Throughout his decades-long legal career, Bill Novomisle recognized a need to improve the relationship between in-house business counsel and the external counsel they work with.
Having sat in positions from both vantage points, the attorney witnessed how both sides would “play hot potato” with risk during project and billing negotiations. It made him realize that, by far, the number-one skill both sides lacked was the ability to scope a project.
“Both need to be able to say, definitively, ‘Here is what we are going to ask each side to do, here is what we expect from each other, and this is what it’s going to cost,’” Novomisle says. “The more we can scope and scope well and communicate around how things are going based on that, we can fundamentally change the relationship.”
That’s his focus at Cresco Labs, where he serves as a trailblazing senior vice president of legal operations. Novomisle, a former chemist, approaches cost-saving legal service delivery and attorney-client interactions with the same empirical rigor that characterized his multiple-year tenure as a scientist.
In order to drive results at the cannabis company and manage outside counsel, he and his department leverage technology like Brightflag, which allows the team to look at legal invoices and identify areas of potential inefficiency. That data helps the department have better conversations with its key law firms about how they’re managing cases, using resources, and whether certain fee arrangements make sense for both parties.
“We use this analysis to educate outside counsel because a lot of times they don’t think of what they do in terms of value add and essential non-value add. They think of it all as doing what needs to be done in order to service the client,” Novomisle explains. “But, by elevating their thinking, we’re able to elevate the value we get out of their services.”
A part of that elevation includes “de-lawyering” some of the company’s processes, he says. This year, the legal department is working to embed legal knowledge into self-service playbooks so the company can review contracts and manage risk more efficiently. They are also working to modernize discovery and to manage complex projects with Macro, a cutting-edge document visualization tool.
“Those tools are driving more efficiency which means that I’m able to bend the curve in terms of legal department costs because we don’t have to grow headcount as quickly as we are in other parts of the organization,” he says. “It also allows us to manage our external spend and gives us the data to tell our key stakeholders a story that demonstrates and quantifies actual cost savings.”
Before bringing innovative solutions to the legal field, Novomisle was a synthetic organic chemist for Pfizer’s global research and development department, where he was a coinventor on three patents. After several years in that role, he had a decision to make. To advance, he could either go get a PhD in chemistry or choose a different career path. He took a leap of faith and chose the latter, heading to law school.
He went on to practice as a litigator for nine years at two different firms. Those experiences exposed him to “the inherent conflict of interest that’s created by the billable hour.
“I saw all of the partners constantly trying to balance the pressure they received from management around billable hours, realization, leverage, and utilization versus the demands from their client to be efficient, to be lean, focused and narrow,” Novomisle remembers. “A lot of the partners wanted to have clients that weren’t efficiency focused so they didn’t have to worry about it. And, the more that happened, the more I thought that this is not sustainable and there had to be a better way.”
While those experiences discouraged him from becoming a partner, they inspired him to go in-house to manage litigation, leading him to PepsiCo, where he served as director of legal management and operations. In that role, he honed his skills around managing legal spend and projects.
Novomisle deepened his expertise at Stikeman Elliot, where he served as the director of pricing and client value. He saw the other side of the in-house and outside counsel relationship by reviewing RFPs from clients. They found that they often wanted “the inverse of the billable hour,” he says.
“By that I mean they wanted a fixed fee where most of the risk fell on the law firm,” he explains. “The answer to, ‘you’ve been screwing me over for years’ shouldn’t be, ‘I’m going to screw you over.’ That doesn’t lead to a long-term productive relationship. So, when I observed clients weren’t ready for alternative fee arrangements either, it changed my view of the overall marketplace because I saw what it was like from the sell side and the buy side.”
In 2015, he took those insights to China and Hong Kong, where he cofounded In-Gear Legalytics and then joined Korum Legal to help bring more process improvement, technology, and legal operation expertise to a region void of it. Four years later, amid COVID-19 pandemic and national security law concerns, Novomisle moved to Chicago to work for Cresco Labs to build legal operations from the ground up.
“Previously, I had primarily worked for much larger and established companies and it was about change management, but at Cresco there was nothing,” he reflects. “It was held together with a couple of spreadsheets and a whole lot of hustle. I was able to bring in institutional discipline and best-in-class technology.”
He advises the next generation of leaders to meet people where they are.
“If you’re a young lawyer and you want to drive change in your industry, you need to understand where the people you want to change are,” Novomisle says. “Why are they the way they are and why do they need to change?”
He adds, “Lawyers aren’t dumb. There are incentive structures underlying the state of the field. Until you understand their motivations, the systems of risk and reward to stakeholders are in, you won’t effect change.”
“Jenner & Block congratulates Bill Novomisle for his exceptional leadership and many accomplishments at Cresco Labs. He handles difficult issues with grace, wisdom, and aplomb.”