Innovative Law Department of the Year #ILTAG20 #ILTACON

Session Description: In this session, short-list nominees for ILTA’s 2017 Distinguished Peer Award for Innovative Law Department of the Year present their innovations. Attendees at this session will vote for their favorite, and the winner will be announced on Tuesday evening at the Awards Dinner.

The nominees are:

  • NetApp, Inc.
  • American Electric Power
  • Telstra

[These are my notes from the International Legal Technology Association’s 2017 Conference. I’m publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, so they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error. Please excuse those. To the extent I’ve made any editorial comments, I’ve shown those in brackets.]


  • NetApp.
    • Connie Brenton (Chief of Staff/ Director of Operations at NetApp) and Justin Hectus (CIO/CISO at Keesal, Young & Logan) co-presented. They credited ILTA and CLOC for bringing them together and giving them the opportunity to create a tool intended to be of benefit for the entire industry.
    • Working collaboratively, they used ThinkSmart to create automated workflow for eDiscovery document production.
    • NetApp designed the initial workflow, which included components for outside counsel to complete.
    • Keesal, Young & Logan provided time and resources to build the application. They made this contribution as a “gift to the legal community.”
    • ThinkSmart proved to be a flexible, easy-to-use tool. No matter how complex the workflow was, this team found that they could design the workflow on the fly using a simple drag-and-drop process.
    • An unexpected benefit of using ThinkSmart was that they discovered that they could fold into their work some prior work done at Keesal, Young & Logan to create an automated workflow for eDiscovery document collection. This meant that they had an end-to-end automated approach without having to reinvent the wheel.
    • They collectively invested about 20 hours of dedicated work on the tool.This was significantly dwarfed by the massive efficiency gains the workflow tool generated and will generate.
  • American Electric Power.
    • AEP was founded in 1906 and is one of the largest electric utilities in the US. AEP has just announced that they will be building the largest wind farm in the country.
    • This project involved AEP Legal moving to the cloud with iManage.
    • The project started as a primarily technical improvement:
      • They had been using iManage on premises since 2011. But they had concerns with stability, upgrades, and capability to handle disaster recovery.
      • When they started speaking to the lawyers, however, they learned that the problems went beyond merely technological. They discovered that the lawyers did not trust the system and, in fact, did not use even close to the full capabilities of the tool. Further, some of the things they were requesting were actually already available in the version implemented on premises, but the lawyers did not realize this.
    • Once they identified what the lawyers needed, and what would work better for them, they realized that they needed to move to the cloud to meet their new requirements.
    • Before proposing the move to the general counsel, they had AEPs security experts verify the security of the proposed iManage cloud.
    • One added benefit of their move is that they are now able to collaborate more easily with law firms and government agencies via the cloud.
  • Telstra.
    • Telstra is a leading telecommunications company headquartered in Australia.
    • Since the global financial crisis, their legal team has faced year-on-year budget cuts of 10%. So they operate under pressure to be more efficient while remaining effective.
    • Between 2013 and 2016 their team transformed into an award-winning legal department This involved adopting an Innovation Culture and an Innovation Agenda.
    • The Legal Innovation Forum
      • This forum is a project created collaboratively between Telstra’s legal department and Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF). The forum convened 15 Telstra lawyers of varying seniority who worked with HSF design-thinking experts to tackle specific efficiency issues such as reducing time-wasting meetings, eliminating pointless internal reporting, eliminating unnecessary legal review. Then they prototyped and tested their solutions in eight-week “sprints” within the Telstra legal department. Here are their results:
      • Reduce time-wasting meetings — a few years ago, their legal team collectively spent 60,000 hours in internal information-sharing meetings each year.
        • As a first step to tackling this problem, the Legal Innovation Forum characterized all internal meetings as either information-sharing or decision-making.
        • Then they ran a trial: they were allowed only 2.5 hours per week of information-sharing meetings but permitted internal lawyers to participate in unlimited decision-making meetings, provided the meeting organizers informed them in advance of the decision they needed to make AND the organizers invited to the meeting only those lawyers whose participation was critical.
        • According to an article by Zach Warren, these new procedures yielded impressive results: “a 52 percent reduction of time spent in both kinds of meetings, which represented more than 2,000 total hours saved across the Telstra legal department.” Plus lawyers surveyed after the fact reported a striking improvement: “92 percent of attorneys surveyed after the trial felt they weren’t missing anything by not attending those meetings, and 90 percent said they felt even more productive.”
      • Eliminate pointless internal reporting — an internal report to senior managers that evolved to over 40 pages each week, involving over 75 hours collectively per week on the part of Telstra’s lawyers. By determining which critical issues really required regular reporting, and then designing a streamlined new template for the report, they were able to save a considerable portion of those 75 hours.
      • Eliminate unnecessary legal review — over time, they had developed the practice of having legal department lawyers review internal communications. However, this ate up significant amounts of lawyer time. Instead, the Legal Innovation Forum identified the types of internal communications that were high-risk and really required legal, and then instituted a no-review policy for all other internal communications. This resulted in a 29% reduction in hours spent reviewing.
      • Automate common workflows — a review by the Legal Innovation Forum revealed that the practice of drafting/reviewing confidentiality agreements ate up too much time — the equivalent of two FTE lawyers. In response, the Legal Innovation Forum created an automated process to produce and track NDAs. Now lawyers do not have to participate in routine NDA drafting/review.
    • Lessons from their experience:
      • You need good data –otherwise you cannot measure your progress. Once you have your data, you need to be able to explain and defend your data.
      • Look for early, small, easy wins that can provide momentum for your innovation efforts. Innovation always involves some failure so it is good to have a few wins under your belt before those failures arise.
      • Don’t be paralyzed in a hunt for the perfect. It is better to act than to wait until you have figured it all out.
      • People resist loss not change. Always think about what people need to give up. And then think about how to address this.
      • Don’t reinvent the wheel. Look at others inside and outside your company who may have tackled similar problems. Then, learn from them.