environments. Once goals and objectives were identified and a budget was established, she researched numerous products that were available to meet our requirements. In the past, Degussa’s matter management systems were weak in their reporting and search capabilities. In order to create and modify reports in the prior systems, users had to be proficient in either Microsoft Access or Crystal Reports. Because the data could not be extracted easily and modifications could not be made to the few reports that came with the system, users justifiably did not see the point in investing the time to input data. This led to minimal use. We selected a corporate legal matter management system called eCounsel, a product of Bridgeway Software in Houston. We chose this product for a number of reasons: an established relationship with Bridgeway Software since 1995; eCounsel had a timekeeping module and the capability to develop a uniform billing system, which could be integrated with Degussa’s SAP accounting system; the canned and custom report and search capabilities met our requirements; and financial incentives were offered. When we were looking at systems this time, we closely reviewed the reporting and search capabilities. I cannot over-stress the importance of generating reports. At the same time, we decided to make Secretariat 5 the standard for corporate secretary records in both legal department locations. eCounsel and Secretariat are installed as the Bridgeway “application suite.” The two products are essentially the same in design and can share the same database. The basic and system administrator functions of the two products are the same, and we saw the benefits of not having to learn two completely different systems. CUSTOMIZED SYSTEM Another key decision that was made early was to invest the time and financial resources upfront to develop a customized system. Degussa’s prior matter management systems were utilized simply as glorified databases, not as true management systems. We knew that if the goal was to utilize the system as an end-user tool and not simply for administration, the system had to be custom designed with the user’s needs in mind. Bridgeway referred us to the Simpson Neely Group, a Texas-based consulting firm, which we retained immediately after selecting eCounsel. They interviewed every member of the legal department and visited both locations so that they could provide an in-depth analysis of current processes and requirements for the system. Then they created a prototype system for our evaluation and feedback, and worked with us for approximately seven months, seeing the project through development, data conversion, training and rollout. The Simpson Neely Group understood the goals that we had for this project and was extremely knowledgeable of not only corporate legal department needs, but also of the software products, which proved to be critical to the implementation process. Our senior paralegal/project leader worked closely with the consultant’s team through every phase; in fact, the project consumed about 80 percent of her time for the last several months. She was the project liaison, coordinating and conducting status meetings on a regular basis with the entire project team, addressing issues and keeping the Cleveland members apprised of the status. She received basic and system administrator training, so that she could access the system and make interim modifications. She customized and assembled the eCounsel training materials, processes and procedures specific to Degussa and coordinated the training classes and agenda. Training went smoothly. Bridgeway provided one day of general training on eCounsel to the attorneys and paralegals in both locations. The executive assistants participated in a one-day class to address their specific tasks, such as invoice processing and physical file management. Litigation matter management had one day of special training since this practice area tracks the most data. There were two full days of system administrator training for two members of the legal department from each location. NEW WORK STYLE We have been using eCounsel for about two months now. Everyone in both locations is using the system, and most users have found the adjustment to eCounsel less difficult than they had imagined. Electronic matter management is a change of work style from manual. Most attorneys and paralegals are used to scribbling notes, phone numbers and letters into a physical file. We must now adjust to new tasks like entering communication information into one system, cutting and pasting e-mails into eCounsel, and attaching electronic documents to our matters. To demonstrate the importance of eCounsel, I am requiring each attorney and paralegal to adopt as a personal objective the ability to effectively use eCounsel. A financial incentive is attached. Entering data for each matter as it goes forward takes time, which lawyers sometimes find difficult to fit into their busy schedules. The payback will come in the future when we are able to extract meaningful data through reports, instant cost analysis and advanced search capabilities. Immediate retrieval from any location, the ability to recycle work product, review matter history, and track calendars will save our lawyers a lot of time down the road. The ability to analyze workload, type of work and costs related to each matter (both internal and external) is information that is essential to effectively serve our internal business clients. Our senior paralegal/project leader continues to field questions, comments and issues from the department. She also addresses minor bugs, as the reports and system are being fine-tuned. From her experience, it takes about three months after implementation to get to the point where the system needs minimal attention. We will continue to tweak eCounsel as constructive feedback is received from members of the department, and I imagine that the system will continue to evolve as our business requirements change. All Degussa legal matters reside within eCounsel and Secretariat on two private dedicated servers located in Parsippany. The Microsoft SQL database runs on a Windows NT server. Staff members in both locations access the database on their desktop PCs through a client-server interface. Remote access via laptops is also available by secure dial-in access to the network. Technically, the implementation went pretty smoothly. The primary initial glitch that we had was slow performance in the Cleveland network, which we are confident has been resolved. In the future, there may be some integration with our German parent utilizing one or both applications (eCounsel and Secretariat). Currently, we interface with Germany through Lotus Notes and the company intranet. Another area we hope to look into in the future is electronic billing. External invoice processing is a time-consuming task, and we look forward to the possibility of streamlining this process. Most important, I believe completion of the eCounsel matter management project forms the foundation for a uniform legal department in the NAFTA region with a culture centered on efficiency, data sharing and dedicated teamwork. Peter A. Vinocur is general counsel of the Degussa Corp. in Parsippany, N.J.

This content has been archived. It is available through our partners, LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law.

To view this content, please continue to their sites.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Not a Bloomberg Law Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law are third party online distributors of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law customers are able to access and use ALM's content, including content from the National Law Journal, The American Lawyer, Legaltech News, The New York Law Journal, and Corporate Counsel, as well as other sources of legal information.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]

Reprints & Licensing
Mentioned in a Law.com story?

License our industry-leading legal content to extend your thought leadership and build your brand.


ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2021 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.