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Reinventing the Client Relationship

How a 50-Lawyer Shop Became NetApp’s Go-To Law Firm

By Laura Ernde

Between the rise of the megafirm and recent data showing that the top 50 law firms are gobbling up a bigger share of legal work, smaller firms may feel like it’s getting harder and harder to compete. But as the legal operations gurus at NetApp Inc. revealed recently, even a 50-lawyer law firm can become an invaluable partner to a Fortune 500 company.

Connie Brenton, NetApp’s chief of staff and senior director of legal operations, and Emily Teuben, senior legal operations manager, were delivering their keynote address at the Legal Marketing Association’s Tech West Conference last month when they casually mentioned that one of NetApp’s largest outside law firms in terms of legal spend not only provides legal services, but also other services to NetApp.

Curious to learn how Keesal, Young & Logan (KYL) of Long Beach, California, managed to make themselves indispensable to NetApp for services such as automating legal and business processes, Attorney at Work reached out to the firm’s CIO, Justin Hectus.

Integrating With the Client Team

Justin Hectus

Hectus, KYL’s CIO of 25 years, explained that its work for NetApp grew out of off-the-clock conversations and experimentation designed to address gaps in the marketplace. The project has become so successful that the firm has spun off a sister company called Keesal Propulsion Labs.

“It’s a good example of how the walls are dissolving and traditional roles are shifting,” Hectus said. “That can be really challenging, but it also creates new opportunities.”

Hectus said he first met Brenton in 2016 when he was chair of the Legal CIO Forum in Manhattan and she introduced him to the technical tools and tactics NetApp was using for workflow automation.

KYL used the tools to develop and roll out a complaint-handling workflow for a banking client. When Hectus showed the results to Brenton, she engaged KYL to help standardize its legal and business processes across multiple departments.

“We ultimately got really integrated into their team,” he said.

KYL has gone on to build 140 automated workflows for a number of key clients, moving beyond legal to include finance, human resources and marketing. Virtually any process that is being managed via email and tracking spreadsheets can be converted to an automated workflow. Lawyers are well-suited to help develop these workflows because they often involve things such as risk assessment, compliance and information governance, he said.

KYL now manages 60 automated workflows for NetApp, two-thirds of which have no relation to legal.

KYL also produces educational videos to market the new workflows internally within NetApp, a value-add that helped clinch the deal and make KYL a highly desired vendor.

Reinvent to Serve the Legal Departments of the Future

Which brings us back to Brenton and Teuben’s keynote address, where they urged law firms of all sizes to reinvent themselves to support the innovative legal departments of the future.

Brenton and Teuben said their process automation work helped position their legal operations team as the go-to place for innovation and change at NetApp — another reason for them to be thrilled with the law firm’s work.

More and more, legal departments across the world are shifting their mindset. In the past, a company’s general counsel was considered a figurehead who managed outside counsel. Today, GCs are a key member of the executive team responsible for enabling the client’s business to grow.

That means the law firms they want to work with are the ones adopting innovative new technologies and collaborating with them on business solutions. Here are a few tips Brenton and Teuben had for law firms looking to work with the legal departments of the future:

  • Keep in mind that 80% of the end-to-end service delivery is about the process. So legal operations departments are looking for collaborators to help them keep up on the latest technologies.
  • Service should be as easy as an app on your phone.
  • Just start. “If it’s better than it was yesterday, you’ll have success,” Teuben said. Don’t aim for perfection or you’ll never get done with a project. If you aim for 80% success, you can work out the problems later.
  • Don’t work in a vacuum. Remember that process and technology will only work if it is developed and implemented with the people in mind who will use it.
  • Use process design to get to know your client’s business. This includes the organizational structure and knowing who to call if you have questions about IT. “At the end of the day you become crazy sticky,” Brenton said.

Hectus had his own advice for other law firms looking to replicate KYL’s success:

  • Craft a service model around what your client needs rather than what you have to sell.
  • Don’t have predefined expectations. Take a look at the client’s needs and figure out the best solution.
  • Stay on top of new technologies and how they can enable and serve your clients.
  • Understand where you are weak and bring in resources to compensate.

“There’s an advantage now to being smaller and more nimble that didn’t exist before. Look at that as a way to multiply your impact and move faster than the big guys,” he said.

Editor’s Note: In 2018, KYL won LMA’s Impact Award for Strategy & Innovation as well as the Legal Procurement Innovator Award from Buying Legal Counsel, in recognition of its collaboration with its partner Mitratech, a leading provider of enterprise legal matter management solutions, and its client, NetApp.

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Laura Ernde Laura Ernde

Laura Ernde is a communications and media relations consultant based in San Francisco. Previously, she was communications director at the State Bar of California and covered the California Supreme Court for the state’s largest legal newspaper. Connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter @LauraErnde.

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