State of the Profession: Using Today’s Challenges to Author the Next Normal

By Rachel Zahorsky, Director of Marketing at Novus Law, and Catherine Krow, Founder and CEO of Digitory Legal  

Industry thought-leaders Rachel Zahorsky and Catherine Krow gave the ACC Legal Operations section their combined take on the current state of the profession, drawing on their vantage points with innovative legal service providers, and suggest ways that the ACC Legal Operations community can use today’s challenges to author the Next Normal.  

The bi-modal responses to the unprecedented present

Corporate legal departments and their service providers are the frontline responders to the business when organizations are in crisis. Many are responding to needs they’ve never addressed before – including taking critical cost-savings measures and facing an impending onslaught of litigation. We’re observing two very distinct and wildly disparate responses from those on the forefront.  The first group is paralyzed by fear. They are battening down their hatches, freezing innovative initiatives, slashing-and-burning overhead expenses, and going dark, except for sending messages that they will respond when this is all over.  In contrast, other clients haven’t missed a beat. They’re nimble. They are pivoting operations, increasing communication and collaboration, looking to trusted partners for help, and reassessing the delivery of legal services. Organizations are appreciative of relationship-driven partnerships that are strengthened by new levels of empathy and flexibility, and more mindful of responsiveness, efficiency, and cost. The difference is a focus on long-term strategy in this moment of crisis versus short-sighted panic.  Another challenge is the productivity struggle – nobody is immune! We are all working through a crisis while at home alongside family members in different kinds of workspaces. We are staying more connected than ever to minimize the impact as much possible.  

Write the script for a stronger, more agile, and collaborative Next Normal.

We are in the midst of a crushing situation, but more demand is coming. We already see a surge in insurance claims, contract disputes, bankruptcy, and employment litigation.  How we choose to respond during this crisis will significantly impact how we are perceived in the future. Legal operations is more critical than ever. We suggest that you collect the data, do the benchmarking, streamline processes and initiatives, and manage people, processes, and technology in equal measures. Tactically, it is enormously helpful to give services providers previews of the changes underway, so that they can be ready to assist with new challenges. Talk to your partners! The voice of the client – particularly champions of innovation — reduces trepidation and advances positive engagement among respected allies. Be candid with your providers about budgets and desired outcomes. Don’t hesitate to ask them to reimagine current solutions to old problems and engage with them to come up with novel ways to solve new ones. Many legal service providers are well-equipped to share technology, resources, and expertise beyond their standard services.  In exchange, reward valuable partners with access to key decision-makers, support from senior leadership, future incentives, and opportunities to broaden their services to your organization.  To those who have only dipped a toe in the innovation pool: Now is the time for a meaningful change! Seize the moment. Do not waste this crisis – it’s an opportunity to drive the change for which you have been advocating. Deepen relationships with providers whose interests align with your overarching business goals. Look to the providers who have always been there for you; they are there for you now. They can and will bring their expertise and resources to projects that you can’t do alone.  

Engage new partners.

Seek out the business professionals, alternative service providers, and technology solutions that can analyze data, streamline processes, and help the business to make better decisions faster at this moment and in the future.  Unpredictable times require people and organizations to be creative and scrappy. If you are willing to provide services that your legal departments or clients need now, shifting away from what you’ve always done, you will not only prosper. You will emerge a healthier, more sought-after organization. If you get your partners what they need now, under pressure, you will create stronger relationships with greater loyalty. Together we will all get through this, and we should all aspire to emerge with strong relationships with our colleagues, clients, and providers.

The ACC Legal Ops Observer first published this article in its May 2020 issue.

Rachel Zahorsky leads the development and implementation of marketing and new business strategies and tools, internal and external branding and communications, and media content at Novus Law. She is also the Contributing Editor of the ACC Legal Ops Observer.

Catherine Krow is the founder of Digitory Legal, an award-winning cost analytics platform focused on bringing data-driven pricing and cost prediction to law. Catherine also is a frequent speaker and recognized thought leader on legal technology, spend management, and the use of artificial intelligence and data in law.