Moving on Up: Process Model with LPOs Allows In-House Counsel to Focus on Sophisticated Work
By Jennifer J. Salopek
“About three years ago, we realized that our lawyers were spending a great deal of time on routine work that could be more efficiently handled by alternative providers or systems,” says Grant Hanson, Vice President and Global Counsel, Commercial, at Nike, Inc.
Members of the Nike Legal Department worked to develop a solution for the high-volume, largely routine transactional work that previously absorbed a significant amount of their time. For Senior Counsel Mike Goodman, that included hundreds of technology-related procurement contracts. “We needed to process routine work activity efficiently to properly serve our business partners in their daily operations. The challenge was to improve turn time and workflow management while cutting costs,” he says.
Goodman turned to SeyfarthLean Consulting, the consulting arm of AmLaw 100 global law firm Seyfarth Shaw LLP. “We saw that Nike was striving for a strategic realignment in the deployment of in-house resources: focusing their lawyers on highly strategic initiatives that leverage their institutional knowledge, strategic focus, and business know-how,” says Seyfarth partner Bob Reynolds.
Working with their respective teams, and with Hanson's support, Reynolds and Goodman teamed up to develop what has become known as the Transaction Solutions Center. The TSC is a process model that reallocates legal services across a shared services platform for cost efficiency, while centralized oversight and management ensures consistent quality. It combines that shared-services aspect with a proprietary web-based workflow platform into an innovative whole.
Users access the TSC web-based portal via computers or mobile devices to enter requests for legal services, a process that takes about two and a half minutes. The system notifies a Seyfarth attorney, who assesses the overall risk profile of the request, sources the right provider, and quickly moves the request to the next stage of the workflow—all usually in less than five minutes.
The assessment and assignment process hinges on a risk matrix designed collaboratively by Nike and Seyfarth Shaw. “The placement is designed to match the specific legal request with the right provider based on the transaction’s risk profile,” explains Seyfarth’s Kevin Woolf, the partner who manages the day-to-day efforts. “The technology allows us to develop a detailed understanding of a client’s activity profile and to identify deal patterns by scenario. It also allows Nike to maintain the optimal level of touch from the in-house team.”
Requests may be routed to Seyfarth Shaw or one of its trusted third-party providers, who include a solo practitioner in Washington State, a boutique firm in suburban Georgia, and a legal process outsourcer in India. “The shared services platform allows us to leverage right-size partners we trust,” says Woolf. “We are often sending work to others that, under an old model, may have come to us by sheer inertia. By allocating work to the attorney who is both qualified and cost-efficient, we have enhanced our relationship with Nike. We’re seen as strategic partners.”
Nike lawyers have full visibility into the workflow of the entire portfolio via real-time online access to the TSC as well as customized weekly dashboard reporting. Moreover, Seyfarth is the central point of contact for all billing and project management for the process, while the TSC also functions as a searchable repository of contract documents.
“The TSC combines major process improvement, a robust technology platform, and a reallocation of shared services. It has changed the in-house counsel’s role from gatekeeper to manager–leader, and has shifted our role as outside counsel from document creation and negotiation to broader resource and project management,” says Reynolds.
Metrics captured include total contracts completed by type, total in progress by type, total by business entity, average days opened, and so forth. Nike has seen turnaround time drop from more than two weeks to 2.6 days, an increase in efficiency of 83 percent. In year one, 34 percent of projects were completed within 24 hours, and 90 percent of low- and mid-level projects came in at under $1,000 in legal spend.
Intangible benefits to in-house staff also have been felt: After all, as Hanson says, “Any lawyer wants to do the most strategic work they can.” The system is being expanded with increased capabilities and real-time, on-demand reporting at Nike subsidiary Converse, under the management of General Counsel Ann Miller.