The Value Series: A Clarilegal Interview with Audrey Rubin
Nov. 11, 2020
By Cash Butler, founder of ClariLegal, and Jeff Kruse, President of Kruse Consulting and Dispute Resolution LLC
Cash Butler and I recently had the distinct pleasure of speaking with Audrey Rubin, a Senior Advisor in BarkerGilmore's advisory and coaching division. Audrey is also an Adjunct Professor at the University of Illinois College of Law where she teaches “The Changing Business of Law,” she serves on the faculty of the Legal Lean Sigma Institute LLC, and she is a groundbreaking legal and business leader.
360 Degree Perspective
Audrey has a complete perspective on the topic of value in the delivery of legal services. She has served in a variety of key and influential roles throughout her illustrious career. She was the Vice President and COO of Aon Corporation's Law and Compliance Department. Audrey also served as the General Counsel and Vice President of Legal and Human resources for three other global companies: Orbitz Worldwide, Inc., Grant Thornton, and Apollo Travel Services, an affiliate of United Airlines. In those roles, Audrey was a purchaser of legal services from law firms and vendors but was also a provider of legal services to the companies' internal business clients. Plus, Audrey has extensive experience delivering value as an outside provider of legal services. In her career, she has been the COO of two prominent law firms, Wildman, Harrold, Allen & Dixon LLP, and Butler, Rubin, Saltarelli & Boyd LLP.
Additionally, Audrey is one of the preeminent experts in legal operations consulting. She leverages her exceptional experience to provide legal operations advice to law firms and legal departments. She has advised multinational corporations and law firms of many sizes on Lean Six Sigma, continuous process improvement, and business operations. In her consulting work for law firms and legal departments, she has guided both the provider-side and the purchaser-side of the legal service industry on the importance of value in the provision of legal services. Through her roles as both an internal resource and an external consultant, Audrey has helped legal departments and the legal market evolve.
Innovative and Award-Winning
As proof of Audrey's innovative and pioneering initiative, in 2016, when she was the COO for Aon Corporation's Law Department, the department earned the Association of Corporate Counsel ACC Value Challenge Award. The department earned this prestigious award for its Strategic Improvement Project which involved Lean Six Sigma operations process design on billing and invoicing by outside law firms, partnering with the procurement department on the RFP process for legal matters, global rotation of legal department personnel and shifting shared legal services to lower-cost locations.
The Profession is a Business
For many years, Audrey has espoused the view that although “the practice of law is a profession to be sure, it is also a business.” In her experience, lawyers tend to be “conservative by nature and training and tend not to be entrepreneurial.” Because lawyers typically use words and not numbers as their tools, Audrey has found her value in helping people understand their data. She notes that “everything we do is a process and how to track and improve” to increase profitability, diversity, and inclusion, and business value.
Value and Alignment
Audrey firmly believes that legal service providers, whether internal providers inside a company or external like law firms or vendors, provide value to the highest level when they “do things as efficiently as possible in the most cost-effective way they can while sharing and achieving the clients' goals, even as those goals may change.” Audrey also believes that it is important for legal service providers to know why the client wants something done, and, what's more, why the client wants it done a certain way. Thus, the providers need “to almost become embedded in their clients' thinking” as the best way to deliver value.
To Audrey, “what separates the wheat from the chaff is when providers do things in a way and with a mindset to achieve all of the clients' best interests.” Audrey juxtaposes “the old days” with contemporary client expectations. In the past, a client would call a law firm with a matter, and the law firm attorneys on the other end of the call would just get to work. But now, clients have evolved and want providers who “understand all of the intricacies of what is happening and handle the matter to achieve the business goals – which may not be obvious -- successfully.” The providers need to invest “time up front” to understand the business objectives and concerns to avoid wasting time and effort on unnecessary activities that do not help the business clients achieve desired results.
As she puts it, “if you just jump right into a project, you are going to waste a lot of time.” In short, she says that you cannot provide value “if you just do it the same old way it has been done for years.” For Audrey, the value vendors provide is in “understanding the clients' business needs and helping the client meet them in the most cost-effective way.” She adds, “there are more goals than just cost-cutting or litigation wins. A valuable lawyer figures out what the client really wants from all perspectives.”
Audrey thinks law firms and other legal service providers should offer additional value to their clients. Specifically, Audrey mentioned that outside providers should undergo continuous process improvement training, possibly along with their clients. By way of example, Audrey explained that the Legal Lean Sigma Institute has the “Legal Workout” in which the Institute teach process improvement to a law firm and to its client at the same time, and contemporaneously apply those tools to a real problem shared by the law firm and law department. This Legal Workout process helps both the client and the firm work more efficiently and improve their internal and external processes. According to Audrey, the clients appreciate when the firms take the time and effort to engage in this type of “creative and innovative value add.”
Legal service providers can add value in other ways as well. For instance, if a law firm conducts an analysis and concludes that most slip and fall cases are coming from one store, they can notify that client that measures should be taken in that particular store to reduce the slip and fall risks. By becoming a “strategic partner” with the client, the firm should help their clients “see things they may not have seen” and by doing so, the providers “add real value by reducing exposure risk and solidify the law firm-client relationship. Providers, whether internal or external, can add value by identifying better ways of handling repeat activities. The example Audrey gives is responding to subpoenas. Service providers add value by finding ways to reduce the number of associates needed to review documents or by hiring technology companies like www.ClariLegal.com to do things more efficiently.
In short, Audrey says that providers can add value by helping clients “reduce risk and strategically partnering with them to achieve their true and frequently changing business goals.”
Proactive Feedback Sessions
Audrey is a big proponent of client feedback sessions. She distinguishes between true information-gathering feedback sessions and simple surveys that often do not generate actionable data. The feedback sessions she promotes are focused and disciplined. In those sessions, the clients and their providers sit together and explore differentiators like responsiveness, willingness to change directions midstream, willingness to partner with the client strategically to accomplish the goals efficiently, willingness to take to the time to explain complexities to the client, or other concerns determined by the client. The feedback sessions Audrey promotes demonstrate to the clients that the legal service providers are aligned with the business goals are willing to improve and truly care about client satisfaction.
Vendor and Law Firm Selection Criteria
Due to her experience as a law department and a law firm leader, Audrey has seen the vendor and provider selection process from all angles. In addition to the standard criteria of responsiveness, bench strength, knowledge, skill, expertise, and reputation, she has focused on the diversity of teams and on whether the providers “have an inclusive tone” meaning that they are “willing to listen and learn about the client's needs, work style, resources, and culture, in addition to the legal strategy. The best law firms and vendors invest time to communicate clearly and frequently, stay within budget, regularly explain a matter's challenges, and creatively solve problems to achieve results. She uses the analogy of a doctor who gets to know the patient versus a doctor who simply “tells us what we need.” The former doctor partners with the patient to achieve the patient's goals while the latter simply offers a diagnosis and an order. As she put it, “you can be the best third-party vendor in the world with the best technology, but if you don't partner with me, you are not very valuable to me.”
Teacher at Heart
In addition to teaching law school classes, Audrey also provides training to law firms and legal departments. She firmly believes that all lawyers need active listening training, unconscious bias training, and basic finance training. Lawyers need to have some financial acumen. They need to understand their key performance indicators and the basics of return on investment. They need to understand the costs associated with the delivery of the legal services, and they need to understand the importance of invoice write-offs. In Audrey's opinion, law firms and legal departments should mandate finance education and training to all of their employees so that everyone knows how they fit together in the bigger financial picture.
Change Management and Legal Operations
As a senior leader in several organizations, Audrey believes that strong leadership is key to the success of change management, continuous improvement, and legal operations in general. From her experience, “one leader at the top can make all the difference” when it comes to acceptance of change. Audrey adds that good leaders will make sure everyone knows why changes are occurring or why new technology is being implemented. To get alignment on projects, good leaders “show the data, or implement a test case to show the reasons behind the changes.” These types of proof can help persuade both lawyers and business people to embrace the change.
Advice for Vendors
Audrey is not shy about sharing advice for legal service vendors. She was quick to note that one of the biggest problems with some vendors was “lack of responsiveness – they were there to sell, and then they went quiet.” Many times, after earning the business, the vendors assigned an account representative to the work, but the account representative was not responsive or did not have the technical expertise to handle issues. Audrey advises vendors to make sure they assign people with the authority to make the decisions and corral the resources that clients need. As she put it, providers need “deep team knowledge and creative problem solving for the best client relations.”
Another problem with third-party vendors and law firms has been the tendency to over-promise and under-deliver. To avoid these issues, Audrey recommends that vendors and firms seize every opportunity to communicate openly with the client about problems, successes, extra needed steps, cost overruns, and how to address such challenges. As she says, “clients understand unforeseen issues and can modify their expectations or even their project plans when given honest information and suggestions about how to fix them.” Put simply, more and clear communication is better.
About the Authors
Jeff Kruse is President of Kruse Consulting and Dispute Resolution LLC where he consults with law firms and legal departments to help them operate more efficiently through technology implementation and Lean Six Sigma to improve their bottom lines. As a mediator, he also helps parties resolve high conflict disputes.
Cash Butler is the founder of ClariLegal A seasoned legal. technology innovator, Cash has over 18 years of experience in the legal vertical market, primarily working in eDiscovery, litigation & compliance. Cash is an expert in legal vendor, pricing and project management.
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Published by Legal Business World