The New Normal

It’s Time to Consider Law as a System

Posted Feb 1, 2011 10:36 AM CDT
By Paul Lippe

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Paul Lippe

On Monday I saw Gabriel Buigas, deputy general counsel for Hewlett-Packard, present a terrific keynote at LegalTech New York on “Legal vs. IT: Turn the Battle into a Solution to Meet Compliance.” [Full disclosure: Legal OnRamp has a commercial relationship with HP.]

Gabriel perfectly encapsulated my views described in a recent post that law is moving from a game characterized by the internal thought processes of lawyers to one in which lawyers have to manage information in a systematic way.

Put another way, as the center of gravity of law moves from firms to in-house legal departments, and as law becomes ever more complex and pervasive in the modern enterprise, sooner or later most legal rules will have to be embedded in IT, and most legal work will have to be IT-enabled. Given its overall sophistication in IT-enabled business process (remember HP bought the old EDS, Ross Perot’s original IT outsourcing company), it’s no surprise that HP would be a leader in this change.

While IT-enabled law clearly represents what clients need and where things are headed, in many ways things haven’t changed too much since C.P. Snow wrote 50 years ago about the divergent worldviews between humanities and engineering in Two Cultures and The Scientific Revolution.

According to Gabriel, legal and IT have very different priorities. IT’s primary responsibility is to support business growth, whereas it is commonplace for IT to say “we don’t understand legal.”

Gabriel broke down the areas of interplay into three buckets:

• Corporate projects with a strong legal driver, such as records management, which tends to have an integrated systems component;

• Compliance projects in which legal requirements underlie the need for the project but where requirements can be somewhat ambiguous; and

• Legal department productivity applications.

Perhaps most compelling were Gabriel’s observations about what is required to successfully manage IT projects directed at improving legal productivity:

• A clear requirements document defining objectives and metrics, because IT doesn’t have knowledge of legal content and legal folks are usually not so good at conceptualizing how to transform business process through IT.

• Clear governance where stakeholders are involved in ongoing oversight.

• Strong ongoing project management, with detailed knowledge of deliverables, status and schedule issues.

• Ongoing training and communication.

• A recognition that starting the project is not success, only completing it and having users change their behaviors to get the desired benefit is success.

• Pilot and test new projects with initial users to get their feedback.

As Gabriel said, “change management is hard.”

A final note for all you social media skeptics out there. Lots of folks were live-tweeting Gabriel’s talk along with the rest of LegalTech, including my favorite legal tweeter, Mary Abraham of Debevoise. Just search for the latest LegalTech tweets. That's probably somewhat better than being there.

Paul Lippe is the founder and CEO of the Legal OnRamp, a Silicon Valley-based initiative founded in cooperation with Cisco Systems to improve legal quality and efficiency through collaboration, automation and process re-engineering. Lippe formerly was an executive at the electronic design automation company Synopsys and later was CEO of Stanford SKOLAR, a medical digital library and e-learning company sponsored by Stanford Medical School.

Editor's note: The New Normal is an ongoing discussion between Paul Lippe, the CEO of Legal OnRamp, and Patrick Lamb, founding member of Valorem Law Group. Paul and Pat spend a lot of time thinking, writing and speaking about the changes occurring in the delivery of legal services. We hope you will join their discussions.

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