Innovation in Talent Development and Collaboration
The Office of the General Counsel – North America (OGC NA), which is responsible for the legal and compliance function for the North American operations at insurance giant ACE Group, headquartered in Philadelphia, comprises 174 people in 11 cities in the United States, Canada, and Bermuda, including 69 attorneys. Keeping a group that large and dispersed feeling connected to the company and to one another was a challenge for Kevin Rampe, general counsel since 2007. When he enlisted Senior Deputy General Counsel Greg Stern to help re-engineer the OGC to provide best-in-class legal services to their internal clients, they turned to ACC resources for inspiration.
"I have been a big fan of ACC since 1992 or 1993," says Stern, a member of the ACC Law Department Executive Leaders group. "The online library has a phenomenal amount of information, especially on the scorecards and metrics we were seeking.
"The ultimate goals of the initiative that resulted in reorganization were improved legal service delivery and expense reduction, accomplished not only by taking advantage of traditional and nontraditional outside counsel billing arrangements, but also by shifting work to inside counsel efficiently and appropriately, such as transitioning one discrete area of legal services—insurance coverage opinions—from outside to inside counsel. The last item alone resulted in savings of over $3 million a year, but as Rampe says, "As a large insurer whose business depends upon effectively managing outside counsel expense for the benefit of our insureds, ACE has been aggressively managing outside counsel expense using alternative fee arrangements and other practices for over three decades. Techniques for managing outside counsel expense are well established; accordingly, the focus of our innovation has been in the area of inside counsel process improvement.
"Project Best-in-Class, as it came to be known, has two major prongs: a new legal service model and a technology solution. Whereas previously the department had followed a traditional general practice model in which each lawyer was assigned to do the work of a business or division, the new model cast attorneys in the role of Legal Service Coordinators. In this new role, lawyers are responsible for ensuring their clients get the best legal support available; often that means providing those services themselves. But it also often includes identifying others in the organization who are better able to respond, to overflow or more complex or specialized legal service requests.
"The Legal Service Coordinator provides day-to-day contact with clients, but may not have all the requisite expertise or capacity for every matter," Rampe explains. "In the new model, they can connect with and leverage their fellow attorneys as well as take advantage of opportunities for cross-training. We now have more attorneys who are capable of doing the work, and can more readily shift resources."
"It also avoids some of the downsides of clients having to choose their own inside counsel while still enabling the Office of the General Counsel to work behind the scenes to ensure load balancing, expertise, and teamwork," Stern adds. "In-house counsel are now free to think more creatively, and outside counsel are seen more as a safety net in those situations in which in-house expertise isn't available.
"The new work structure is facilitated by the second prong of the project, the technology solution. The legal department built its own sophisticated intranet knowledge management and collaboration platform, "The Link," which includes a digital reference library, a template form library, discussion forums, a news center, automated reporting modules, training and mentoring resources, and more. Each OGC member has a profile page that provides useful information to colleagues and clients, including a detailed skills inventory, and submits a monthly activity report that generates reports for senior management. "Culturally it is now the center of everything we do," says Rampe.
The department built The Link itself on top of a standard ACE SharePoint site while still managing to perform their "day jobs." Rampe asked for volunteers to help set goals, develop new processes and tools, and provide feedback. To measure progress and promote value recognition, the OGC also has implemented a balanced scorecard that consistently measures metric trends year over year.
Collaboration on Project BIC and the new service model has had many benefits. One is improved budget predictability, achieved through workload balancing that ensures the department can handle peaks without much unanticipated expense. The other is less easily quantified but no less important.
Under the new model, inside counsel have the opportunity to develop expertise and experience and can complete assignments better tailored to client needs. This has had positive results for department members both personally and professionally."The attorneys have had the chance to learn more about the business, to partner with their fellow attorneys, to cross-train, and to innovate," said Rampe. "This delivery of increased value to the business has generated increased professional pride and development among the members of our department. But most importantly, it allows us to help ACE deliver better value to its customers and other business partners."