During 2013, the following changes in law department management will become more apparent. That is to say, indications will appear here and there increasingly during the year, although these shifts will take several years to become established and flourish.
GREATER USE OF APPS
Applications on mobile computing devices for in-house counsel will become prevalent, more powerful and better integrated with legal practice. More prevalent because the devices they run on will be ubiquitous, exceedingly powerful because of speed and programming finesse, and easier to use because embedded in daily work. Developers will link apps as modules in “app-systems” of wide scope. Complementary software will allow in-house lawyers to modify their apps. Apps servicing larger programs will become common, such as visualization tools that can be triggered when an e-bill is reviewed.
Convergence as a technique to manage law firms will cease being broadly attractive. General counsel will realize that to reduce the number of their law firms means to rely on larger firms; size raises costs. Instead, with outside-counsel management apps, easier-to-use matter tracking software, tailored outside counsel guidelines and better data (see below), the more effective technique will be to allow in-house counsel who manage outside counsel to oversee a set of law firms as they see fit. To obtain quality and lower costs, general counsel won’t impose constraints on the total number of law firms retained.
Metrics for management will steadily become more available and more instructive. Providers of management metrics on staffing and spending and billing rates will increasingly integrate proprietary data from law departments with public data, such as their number of employees or patents. The mining of meaning from thousands of law firm invoices will proceed apace and will produce progressively better insights. A bit farther on, law firms may “register” matters that they have handled, without disclosing clients or confidential information, and e-billing vendors will confirm the accuracy of the data submitted. It will help law firms market, law departments craft alternative fee arrangements, and information analysts amass data. The era of big data is upon law departments.
Law departments will pool substantive legal knowledge. Today, law departments re-create annotations and explanations of statutory or regulatory requirements. Tomorrow, they will realize that a “wikilegia” will help all of them pay less to outside counsel. Not only will members contribute to such crowd-sourced knowledge bases, but directly or through intermediaries they will also swap among themselves material that educates clients and themselves. Law departments and law firms will be able to gain access to these knowledge bases in proportion to the contributions they make to them, thus reducing the free-rider irritation. As this happens, the substantive material will link to the people who produce it by access to online professional networks.
OFFSHORE WILL SOAR
Offshore legal services will inexorably rise in reliability, availability and quality. Notwithstanding time zones, language issues, security concerns and traditionalist misgivings, the economic differential will propel legal servicing centers based outside costly countries. Issues of unauthorized practice of law will give way under the pressure of cost control, especially for sophisticated law-department consumers of legal services. Legal process outsourcers will develop techniques to ask clients for information, interview them by phone or otherwise collect information and diagnose noncomplex legal questions. At the cost per hour charged by offshore legally trained professionals, the capabilities of their substantive and practice knowledge bases will increase steadily. There will be annotations, hypertext linkages to cases and secondary sources, training tools, metrics captured and diagnostic checklists.
As nonlawyers outside the United States invest capital into legal service providers, law departments everywhere will benefit. With more capital, entrepreneurial legal service providers will improve software, people, training and processes. Law firms that annually strip themselves of capital will lag those that have funds and invest them wisely over time.
Cogniceuticals — pharmacological products that boost our brain — will be swallowed by lawyers in companies and in law firms. Drugs that help lawyers remember tenaciously, combine knowledge creatively or work longer will inexorably spread. Competitive pressures are extreme in a tournament environment, like jousting for promotion to deputy general counsel. These drug-like enhancements to ability will become as legitimate as hearing aids, glasses, painkillers and caffeine.
Rees W. Morrison leads General Counsel Metrics, which offers law departments at no cost a benchmark report with 25 metrics based on more than 1,000 participants. The quick survey is available at https://novisurvey.net/n/benchmarkmetrics2012.aspx.