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How Data-Driven Legal Operations Drives Big Savings
and Efficiencies for Law Departments

January 2020 | By Aaron Pierce, Vice President & General Manager, LexisNexis CounselLink

Jenita Gillespie is Director of Legal Operations at Bon Secours Mercy Health. While she was originally hired as a Paralegal eight years ago, her personal path to the directorship is also the story of the transformation of legal operations at Ohio’s largest healthcare provider – a story that highlights the successes that can come with implementing strong, data-driven processes. We recently had the privilege of sitting down with Jenita to discuss how she was able to drive this transformation so other legal departments can learn from her story.

How the Legal Operations Function Evolved

When Jenita joined Mercy Health – prior to its merger with Bon Secours in September 2018 – there was no legal operations department. Using her background in billing for law firms, she began closely analyzing the bills coming into the Mercy Health legal department and realized the department was being overcharged in some cases. While her supervisor initially dismissed her claims, Jenita was able to present data that identified clear discrepancies between what some law firms and technology vendors billed for and the services they actually provided.

After presenting her findings, Jenita began to advocate for a more systematic approach to billing and other operational functions at the Mercy Health. Leadership agreed, and she was asked to oversee the implementation of a legal process management system that integrated data from a variety of applications across the organization. Implementation of that system, which made it much easier for Mercy Health to track, analyze and manage work across multiple workflows, generated initial savings of $1.25 million, and Jenita was subsequently promoted to Manager of Legal Information Systems.

Jenita was thinking well beyond solving the department’s immediate billing issues and began to focus on developing more effective processes in other areas like vendor management and financial management. She gradually began to implement a series of process improvements. One of these improvements was establishing strict guidelines and procedures ensuring that every outside counsel fee arrangement had to be approved by the legal operations department before billing, and that any work billed by outside counsel that had not come from legal would not get paid.

With fee approvals done by legal operations and data from the legal process management system, Jenita’s team was able to carefully monitor bills coming from outside counsel and quickly identify previously unrecognized patterns in billing practices. She was able to catch inconsistent pricing and unreasonable increases that had been overlooked, and decided to implement billing violations to ensure the department would no longer be overcharged.

With increasing visibility into legal spend, she gathered data related to real estate matters and determined the company’s spending well above market rates. Her data and reporting convinced leadership that Mercy Health could spend a quarter of what they were paying to outside counsel by hiring an in-house lawyer to handle real estate. When Jenita discovered that other firms were also failing to bill market rates for other practice areas, she was able to negotiate outside counsel rates down hundreds of dollars per hour in some instances.

With examples like these, and with her entire department adhering to the streamlined procedures she developed, Jenita was able to get support from the Chief Legal Officer of Mercy Health and the finance department to maintain consistency and efficiency in workflows and financial management.

As Jenita’s work expanded to areas like technology and process support, data analytics and business/operations reporting, she petitioned for another promotion to accommodate all her new responsibilities. After consulting resources from the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC), she determined the role of Director of Legal Operations encapsulated all that she did, and delivered that job description to her supervisor, who then approved. While CLOC resources were not responsible for Jenita’s promotions, they did give her a more comprehensive view of legal operations, which she was able to communicate to leadership. The resources also helped her show leadership how streamlined, effective and efficient the legal department could be with a legal operations director implementing a strict, data-based approach to process and workflow refinements and providing continuous oversight.

What’s Next for Legal Operations?

Jenita not only discovered new ways to manage spend and streamline processes for the for Mercy Health’s legal department, but she also found additional savings and efficiencies through the company’s merger with Bon Secours – integrating the companies’ information systems and legal operations workflows in just six months. Jenita’s story is an example of what’s possible with the right resources, data and technology. Law departments worldwide should carefully consider how a more systematic approach to legal operations can help them achieve substantial cost savings and efficiency improvements. What was possible for Mercy Health’s law department is achievable for others. Data-based processes and decision-making – driven by go-getters like Jenita – represent a promising way forward for legal departments.

Aaron Pierce is vice president & general manager of LexisNexis CounselLink.