Modern Counsel: What was the impetus behind automating requests for legal service, and what inefficiencies did you hope to remedy?
Rachel Stern: I never want the legal department to be the logjam in any process or have people avoid us because they can’t get answers or solutions fast enough. Requests for legal service used to be submitted via e-mail. With 7,000 employees, that was hard to manage manually. Sometimes two people might respond to the same request, and other times a response might take too long. I want us to be value-added in everything we do. To really be effective, we needed a system that was more efficient and that enabled us to respond quickly and set expectations about when the work would get done.
MC: What does the new process look like?
RS: The new system grew out of proprietary software that was created internally to deal with client requests for product development (RPD). It occurred to us that the process to ask for help with a systems bug or fixing code should be the same as asking for legal help. We customized and integrated the software with several other back-end systems, so employees can access it through our internal portal. We also created an automated “contract wizard” with customizable templates. So, where it’s appropriate, our salespeople can get self-service results without having to wait for us to respond.
MC: How was the new system received?
RS: Honestly, people weren’t happy with the change in the beginning. But once they use the portal and discover things like the drop-down list of various topics, they see how much more efficient and simple it is.
MC: What do you think the greatest benefits of the new system are?
RS: The portal makes it easier for us to add value by providing help more promptly and efficiently. On the administrative side, being able to quickly see who’s working on a matter and its status is terrific. In the future, we’ll also be able to automatically generate metrics on our performance. We’ll not only be able to optimize how we operate, but track the legal department’s performance in the same ways as the rest of the company: by measuring how responsive and productive we are.
MC: Did you have to collaborate with the other business functions to develop a proprietary solution?
RS: The system is tied into a number of the company’s systems, including document management and billing. That required a tremendous amount of collaboration and cooperation with our knowledge-management team, with finance to make sure the right billing information is imported, and with our engineers and information-systems team to make it all work together within the RPD architecture.
MC: How would you characterize that process?
RS: Part of the ease of cooperation that we experienced may have come out of equal departments collaborating toward a shared goal of making the business more efficient and integrating us even more closely with the rest of the company. Plus, FactSet’s deputy general counsel, Alexandra Dolger, did an excellent job as liaison with the other teams.
MC: Beyond improving the logistics of the request process, what part of this project are you most proud of?
RS: Lawyers and engineers don’t always speak the same language or understand each other’s reasoning. And that can be true with other departments, as well. For us, it was an interesting marriage of legal knowledge and the geekiness of a software company. But, regardless of the particular department, you really have to bridge that gap. I think we did that well on this project.