Cutting Out the Middle Man in Your Legal Profession

14 10 2010

Recently, the managing partner in our firm asked that we begin looking for ways to cut client costs. I noticed that prior to my arrival , members of the support staff often outsourced projects I normally would have handled on my own, so I decided to adopt a policy of using a vendor only when absolutely necessary.

We use Summation and I have never used Summation prior to this job, so I began by learning as much as I could about the software. This involved talking to the vendors, reading manuals and “playing” in the system. In two and a half months, I have learned how to create .tiff files, write my own .DII load files and mastered some advanced coding and editing techniques. I’ve found this to not only be cost effective, but also more efficient. Vendors may employ technicians who understand software and programming, but not necessarily the litigation process.

Earlier this week, I learned that we needed to export a large amount of electronic data (over 60 GB) to a client. This required us to run a digital sweep of our servers for all electronic data related to this particular client. In the past, the firm outsourced these types of tasks. I refused to see my firm incur such expenses, so I volunteered to do the job myself. The process turned out to be very simple and painless and I lost no billable time while working on it.

My next challenge? Tackling the large copy jobs we are forced to outsource. I’m still searching for the perfect solution to this problem, but have several good leads.

Is your firm/office forking out big money to a middle-man to perform jobs you could do in-house? Are there ways you could help cut costs, produce a better product and make your firm/office more efficient? I would love to hear your ideas.




The Beauty of Electronic Service

30 09 2010

Allow me to start by apologizing for taking so much time off from blogging. On July 23, 2010, I left my firm home of 5 1/2 years for a new job. I know I wrote as recently as June that I loved my old job, and I did, but simply put I received an offer I could not refuse.

My new firm specializes in complex commercial litigation matters and each day presents a new set of unique problems to solve. After working in toxic torts for so long, it has taken some time to adjust to such a diverse practice. On my first day, I learned that I would be working for eight attorneys–four partners (including the managing partner) and four associates). Each met with me to briefly to go over their active case load and I soon learned that my new position would require my complete focus to ensure a smooth transition.

In a little over two months, I have managed several different cases, including branching out into areas of law completely foreign to me (i.e. bankruptcy and IP litigation).  Though challenging , I’ve learned that these “new” areas of practice require the same basic fundamentals I have employed throughout my career. As legal professionals, we seek to form logical arguments based on the evaluation of facts and details. Likewise, we seek to identify the weaknesses of an opposing argument, either through the misrepresentation of facts or logical fallacies.

However, on the administrative side, I have noticed one glaring difference–the service list.

Asbestos litigation spoiled me! In Texas, all pretrial activity goes through a central, MDL court, before being remanded back to its original court for trial. The Texas Asbestos MDL Court requires all parties to electronically serve all documents, whether it be pleadings, discovery, notices, etc. This keeps things extremely simple and makes service extremely efficient. Instead of searching for a docket sheet, you simply log in, post and submit. You receive instant electronic confirmation that your document has been served on all parties and there are no confirmation sheets or green cards to clutter your files or office.

While all of the cases I work on now feature electronic filing, signing up for electronic service is left to the discretion of each individual party. Furthermore, this only applies to pleadings. Almost all of the discovery requests we receive or responses that we serve are through the archaic method of “traditional service.” This eats up valuable billable time that must be sacrificed to prepare the documents to be served and wastes firm money on the expenses related to the delivery of the documents.

As more and more offices move towards becoming “paper-less,” all courts will eventually move towards mandatory electronic service. I just hope that days is sooner, rather than later. Until then, I’ll let you go. I need to go check the fax machine for my confirmation sheet.

The Things We Do…

8 06 2010

Every paralegal should read Practical Paralegalism on a daily basis. Lynne DeVenny runs perhaps the best paralegal blog on the ‘net filled with tips of the trade and humorous tales to get you through the day. Last week, she posted a piece on the changing role of paralegals in law firms. It’s definitely a piece to read when you’re having a bad day at work and you need to remind yourself that it could be, and used to be, worse. However, even though we no longer have to wash dishes or insert paper supplements into statute books, we are called on to perform tasks that make us scratch our heads and ask, “did I sign up for this.”

A few years ago, we experienced problems tracking data for national counsel for one of our largest clients. They had designed a new database for that specific purpose, but had very specific rules for updating data that made it difficult to generate accurate monthly and quarterly reports. National counsel commissioned me to head a project to draft an internal database for our office that would mirror the national counsel database.

While I welcomed the responsibility, I had very little experience using Microsoft Access and had no clue where to start. The database would track information regarding over 18,000 cases handled by our section and would require the analysis of tons of petitions, discovery, depositions and medical records. First, I decided to call a meeting with the paralegals and support staff in my section to get feedback on how we wanted the database to look (i.e. what features did they like about the NCC database and which features they would change). Next, I decided to buy a book on Access to acclimate myself further with the program.  I then began to construct the skeleton of the database.

For the next three months, when I wasn’t involved in case management of files, I worked on the database. After work, I would go home, eat dinner, rest and return to work at 9 P.M. and work until 1 A.M. I put in several 12 + hour days a week. Finally, we had a completed product to show our national counsel. Then began the project of reconciling the two databases.

What I originally viewed as a “data entry” project, turned out to be one of the most intensive legal research projects I have ever been assigned and, for that reason, one of the most gratifying projects.  Along the way, we experienced a lot of frustration and learning by trial-and-error, but all of the lessons, both practical and technological, continue to be an asset to this day.

What’s the most “wheels off” project you have been assigned? Did anything redeeming come out of it? Would love to hear your stories.