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Challenge:  Build a Legal Ops Department and Streamline Managing Vendors, Invoicing, Financial Reporting, Technology, and Knowledge Management

Solution:  Legal Operations Staffing, Institute Outside Counsel Review Process, Improve Invoice Management System, Design and Distribute Reports, New Tech, Contract Repository, and Updated Intranet

Being efficient is essential to managing workflow and increasing output, but, according to Owen Russell, Cognizant head of legal operations and global litigation, “It’s also about improving the lives of our attorneys.”  

John Kim, Cognizant’s general counsel, provided the impetus to implement a legal operations function that the information technology company needed. The project was initially directed by Russell’s predecessor, Claudius Sokenu. 


“Suffice it to say there was some resistance, but it was more of a constant negotiation to get everyone to buy-in to using all the new processes. It was made much easier because John and Claudius supported me,” says Russell. “Now, part of my role is to be a policeman to ensure everything is used as intended while advising along the way.” 

The Needs and the Improvements 

Legal Ops Department 

  • Built a team of six associates — up from one. 

Vendor Management 

“We didn’t have legal spend tracked and it was complicated to pull,” he said, “so part of the project involved comparing firm rates using technology (Bodhala).” 

  • Instituted fee review; 
  • Enforced frozen rates for three years starting in 2021;  
  • Implemented law firm engagement approval process that required lawyers requesting outside counsel to provide a budget;  
  • Initiated new outside counsel policy and bill guidelines; and 
  • Negotiated fees using alternative fee arrangements (AFAs) in most cases. 

Some examples of AFAs are “If you win a case, you get paid more, or a broken deal fee. Anything other than the standard billable hour so there is some sort of control,” says Russell. 

To get a better handle on law firm fees, Russell’s team centralized invoice review and took over negotiations. “Now legal counsel submit requests for outside firms. They have to state which firms they are considering and must have two other options so we can compare for negotiation purposes. But they can only go ahead if legal ops approves.” 

Vendor Invoice Management Program 

  • Centralized review and use of Ascent, Cognizant’s matter management tool, to detect billing guideline violations and properly document expenses, engagements, and fee arrangements; and  
  • System is used for invoice submission. 

Financial Reporting 

  • Created and disseminated monthly outside spend and quarterly budget reports, quarterly business reviews, and annual budget presentations. 

Tech Enhancement 

  • Engaged Bodhala to analyze outside counsel spend; and 
  • Helped other internal legal teams select tech: Maxval for intellectual property docketing and Icertis for commercial contracts intake. 

Knowledge Management 

  • Developed a new contract repository; 
  • Updated the legal department’s intranet; 
  • Improved legal new hire onboarding; 
  • Provided schedule of training sessions;  
  • Publish legal ops newsletter; and 
  • Conduct bi-weekly “Ask LegalOps” sessions to help with overall onboarding, managing counsel, and more. 


  • Reduced number of law firms from 130 in 2021 to 64 in 2022; 
  • Selected six law firms as preferred hires for fast-track engagements as needed with preferential pricing; 
  • Negotiated 88 revised Master Service Agreements with law firms; 
  • Wrote template engagement letter to simplify law firm hires; 
  • Saved 60 percent in outside counsel fees from 2020 to 2021 with an average 15 percent discount rate in 2021 (wasn’t tracked in 2020); 
  • Increased use of AFAs for budget predictability; 
  • Saved approximately $5 million using centralized rate negotiations and invoice review; 
  • Saved more than a million dollars due to 2021 rate freeze; 
  • Saved $400,000 migrating to SharePoint legal document system; 
  • Trained 29 law firms on using online system for submitting invoices and added new Cognizant invoice review staff to approve and pay faster (cleared 1,405 invoices totaling more than $8 million submitted before 2021); 
  • Monthly reporting updates budget and ensure adherence to budgeting goals; 
  • Wrote an onboarding resource guide to more easily orient new law department hires; and 
  • Simplified entire process and departmental needs through the bi-weekly “Ask LegalOps” sessions. 

“The money spent in legal ops more than pays for itself,” says Russell. “We were able to reduce external vendor spend by tens of millions of dollars.”  

“I was given a goal on Day 1 — save 20 percent — and we’ve saved in excess, much more,” says Russell, also crediting the work done before he began.  As for the firms they didn’t sign with this time, “I can’t think of any time in which anyone was less than gracious. We agreed we will see each other again.” 

Next Steps 

“We are looking at more tools,” says Russell, including a contract intake solution to build on our SharePoint implementation, project management, and more. 

What Helped 

“To start a legal ops department, go to ACC,” says Russell. “Then check legal ops podcasts for an introduction, a palette as to what’s out there.” 

“The question to ask is: ‘What is your need, focus, and what is the priority for your organization?’ Talk to people who have done this. You need experts in each area. And then you need to design it for lawyers.” 

At the End of the Day 

“I handle life-work balance well because I have a great team. It was much more difficult in the beginning because I had just started.” 

“I like to shut off the computer, cook and make dinner with my family (a 10-year-old girl, 13-year-old boy, and his wife), and sit down and talk. And we have TV shows we watch.”  

“But when it comes to litigation going on, there always could be something. My goal was assembling people I could rely on so I could step back and take a more strategic lens.”

Owen Russell

W. Owen Russell

Global Head of Litigation

& Legal Operations


Sonya Bland

Sonya Bland

Director of Legal Operations


Jessica Watts

Jessica Watts

Discovery Counsel


Mathew P

Mathew Pandyalakal

Financials & Technology Manager


Jacklynn Casiano

Jacklynn Casiano

Business Analyst


Nicole Brackett

Nicole Brackett

Billing Administrator


Akil Germaine

Akil Germain

Financial Reporting