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Over the past 20 years, ten breakthrough developments in law department management

While on vacation, and musing over my 20-year career consulting to general counsel, I nominate these ten management changes as the most significant. For the sake of the hot-stove league, I have ranked them in declining order of importance. Go ahead, e-mail me your critiques and your nominees!

  1. Financial accountability expected of general counsel, such as budgets, periodic reporting on expenses, benchmarking, management of outside counsel, and the incursions of the procurement function
  2. Buyer-vendor relations with outside counsel, where some are viewed more as transactional vendors and value for money has become a common refrain (See also convergence and financial accountability)
  3. Tools for managing discovery and production of documents, which has admittedly been a wave smashing the shore in the last five years
  4. Expansion and integration with legal of compliance functions
  5. Convergence of law firms, by which I mean the deliberate effort to shuck many firms and send work to a relatively few firms
  6. Matter management systems for everyone, not just big departments or those that can roll their own
  7. Electronic billing and analysis of invoices, which includes development of the LEDES standards and the coupling of matter management and e-billing
  8. Benchmarking data generally available and more relied on and compared to
  9. Fixed fee billing arrangements for nearly every kind of legal service that is done by law firms
  10. Specialist lawyers in-house at the level of law firm partners

Other candidates could be the global expansion of legal departments and the elaborated cottage industry of service providers to law departments. In the next five years, my predictions for developments that might join this list include offshoring, online networks for lawyers, and concept-search-and-organization software

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One response to “Over the past 20 years, ten breakthrough developments in law department management”

  1. Rob Thomas says:

    Great list Rees! This may be outside the scope of your inquiry, but if I had to pick the single most important change over the past 20 years, it would be the caliber of in-house counsel, and greater respect that they have earned. When I graduated from law school 30 years ago, those who took in-house positions tended not to have gotten offers from the top law firms. Over time, this dynamic has completely changed, with many of the best and brightest going in-house, often from top positions at law firms. As a result, in-house counsel now have the sophistication, the experience, and the power to drive the changes that you’ve described. I think it’s safe to say that these changes would either not have occurred, or would not be as widespread today, had it not been for fundamental changes among in-house counsel–those who are now controlling the purse strings.