BTI Consulting Group reports that corporate counsel have singled out Valorem Law Group as a “Mover & Shaker”–“firms disrupting the legal industry by make strategic and tactical moves others don’t.” We are honored to be singled out in this fashion. From our founding in 2008, we’ve led the move to the New Normal, been named as one of 22 firms “best at AFAs,” and regularly have been recognized by corporate counsel for our brand excellence and extraordinary client service. What sets this recognition apart, however, is its validation of our move earlier this year to create ElevateNext Law and align ourselves with Elevate Services. I wanted to spend a couple of paragraphs describing what prompted this major move by my Valorem partner, Nicole Auerbach, and me.
We have had extraordinary success in our Valorem life, representing clients that any firm of any size would love to have on their client roster. We have obtained great outcomes, and we have done these things with a commitment to redefining the way legal work should be performed. The one thing we could not do was scale, even as the need to scale became more and more obvious. While clients loved the way we would handle a case or two, we were not large enough or broad enough to be a true solution provider. While lawsuits were problems–small p, clients wanted to address the Problem–large P. The Problem was not just disputes, though to be sure lawsuits and other disputes are a symptom of the Problem. The Problem is the growing demand for legal services. That Problem requires a solution that no law firm was providing.
As many know, Jeff Carr spent time working with us at Valorem, and Jeff, Nicole and I had long-known Liam Brown, the Executive Chairman of Elevate. Liam was a fellow traveler. We decided to commit to each other to try to create what we envision is the future. Elevate is a large, global law company, and aligning with its resources gave us the ability to scale. Univar is a global chemical distribution company where Jeff is the general counsel. And so we spent many hours dissecting the Problem and analyzing solutions. The first thing we agreed upon was that a real solution, meaning a truly effective one, had to start from scratch, and had to blow up the conventional thinking that shackles the legal profession. We committed to start with a blank canvas, design something that would be effective, and commit to that as the Solution (large S).
We began with the proposition that the demand for services from virtually all corporate law departments is growing at a rate that departments cannot meet. We concluded that any solution had to reduce demand for law department services. With that premise, we agreed that part of the Solution is recognizing that the lines between law departments and business units need to blur, and that is a good thing. This is starting to happen in places, but the trend needs to accelerate. The right lawyers, supported with the right resources, embedded with business units help business units make better decisions upfront, lessening the back-end problems that make up much of the law departments’ day-to-day activity.
The second part of the Solution was recognizing that, from a design standpoint, there is no reason to care if a solution is delivered by outside or inside resources. One is simply a W-2 expense and the other a W-9. Whatever the issue, the most cost-effective solution should be utilized regardless of how that solution appears in an accounting ledger.
The third piece of the Solution was embracing fully the role of process and management discipline in the practice of law. Solutions (small s) can be designed and engineered, tracked, measured and verified. While outliers may occur, a well-designed solution, using the right processes, will yield the best possible results over time. Work must be managed in a way that accurately reflects risk.
Let’s use litigation as an example. Most companies face three levels of litigation: (1) material litigation, things that capture the attention of the Board and C-suite; (2) important litigation that is not existential; and (3) the rest, the dogs and cats. Too many outside lawyers fail to appreciate the difference and, as a result, litigate the cases in all three categories with the same level of fervor, the same “turn over every stone” or “boil the ocean to make a cup of tea” fervor. Clients pay dearly when that fervor is not squelched. And it exists in every area–Jeff Carr has relayed many stories of lawyers involved in simple asset acquisitions treating the transaction as if it were the acquisition of a multi-billion dollar public company. Investment must correlate to risk.
The final piece of the Solution is that technology must play a significant role over the long-term. Imagine a General Counsel with a dashboard that to the moment shows performance to budget, changes in the company’s risk profile, availability of resources for deployment and other items of interest. Imagine project managers ensuring people stay on task and on time, with technology allowing them to do so from “mission control.” Imagine “technology triage” that reviews and approves contracts that do not increase risk and meet defined parameters and escalates contracts outside the parameters to the right person for immediate action. And so much more.
With these as the bedrock principles, we launched this new model, beginning with Project UnivarNext. We all believe in this Solution. Jeff Carr committed Univar to it, and Elevate and ElevateNext also committed by taking a significant part of our compensation as a percentage of the amount we save Univar. The goal is our collective moonshot— 50% reduction in legal spend.This law firm + law company + law department Solution is the future, or at least an important part of it, as we see it.
This is, I believe, the “moving and shaking” that corporate counsel so kindly recognized. We are so thankful for that recognition and the opportunity to continue our gyrations through ElevateNext.