Whilst navigating the unprecedented effects that Covid-19 has had on businesses globally, scrutiny over expenditure has never been more rigorous. Consequently, we are seeing increased pressure on in-house teams to be more efficient and cost-effective, particularly when engaging external counsel - a notoriously high-cost exercise.
We sat down with Helga Butcher, legal project portfolio manager at Barclays, to discuss how legal project management (LPM) principles, coupled with the right technology solutions, can supercharge both corporates and their legal service providers in the efficient delivery of legal services.
As it currently stands, how does Barclays deliver LPM expertise, and what are the opportunities to leverage technology solutions?
At the moment, service delivery is done on a relatively manual basis. Our legal project managers help to deliver on the larger, particularly complex matters where their coordination and planning expertise are needed the most.
What has hampered our efforts both on the Barclays side and on the law firm side, is that there hasn’t been a single platform on which to collaborate across the board and therefore give us synergy and consistency when we interact with our panel firms.
In order to drive efficiencies in how Barclays manages its legal services, we’ve been on the lookout for a technology partner for a while now. That means one that can help us to better manage our relationships in the broadest sense with our panel firms, from managing high-value high-risk matters to tendering, as well as managing the supplier obligations that we must fulfill in the process.
Do you feel that innovation in that technology space is also about opening the communication channels up?
Absolutely: in the same way that our matters are still managed in a relatively manual fashion, we have well-defined, well-developed, and well-adhered to processes for managing the relationships with our panel firms.
Barclays is now looking to an active panel-management process, rather than the complex and often labor-intensive RFP process. In order to enable that active panel-management process, technology is key to drive efficiency. So yes, we will absolutely be looking towards technology to support those processes.
The efficiencies that are gained benefit both sides: for Barclays, it reduces the administrative effort of maintaining the relationship and the associated reporting. Similarly, for the law firms, it reduces the burden and resource requirement that goes towards those same responsibilities. Therefore, if law firms adopted a single collaboration platform, they could then push tailored and relevant content to not just one of their clients, but to many.
Do you feel that the industry is progressive in embracing new technologies, or do firms risk being left behind if they do not adapt - in particular those firms that want to work with you going forward?
Yes, I think that when a corporate discovers the tech solution that enables them to work more efficiently, then an inevitable consequence of that is that your vendors need to move with you as well.
In that sense, we are no different from an HR or IT department, or whatever function within the bank that you are looking at. But, specific to the legal department, the development of technology has taken a long time to get to this space, particularly a solution that actually fits our needs and our requirements.
Now that we have identified this solution in Fibonacci, those law firms that are slow to adopt innovative solutions and actually invest the effort to get the technology running smoothly and efficiently will likely struggle to keep up in terms of managing their relationships and other obligations efficiently.
Barclays has a large number of firms on their panel and a complex RFP process: do you feel that there is a disconnect between the scope agreed upon at the outset of a project, when the work is awarded, compared to what is delivered?
It’s an open secret that we often have that frustration, between promises made in tender and the eventual output.This is not to say that each and every project is a challenge, but at times they can be.
What I would say is that our systems don’t allow us to easily connect the dots between the relationship period, the tendering process and the delivery and conclusion process of a matter. Having access to a technology platform that promotes collaboration will help us connect those dots.This will be very powerful, because whilst we have extensive expertise in our external engagement team - particularly when scoping and controlling the scope of a matter, what we are lacking is actionable data: data that is reliable, easily identifiable and therefore usable.
By having a technology solution that actually stores and easily links that data to new engagements will be a very powerful support tool indeed.
Where is the opportunity for technology to add the most value whilst navigating the relationship between the Barclays in-house legal team and their engaged legal service providers?
One of the cornerstones of our vendor and law firm relationship effort is that the firms that work with us effectively become an extension of our in-house team. This promotes a seamless way of working, whether that be in M&A, litigation, regulatory or any other part of the legal function. Subsequently, we need to have clarity as to what is happening on our matters at all times: reliable, actionable real-time insights are absolutely essential.
Additionally, our legal team and engaged legal providers act as advisors to the business, and so having the ability to engage key stakeholders both within the business and externally, all in one platform, is absolutely fundamental, as well as being able to tailor and make relevant that experience.
You could argue that law firms have the ability to open up their practice management systems in a similar fashion, but the challenge for the client is that each firm has a slightly different system and subsequent application of their system. This is where the utility and uniformity of a single comprehensive platform shines, particularly in terms of reporting and access to data.
Will having that enhanced visibility across task completion, financial performance and progress updates lead to a more effective tenure between Barclays and its panel firms?
Yes, we actively practice this: my team of legal project managers will regularly give feedback to the relationship team regarding service delivery whilst planning high-value matters. However, having access to the additional data points that the Fibonacci platform presents will supercharge that feedback loop, and will also help us effectively make better, more informed decisions when it comes to new mandates.
When new work is being tendered, there is a manual control element when deciding which firms from our community are to be on the shortlist, and being able to support that decision with intelligent, real-time data insights gained from Fibonacci will be a huge benefit.
Moreover, a big part of our role as legal project managers is about coaching and mentoring our law firms, particularly in the pricing and in the commercial arm of our external engagement team. It’s commonplace that we present to teams of partners at a matter level, as well as more broadly at a practice level, in order to align on our commercial objectives.
We can strip-out some of the blockers that arise in this process if we don’t have to rely solely on complex Excel spreadsheets, which can easily throw users off. Using a platform like Fibonacci, it’s not all cells and formulas, and is refreshingly intuitive so that a lawyer can easily pick it up and work with it from the get-go.
What are the top 5 trends that you see on the horizon for LPM?
LPM is here to stay. The impacts of the current crisis and the renewed focus on budget is here to stay.
There’s definitely a positive equation that you create when you involve a legal project manager on a complex matter, in that it protects law firm profitability whilst streamlining the management of in-house legal budgets. Ultimately, both the client and the law firm vendor benefit from reduced costs, efficiency and transparency, and you can do that by running the service delivery more efficiently.
That desire and focus on collaboration will continue to be there - that will never go away. We will never go back to a time in which clients are happy to pay excessive fees: no corporate can afford to do that. Corporates are under huge scrutiny, particularly regulated businesses, as many businesses are these days, and therefore can’t be seen to be wasting valuable budget on excessive fees.
There is a distinct continued drive for transparency: clients want to know what law firms are doing for their money - LPMs help to shed a light on that and, crucially, LPM technology helps them do so. It does not mean that there is an added burden of responsibility for lawyers on the law firm side, but rather that they can better focus their efforts on winning new work, or working on different projects, rather than becoming weighed down in manual and administrative activities.
The continued drive for technology to support this trend is absolutely essential, compounded by the fact that more of us are going to work in an increasingly digital fashion, from de-centralised hubs and individual homes. Having the right legal service delivery technology to encourage and underpin that collaboration piece between corporates and the law firms that service them is absolutely key.
Another thing that any technology implementation flushes out are the questions around how we do things currently, and how we want to do things better in the future. Legal process improvements - chipping away at inefficiencies, removing barriers, understanding what controls there are and why they’re there, and maybe challenging some of those, will continue to be a key focus going forwards.
What is the one thing that you could change in the legal sector, right now, if given the chance?
Interested to see how Fibonacci can transform your legal operations?