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Challenge:  Modernize Tech to Reduce Manual Workload and Save on Outside Spend

Solution:  Construct an Automated Platform

“I was so thrilled to see the focus on modernizing the legal department,'” says José Gonzalez, chief legal officer and corporate secretary, Equitable Holding, when he was interviewing for the role and spoke to Michael Lordi head of law department operations.  

“There was no focus before on a long-term strategy in the law department. This is very visionary,” he said. 

Gonzalez had tried to implement this operations model and strategy before for years in different roles but had not gotten as far as Equitable. 

The aggressive five-year operations modernization strategy launched in 2019, Lordi says, and the main goals were to transition the “company’s law department into a modern, innovative, proactive, streamlined, and highly efficient organization.” They set out to: 

  • Stabilize the existing infrastructure to eliminate risk; 
  • Replace inefficient or ineffective legacy technology; 
  • Reduce and reinvest third-party spend; 
  • Automate to reduce manual work; 
  • Centralize vendors, projects, and technology to streamline; and 
  • Develop and implement a comprehensive law department diversity strategy. 

Achieving Buy-in 

Before the development of the strategy, the team conducted an in-depth analysis of existing technology and processes with intended users and other key stakeholders to gain a deeper understanding of the priorities and how technology could fulfill them to write a strategy plan. 

“Knowing that a significant financial investment might be necessary, the operations team presented a detailed plan to Equitable law department’s leadership which included projections for cost savings that could be re-invested resulting from greater efficiencies,” says Lordi. 

The team demonstrated how their plan would align to both the law department’s strategy and the company’s strategy while creating efficiencies within the various corporate legal and compliance teams, he notes. 

“Over time, as in anything, it takes time to embrace change, so we talked to leaders about their concerns and feedback and, by the time we went ahead, we had the buy-in for what our vision was,” he says. 

“One of the keys to the success we've had so far,” notes Gonzalez, “is the legal operations team’s ability to get buy-in and assure everyone was part of the transformation.” 

One of the initial key projects included partnering with Wolters Kluwer ELM Solutions to upgrade the existing Passport spend and matter management solution and implement LegalVIEW BillAnalyzer, an artificial intelligence (AI)-powered invoice review solution. Additionally, Equitable launched a module to track timekeeper diversity with our partner law firms. 

“They were the first partnership I worked with here, and I expanded our partnership into other areas, tools and functions,” says Lordi. 

The Experience Curve 

“Equitable’s law department operations took a hard look at the current training environment and change management process and made significant enhancements to the current model. The law department implemented comprehensive, very strong roll-out and training programs. We supported their activities. But it was really their change management plan that led to the success. When that's not done, the whole process can take longer,” says Karen Sekley-D'andrea, Wolters Kluwer head of marketing. 

“We had to look at the learning curve and identify the various ways different people like to learn while not impacting their day-to-day activities with extensive training,” Lordi says. 

They created new and modern methods of learning and produced: 

  • A library of on-demand recordings of all training sessions; 
  • A library of searchable, brief and targeted “self-help” instructional videos showing how to use the software and the benefits that could be achieved; 
  • Articles focusing on what the software is, how it works, and how it helps;  
  • A website dedicated to helping users navigate technology changes and new processes; and 
  • Monthly communications with tips and tricks learned along the way. 

 And they made themselves available for ongoing communications as users got up to speed. 

The Gold 

“We’re not just pushing advice out now — while the platform helps us provide information that many of us can use, we value add,” says Lordi. 

“There had been no investment in law department technology in 10 years,” he notes. “Through team restructures, revisions to existing vendor contracts, and termination of other contracts, we were able to achieve our goals with no impact to budget.”         

On the cutback of vendors, “We went forward with those who were willing to work with us on new terms, for those that didn't, we let the contract run out. Some were understandably upset, some battled, but I turned it into a win by synergizing to build partnerships,” notes Lordi. 

“All the savings are really hard to quantify,” Gonzalez notes, “because at a qualitative level, we are able use our time more efficiently, more effectively.” 

And they: 

  • Reduced outside counsel expenses by 5 percent so far; 
  • Cut invoice review time by 25 percent for invoices over $5,000; 
  • Slashed invoice review time by 100 percent for invoices under $5,000;  
  • Eliminated offshore resources; and 
  • Increased payment speed by 20 percent so far and obtained a 5 percent quick pay discount. 

Additionally, they: 

  • Reduced matter setup and entry time by 50 percent;  
  • Dropped counsel onboarding time by 50 percent; 
  • Gained 10,000 hours of manual processing time;  
  • Centralized 50 percent of their processes; 
  • Sped signature on regulatory required documents by 100%; 
  • Remediated paper by 3,000 boxes;  
  • Remediated electronic files by 63,000;  
  • Increased cybersecurity by 100 percent by replacing the outdated software; and 
  • Integrated firm and timekeeper diversity metrics, yielding 68 percent of new matters with diverse leading counsel  

“Our success also demonstrates to the other functions within our organization that we're savvy enough to know how to operate a function as a business and try to make sure we are using our dollars as effectively as possible,” Lordi notes. 

Kudos keep coming in company-wide, he says. And they were cited by a leader in Equitable as “best in class in the organization” for legal ops efficiency and vendor and cost management. 

On the Horizon 

More than 50 key projects were planned for 2022 including: 

  • A document management system upgrade; 
  • Upgrade of remaining compliance exam tools; 
  • Additional paper reduction; 
  • Integration of legal holds and more; 
  • Launch of regulatory change system for securities; 
  • Reduction of manual process hours for 60 processes; 
  • Eliminate 100 percent of manual effort in certain areas. 

And they are on target.  

Inspirations and Practical Value Adds 

“No one else is as focused on in-house as ACC,” says Gonzalez. “ACC is an overwhelmingly positive part of my in-house career. I’ve been attending the conferences, global events, I speak at some of the events, use the resources, and I have learned so much from Veta Richardson (president & CEO), ACC, all the way in, is a huge help.” 

And the ACC Value Champions award will help Equitable with its recruiting, Lordi believes, “It shows how modern we are.” He notes that they used ACC research papers in developing their legal ops modernization strategy. 

The Big Chill 

Dealing with such a massive buildout and comprehensive altercation to work can take over the workday and bleed into after hours. One of the advantages of a successful legal ops department is the bottom line includes a gift many don’t mention when making their case to top brass: More time for the best part of lawyering and more time for personal life.   

“Sometimes it feels like my job is 24/7 and sometimes it needs to be,” says Gonzalez. I'm pretty focused during the week. But, on the weekends, I leave my phone in my office — even though I’m talking about my home office — and turn off the volume when I know I can. I spend time doing something non-work related. I get a lot of satisfaction from the work I do, but you have to get away from things.”  

Lordi agrees: “During the week, it feels like a 24/7 job, but I make sure I spend time with my children and that we have dinners together. On the weekends and my time off, I like to do a lot of work on my house— I recently refurbished the front porch of my 125-year-old home with my children as a fun project. It’s something different and lets me focus on spending valuable time with family.”

And a solid team helps. “It's important for leaders like myself and Mike,” notes Gonzalez, “to be messaging that we work hard, but you must have space. And you have to appreciate your team for the efforts that they make.”