With an annual operating budget of $237 million in 2017, the Dunedin City Council (DCC) employs over 800 people, with departments that require a large diversity of legal work, tight deadlines and a high volume of requests for advice.
DCC’s new in-house legal team (formed in early 2015) recognised early on the need for better visibility across all the legal work that was being done for various departments and clients. “What’s obvious when you bring a new legal team on board is that you end up finding problems that you didn’t know you had,” explains Kristy Rusher, DCC’s Chief Legal Officer.
“Our business environment dictates that the best advice is not just advice that is on time, but advice that is available as soon as possible. Our challenge was to find a way to work where a job or a file wasn’t locked in someone’s email. If someone’s away from their desk, the file they’re working on can’t be accessed by anyone else – and we can’t deliver to the client until they return.”
It became clear that an internal practice management solution, one that provided visibility across all legal work, was needed to combat these issues and others like them. “We really had nothing in place,” recalls Kristy. “All we had were Excel spreadsheets trying to keep up with everything, so targeting our effort and delivering to the client was really hit and miss.”
Adding to the challenge is the way DCC works – unlike the shared service approach employed by many large organisations, the decision to retain legal services rests with individual departments. “It meant way too much time was being wasted triaging files,” says Kristy. “What we needed was something that would allow our staff and external solicitors the ability to focus on the actual task, instead of the admin required to get a file underway.”
“We were immediately aware of the advantages of having all our moving parts working together, in a shared working space. The LawVu solution has helped us to grow as a legal team, and as a service provider.”
Matching business needs to the right solution
To gain more visibility and control over the delivery timeframes for legal affairs, Kristy led a search for a software solution to help. LawVu come across her radar during a conference for local government lawyers.
“I’d actually been doing the research into other internal practice management solutions,” Kristy recalls. “I was very close to signing a contract with one of LawVu’s competitors.” While at the conference, Kristy mentioned
the challenges they were facing, and someone suggested LawVu.
“When I looked at what LawVu could do, it was clear they were 4 or 5 steps ahead of the solution I’d nearly gone with,” says Kristy. “I realised we couldn’t go with the other option, not when LawVu was clearly much better suited for our business needs.”
Kristy made contact with LawVu, and was immediately impressed with what they could provide. “Their evaluation process was really great,” she recalls. “The team at LawVu are so accessible. We were able to book a live demo, and test the product really effectively.”
In addition to being able to “look under the hood” of the LawVu solution, the DCC staff were able to double check all the features of the system to make absolutely sure it was right for them.
All working parts pulled together
In an organisation as large as the DCC, there are a variety of different ways that people work. For example, engineers work completely differently to community housing advisors. Finding a platform that was flexible enough to match those working styles was key for the DCC because it meant that software was not disrupting a client’s natural working or thinking style. “This meant that adoption of the system was easy for everyone because they were not distracted by a prescribed workflow or project management style.”
“LawVu’s product caters for all those variations,” Kristy explains. “We were immediately aware of the advantages of having all our moving parts working together, in a shared working space.”
Also at issue was the question of handling files during staff turnover. The LawVu system means that now, when someone leaves, their files don’t become lost or leave with them. Since everything is centrally managed, a new staff member can come on board and resume working on the same files that belonged to the person they’re replacing. This has meant improved workflows and saving time when a new staff member is getting up to speed.
“We no longer have to worry about corporate knowledge being lost,” says Kristy. “And we don’t have to worry about departments
duplicating requests for advice. It also means we’re able to have honest conversations with our internal clients and external solicitors about how advice is being implemented.”
The reporting function has also created advantages for the DCC. “It means we can work through setting up productivity measures and scheduling conflicts” Kristy explains. “There’s a lot of potential there. And LawVu are very welcoming of new ideas, so we have no problems pitching ideas to them about
how we can make the most of functions like reporting which shows how we are succeeding and where we need to put in more effort to make things work for our client.”
Since implementation of the LawVu solution, the DCC have better visibility over spending, and access to data that helps them make better, more informed decisions about purchasing external legal services. There’s the ability to focus on how money is spent on legal services, and they’ve also been able to set up business rules to deliver the advice to client departments and check that they are being followed. “I’ve heard that about 90% of problems between clients and legal advisors start with poor file management practice,” says Kristy. “Focusing attention on a system like this to get file management disciplines up and running means those risks are minimised, and the client gets what they need without delay.”
The view ahead
What the DCC have found is that there are still many ways that the LawVu solution can improve their practice management, and they’re in the process of investigating them. “We’re in the process of setting up procurement strategy for legal services,” Kristy reveals. “It’s going to help us instruct jobs differently, because now we’re able to see what’s urgent and what’s not and where we will get best impact from our legal spend.”
Now that the DCC have proper data to work with, it’s no longer reliant on guesswork. Although the DCC is still in the early stages
of harnessing everything the LawVu solution has to offer, they’re making the most of its flexibility, versatility and customised approach. “In the end, the LawVu solution has helped us to grow as a legal team, and as a service provider,” says Kristy. “And we’re excited about the potential to do so much more.”
Key outcomes for Dunedin City Council
- More informed, strategic decision making – we can eliminate inefficient file management behaviours.
- Greater efficiency in managing legal services – we can match the right external lawyer with our client department and get jobs delivered on time.
- Retention of corporate knowledge.
- Better control over spending – we have visibility over the exact legal spend on each matter instructed to an external firm. We can address cost variations with the firms.
- A platform for continuous improvement – the data we have will now drive our procurement for legal services in the future.