Each September, Inside Counsel published its “IC 10”, the annual winners of the magazine’s top 10 innovative law departments (Game Changers: The 2009 IC-10 innovative legal departments create winning solutions). Here is my overview of and comments about the ones I find most interesting. 

Medtronic lawyers found it challenging to keep up with patents from around the world, so the law department created, with an Indian software company, its own software “dashboard” to keep track. A combination of software and Indian employees of the software vendor sort patents into “buckets”, making it easier for Medtronic lawyers to stay current.

Prudential created an “executive dashboard” to monitor real-time outside counsel spending. “The dashboard includes screens that display an analysis of rates, staffing by level and expenditures with each firm over a three-year period. This helps Prudential negotiate hourly fee discounts and is laying the groundwork for more alternative fee arrangements.”

Comment on Medtronic and Prudential: I find it surprising that two big companies chose to develop software. Does this reflects truly unique needs, a market so small that vendors don’t see an opportunity for commercial-off-the-shelf software, a preference of build over buy, or some other factor?

Xerox Corporation developed a global contracting process to gain consistency and speed cycle times. The company developed consensus around a “playbook” with contract clause language. The system includes a tool to help managers price risk appropriately. Comment: I wonder if this system is custom built.

CN corporation reduced legal spend by shifting work to “small town firms” across the US and Canada. The chosen firms “complete the work much faster at a smaller [sic] hourly rate, generating closer to a 75 percent reduction in cost.” Comment:: I read a lot about shifting work to smaller firms; seems like low-hanging fruit for other GCs.

Kraft Foods adopted blogs and wikis. The deputy GC recognized adoption is purely a human issue of change management, not one of technology. He took steps to encourage lawyers and staff in the law department to participate. He says “says the blog and wikis have helped the department in several areas, including sharing knowledge and best practices, building networks and giving consistent legal advice to the rest of the company.” Comment:: What are the rest of the GC waiting for?

Overall Comment: I think all of the above are great steps but without more information, it’s hard to assess the real impact. Lawyers – and the journalists covering the legal market – seem generally averse to metrics. Ultimately, law department should reduce risk, enhance revenue, and provide counsel at the lowest cost possible. Absent metrics, assessing the true impact of these or other innovations seems pretty subjective.