In-house Advisory Board: Using alternative legal providers

Using alternative legal providersHow can in-house teams benefit from the wide range of alternative legal services providers that are emerging to challenge the traditional law firm model? On 18 March 2015, the LexisNexis In-house Advisory Board met to explore the questions and challenges around choosing to use alternative resourcing.

Fluctuating work level demands, the constant requirement to demonstrate value and evolving attitudes to flexible working are changing the way in-house teams allocate their work. The alternative legal services market is growing fast, prompting some to speculate that the legal industry is on the verge of a revolution. A wide range of alternative providers are emerging, looking to find a point of differentiation and a niche, whether that's in the business model, the type of lawyer, or the ancillary services that they offer. Traditional suppliers – law firms – are also testing these waters and finding new and innovative client service models.

The LexisNexis In-house Advisory Board’s discussion, facilitated by Nick West, Managing Director of Axiom in the UK, on the growing number of options available to in-house teams was wide-ranging. It became clear that there are no rules or fixed answers when it comes to making resourcing decisions. The right option is dependent on the type of business, its scale, the specialisms and size of the in-house team, and the type of project driving the demand – price is not always the determining factor.

The Board explored the key drivers for considering using alternative providers, highlighting in particular cost pressure (doing more with less), increasing regulatory demand requiring expertise that isn’t available internally, and a need to meet specific business objectives (for example, a faster contracts process). Using alternative providers for particular types of work was discussed in relation to where it can deliver the best business results: strategic, project-based or BAU work.

It was generally agreed that strategic work does not lend itself to being resourced through an alternative provider. The GC’s ability to pitch information to non-legal commercial colleagues and to make judgements on risk based on their knowledge of the business cannot be replicated externally. With more flexible project-based work that can be done onsite, offsite, onshore or offshore, there are more options than ever for in-house teams to take advantage of. When it comes to mundane BAU work, the resourcing options are prolific. Routine, process-driven, high-volume, day-to-day work can be more easily handed over to an alternative provider, leaving the in-house lawyer in an ‘overview’ role and freeing up their time to deliver value back to the business in the form of advice.

Innovation in resourcing is forcing in-house lawyers to open themselves up to new ways of thinking. When breaking with traditional ways of working, it is vital that lawyers understand exactly what it is they are trying to achieve and what they are trying to do differently. This requires in-depth analysis of the work being done and how resources are being employed before any decisions are made. The challenge is to not equate the way things have always been done as lower risk and high quality. Other options could actually be less risky and deliver better quality.

The Board discussed various approaches to analysing work processes, including categorising and prioritising tasks and plotting the complexity of the work against the internal knowledge required to complete it. By developing an in-depth understanding of the team’s work, including its cost, time and value to the business, lawyers can build a picture of what the most appropriate resourcing options – internally and externally – might be.

Central to getting the best possible insights into work processes is gathering good quality data – a challenge when lawyers tend to believe everything is an art that cannot be quantified! The Board acknowledged that analysing work processes should be part of continuous improvement. Presenting it as such to lawyers who are uncomfortable with sudden change is more likely to win their buy-in.

The range of discussion at the Board meeting clearly demonstrated the increased level of choice that the expanding alternative legal services market is giving in-house teams when deciding which resourcing options will add most value to their business. Fundamental to these decisions is having a crystal clear idea of what you want to achieve through alternative resourcing, backed by thorough data analysis and clear metrics.

Lawyers increasingly have the opportunity to approach alternative legal services in a highly businesslike fashion, focusing on efficiencies, driving value, and an objective and results-based approach.  To do so they may need to accept that legal services are not an art form and can be treated as a commodity.

Read a full summary of the LexisNexis In-house Advisory Board meeting here.

Filed Under: Analysis

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