No epiphanies give birth to law department management’s “big ideas”

“Any seemingly grand idea can be divided into an infinite series of smaller, previously known ideas.” This quote from a book by Scott Berkun, The Myths of Innovation (O’Reilly 2007) at 7, set me to thinking about innovations in law department management and the shoulders of giants they were built upon.

Convergence seemed a worthy idea to deconstruct even though many other innovations would serve as well. The wizards of Wilmington did not summon the idea out of the clouds, unparented, whole cloth and all. Far from that. The pieces they assembled were many.

Agreements, since the terms under which the Primary Law Firms (PLFs) agreed to represent DuPont had to be spelled out;

Bill review procedures, since law departments from time immemorial have looked at bills;

Concentration of spend was hardly a novel idea, although its application in the law department domain may have been a new import;

Evaluations of law firms, a tool as long known by law departments as it is fecklessly used;

Internal relationship lawyers who looked out for the primary law firms;

Matter management systems,which the department must have used to identify and classify incumbent law firms and thereafter to provide the data that let them know whether they had succeeded (a precursor to dashboards). I joined CompInfo in 1984 and it had been selling systems to law departments for several years, along with INSLAW and LawTrac, among several other competing vendors;

Outside counsel guidelines, which were either revamped or created or wrapped into the PLF agreements;

Requests for proposals, which the DuPont law department under Tom Sager presumably used at some point along the march to reduce the number of firms; and

Volume discounts had been around previously (See my post of April 9, 2009 #4: Aetna long ago obtained volume discounts from law firms.).

Beyond aggregating and carrying out familiar ideas, the incremental improvements originally added by those who fashioned the DuPont Model were, to my knowledge, (1) some interaction and expertise sharing among the PLFs, (2) massive amounts of public relations, and (3) some insistence on collecting work product from firms. As I write this I am not sure whether the LEDES standard pre-dated the DuPont initiative or indeed whether DuPont insisted that its PLFs use task-based coding.

Nothing I have written disparages the ground-breaking effort of DuPont Legal. Execution is everything, to state the truism, and to select and integrate the nine ideas listed above – and other previously exposed ideas – remains admirable.

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