Technology changes the strategic advantages litigation support service providers can offer. It’s time for law firms to think differently about how that relationship can elevate their position and stature with customers and peers. A key consideration is to select a strategic partner over a transactional vendor.

Don’t be Kodak. In 1990 the company was valued at approximately $30 billion and it was bankrupt by 2012. Why? Because the Kodak brain trust never thought differently about itself, its partners, or its customers. The company never considered digital photography a serious threat and continued to bet the farm on the status quo.

The decision to bet the farm led Kodak to buy the farm.

Think your way to success

Law firms can learn an important lesson from the Kodak story: Look closely at the technology and expertise your litigation support services provider brings to the table and think about how you can use those assets to achieve your business goals.

The first step is to stop thinking about litigation support services providers as vendors and begin thinking about them as strategic partners. It’s a big, competitive world out there, and you need expert partners you can count on to work in your corner.

What does “strategic” look like?

It can be confusing to understand what defines a strategic partner. Words like “strategy” and “strategic” get lost easily in buzzword bingo, and for this discussion, we need to clearly distinguish strategic partner thinking from transactional vendor thinking. So, here is a simple way we define each for litigation support service providers:

  • A strategic litigation support service partner does more for your business than just supply a service. A strategic partner focuses on providing you a complete solution by leveraging their expertise, experience, technology, and customer support resources to meet your needs. They are proactive with you and seek to add value to your firm. They inquire about your firm’s goals and objectives to understand their role and fit in helping you achieve them. They focus on strategic business outcomes like cost and process efficiencies as well as risk management. They are always thinking of new and different ways to do things. They care about each interaction with you because their focus is a long-term relationship and partnership with your firm. They provide you data and reports for transparency and accountability, plus much more.
  • A transactional litigation support service vendor, on the other hand, simply sells you a service. They tend to be reactive to your needs. They tend to think and act tactically by focusing on the what, not the why, focusing on the now, not the future, focusing on the status quo, not innovation. They will typically take care of your firm’s basic needs, but they will not have the capability nor mindset to solve new problems or seize new opportunities for your firm.

The differences that legitimately separate strategic partners from the sprawling field of transactional vendors may not be readily apparent on the surface. To further illustrate, Table 1 notes key characteristics of a company that has strategy markers in its DNA versus one that does not.

Table 1.

STRATEGIC PARTNER

TRANSACTIONAL VENDOR

Focuses on the law firm’s long-term success.

  • Provides services or products for which it is paid but is always looking at the bigger picture and how it can deliver maximum value to the law firm. Seeks to help the firm advance its business goals and unlock greater growth. Identifies and seizes opportunities or solves problems that improve strategic outcomes for the firm.
Focuses on the short-term.

  • Provides services or products for which it is paid. Unlikely to provide anything additional of strategic value or actively work to advance the law firm’s business goals. Is narrowly focused on delivering the original scope of services but does not look for new opportunities to exploit or problems to help solve for the firm.
Provides full accountability and proof of performance.

  • Demonstrates how it impacts its law firm clients by providing performance metrics such as: – eFiling Turnaround Times – Serve Success Rates – User Behavior and Order Data
  • Provides monthly/quarterly reports and client review meetings for greater transparency, performance accountability, and improvement.
  • Service performance is proven by the partner through metrics, reports, and review meetings with the client.
Offers minimal accountability and proof of performance.

  • Does not have the capability or desire to share data and reports with its customers.
  • Performance is what the vendor says it is.
Pursues innovative ways to advance how electronic documents, information and payments are exchanged in the legal community.

  • Is a certified eFiling Service Provider for all courts in California leveraging advanced, proprietary file + serve technology.
  • Vigorously challenges the status quo to raise the bar for its industry peers and clients. Always pushing to be faster and better by blending its expertise with legal technology to maximize law firm efficiency, productivity, risk mitigation.
  • Applies forward-thinking expertise by leveraging data, integrating systems, and automating legal processes for its law firm clients.
Prefers the status quo and uncomfortable with change.

  • May be a certified eFiling Service Provider for some counties, but not all.
  • Has minimal or no legal technology expertise. Focuses more on service delivery than technology and automation for its clients.
  • Has minimal or no capability to leverage data, integrate systems or automate legal processes for its clients.

Now that you see some of the tell-tale differences between strategic vendors and transactional vendors, it’s time for a look closer at how these differences affect a law firm’s business strategy. Let’s examine each dimension in a little more detail.

Relationship (long-term vs. short term)

This is the easiest of the strategic characteristics to understand. A long-term strategic partner will want to provide turnkey solutions that improve efficiencies and reduce costs. As one example, a strategic vendor can add value beyond everyday litigation support service delivery by integrating its portal with the law firm’s system to push service expense data that makes client/expense reconciliation far easier and more accurate.

If you can’t imagine the litigation support services provider you currently have bringing this kind of value to the table, be sure to read about how Rapid Legal worked with a large lemon law firm to make this type of synergy a reality in the case study near the end of this article.

Not every potential strategic partner may be able to orchestrate a system-to-system integration; and that scale of operation may not make sense for every strategic business relationship. But that should not keep you from thinking of your litigation support services provider as a partner who can offer strategic solutions like automated workflows or pulling/pushing data for report generation or expense reconciliation. In some cases, their strategic support may be as simple as providing an expert review service for your court filing to maximize court acceptance of your documents or helping you with an additional court service like document retrieval or courtesy copy delivery.

Do you want to test whether a litigation support services provider is strategic partner material? Ask yourself whether the vendor is consultative and seems willing to work for the mutual benefit of both sides. If the vendor seems focused only on order fulfillment, they’re probably not.

Accountability and Performance

There is no substitute for data when it comes to measuring performance, and few things keep business partners accountable to each other like objective data that both sides can compare. Whether it’s days and hours associated with turnaround time, dollars and cents in receivables and payables, or filing acceptance rates by the court, the most important measures of success or failure should be transparently shared between partners.

What sorts of data should law firms look for? Here are three that every firm can use as a barometer of performance for their provider and themselves from Table 1:

  • eFiling Turnaround Times
  • Serve Success Rates
  • User Behavior and Order Data

While those three measures can provide a high-level view of performance, there are more granular types of data that can elevate a law firm’s performance. Among the data sets a strategic partner can provide to help steer operational success are:

  • Type of orders placed
  • eFiling orders by county
  • Service of process orders by service level and pricing zone
  • Number of documents served (by days elapsed)
  • Proofs of service returned (by days elapsed)

Few law firms have the staff and resources to pull together data of this scale and type. Firms that do business without such data risk having an unclear picture of their own performance. Furthermore, a firm that operates without this information can only guess at the level of performance its litigation support services provider delivers.

That is why it is essential to have access to these data sets at regular intervals—monthly and/or quarterly. Doing so keeps the strategic partnership strong by proving the provider’s performance to the law firm and proving the value of the law firm to the provider.

But big picture accountability is about more than just hard data. It’s also about who has your back.

When things go wrong it’s critical to have access to someone inside the provider’s organization who can address your concerns. It’s never a good sign when a vendor responds to your problems with silence or indifference. Seeing first-hand how a potential partner responds to a problem is the best barometer to discover whether a provider will be responsive to your needs or let you twist in the wind.

Fortunately, you don’t need to wait for a bona fide crisis to find out whether your provider is strategic partner material. The simple solution is to “ask around.”

Actively reach out to other firms to investigate the vendor’s track record and find out what their experience has been. Reaching out to your personal and professional networks may also bring you important perspective from people who have worked hands-on with a provider.

Make this inquiry even more complete by asking the provider for their performance metric reports.

Innovation

All law firms seek a competitive advantage. But it’s almost a sure bet that trying to gain that advantage from a vendor that follows the crowd will lead to disappointment. The best way to get that advantage, and to think differently about how a litigation support services provider can improve your strategic position, is to partner with one that is an innovator.

A partner that is an innovator will help provide a law firm first-to-market access that keeps you ahead of your competitors. Perhaps the best example of this is law firms that use court eFiling. It’s critical for these firms to have access to the greatest number of courts where eFiling is accepted–and not all litigation support service providers offer that.

Some providers will offer eFiling in just a few courts while others may offer it in many courts, or even most courts. However, a litigation support service provider that has the right stuff to be your strategic partner will provide electronic filing in every court where eFiling is allowed.

That may sound like a high bar, but it’s one that a true innovator meets by creating a proprietary file + serve technology platform that provides this level of access to its partners.

It is also the gold standard that other litigation support service providers continually chase.

CASE STUDY

Thinking Differently to Improve Cost Control and Gain Efficiencies

The good news for a Los Angeles-based, lemon law firm, was that the firm was experiencing record growth. The bad news was that hundreds of invoices suddenly washed in each day, choking the firm’s ability to accurately track, reconcile, and account for the fees and expenses that would be reimbursed at the conclusion of each case.

The overwhelming amount of manual effort required to manage these expenses also invited a significant risk of human error in tracking and reconciling them. And, without automated cost controls and visibility, the law firm was running the risk of not properly associating vendor expenses with fee motions in cases.

The solution: Think differently.

To cope with the situation the law firm looked to its litigation support services provider, Rapid Legal, as a strategic ally. It asked its provider to help find a way out and Rapid Legal welcomed the opportunity.

Drawing on its deep domain experience and industry expertise, Rapid Legal found common ground with the lemon law firm that was key to the solution: Both organizations used Salesforce.

Rapid Legal and the law firm quickly joined forces to implement a Salesforce-to-Salesforce integration. The scope of the operation entailed transferring Rapid Legal order and payment details daily from its Salesforce instance to the law firm’s own Salesforce system.

The law firm’s chief financial officer (CFO) explained the importance of Rapid Legal’s solution.

“It allowed the data and records to be automatically deposited into the firm’s system seamlessly,” the CFO says. He explains that the firm also set up a dashboard in Salesforce that provides the staff with insights into the various litigation services and related expenses.

“I used to have the equivalent of one full-time employee reconciling invoices and expenses for fee motions,” the CFO says. “Now, however, our law firm is nearly in a position to reallocate those resources to activities that will deliver greater value to the firm and its clients.”

Positive change from the inside

If what you and your litigation support services provider are doing right now isn’t strengthening your law firm’s competitive position, it’s time to start thinking differently about how to make that happen. Instead of trying to boost the bottom line by simply taking more cases, there are ways to strengthen your financial footing from within the firm.

This important change in mindset begins by questioning the status quo. Here are a few questions you can ask to get that process started, and help you change the way you see and use your litigation support services provider:

  • Can this vendor help me improve my cash flow?
  • How can this vendor help me track the firm’s performance?
  • Can this vendor show the firm where it’s losing money?
  • Can this vendor show the firm where it’s saving money?
  • What can this vendor do to help me manage change?

Perception is everything

“Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.” This statement from best-selling author, Wayne W. Dyer, EdD, challenges us to see the full potential in the tools, processes, and people around us. It is also instructive at a time when technology is driving transformation throughout the legal profession, and worth keeping in mind as you continue to look for a competitive edge.

Change is happening throughout the courts and legal profession, but change creates an ideal environment in which to think differently about how law firms and their litigation support providers influence each other’s growth. Make sure you’re prepared to thrive in that environment with clarity about your partners, your technology, and your firm’s position in the market.

And, whatever you do, don’t be Kodak.

A consultation with a Rapid Legal account executive will change the way you look at litigation support service providers today. Book a demo or schedule a call now. https://calendly.com/rapidlegal