David Hitchens Is Helping Jones Lang LaSalle Achieve Ambitions

Jones Lang LaSalle’s David Hitchens is helping reconfigure its legal department to better handle its growth, and his team’s gathering data to take the effort even further

David Hitchens, US Litigation Director, Jones Lang LaSalle Photo by Nayiab Zuberi

Success can be a double-edged sword. Rapid growth is certainly great for the bottom line, but it also can be disruptive for those who steer the speeding ship. Take Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL). The commercial real estate and investment firm, a $2.7 billion company ten years ago, has since then nearly tripled its revenues, to $7.9 billion as of 2017. In 2017, it also zoomed up thirty-five spots on the Fortune 500 list, one of the biggest moves of a large corporation in the United States.

To manage the growth, many of the company’s departments have been restructured, including its legal department. “It’s not a reorganization as much as a change in executive leadership globally,” says David Hitchens, JLL’s US litigation director. The leadership has launched a new marketing campaign, called Achieve Ambitions. “This is the thread that runs throughout the organization,” Hitchens says. “That is what we do for our clients and for our employees.” To achieve ambitions in the legal department, the US litigation team is helping to implement a number of initiatives to streamline internal and external processes, and it’s focusing on new data that could help it determine what to streamline further in the future.

A particularly big shift for the legal team was the creation of a regional general counsel for the Americas—a role filled by Kathryn Ditmars—a counterpart to general counsel in Europe, the Asia and Pacific, and the Middle East and Africa. “Americas leadership wanted a single point of contact for all legal issues,” Hitchens says. As Ditmars’s vision of the department has evolved, the company has separated litigation and employment duties between two different legal teams. “It is much more efficient to have all litigation running through one team and have the employment team focus more on employment but also work closely with our global ethics program.”

The legal department wants to help both internal and external clients achieve their ambitions, and one way it’s doing that is through a renewed focus on simplicity. “We have a robust and complicated global business, and one way to make incremental progress that turns into bigger-ticket items is by simplifying things we do on a day-to-day basis,” Hitchens says. Changes can be basic, he explains, like shifting how the team communicates litigation hold notices to internal clients, or they can be more complex, like shifting how the team engages with and manages outside counsel and other vendors.

For example, after trying several methods of working with outside counsel on equal employment opportunity matters, the company decided to go to a regional model to simplify how it hires them and prices their work. “We set up firms for success in terms of the work product we expected,” Hitchens says. “We tried to get the efficiencies of having only a small number of firms working on these matters. We also provide self-contained packets of information and forms that firms can use to be more efficient in how they handle matters for us. We get the product we like, and it is easier for them to give us the pricing we are looking for.”

To determine additional avenues of improvement, the department is also putting more focus on data and measurement. “We are collecting more information from our outside counsel partners and using that data to drive change,” Hitchens says. The data the department is gathering revolves around three main areas of interest, the first of which is legal technology, including information on what its partners are using or willing to try. “We ultimately want to connect our tech people here with tech people there to best leverage it,” Hitchens says. “Last year, JLL launched a start-up company, called JLL Spark, in Silicon Valley, to work in the property technology area. So, technology is a key driver of JLL’s future, and the legal department needs to help drive that.”

The JLL legal team is also collecting data on alternative fee arrangements. “We have tried any number of ways to price legal services,” Hitchens says. He hopes research in this area will help the company discover the best ways for both it and outside firms to meet their fiscal needs. Simplicity requires predictability, which is something the standard billable-hour model has a difficult time delivering.

Finally, the legal team is putting together information on diversity. “We want to make sure the firms we work with not only have glossy brochures and great things on their websites but that the attorneys working on our matters are as diverse as our in-house group,” Hitchens says. “That is important to us as an organization and within our legal team. We are committed to that and want to invest dollars and time in helping drive that forward.” This is critical to the mission of the Achieve Ambitions campaign.

Hitchens, who joined JLL about ten years ago, has had a front-row seat on its growth. There were only three US attorneys focused on employment and litigation matters when he started, but now there are ten, ready to steer the ship toward even bigger growth numbers under the leadership of Alan Tse, the new global general counsel. “That excites people and continues to drive innovation,” Hitchens says. “It’s an exciting time.”