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Made to measure

Clients increasingly need combinations of resourcing and technology to address specific needs. Our Advanced delivery suite is designed to give them just that.

In recent years, A&O has significantly expanded the ways in which it delivers services to clients – because that’s what our clients tell us they want.

They face unrelenting pressure to deliver the legal function into their companies for lower cost and less risk, but ever-higher quality. This pressure has increased since the financial crisis and with a changing regulatory landscape. Their response has been to become much more imaginative in shaping solutions, which has taken them into more agile resourcing and greater use of technology.

A&O has also responded, with initiatives such as Peerpoint, our Legal Services Centre (LSC) in Belfast, our Project Management Office (PMO), aosphere and our Online Services. They enable us to design combinations of resourcing and technology unique to clients’ specific needs – and on occasion lead the world in dealing with a new challenge (see page 49). In 2016, the Advanced delivery project brought these five services under a single banner and gave A&O a unique proposition and, in essence, a new way of working.

Jonathan Brayne, partner and head of A&O’s Innovation Panel, said Advanced delivery addresses the ‘unbundling’ of tasks that has become a dominant feature of client work: breaking up a deal, dispute or project into its constituent parts and working out the most efficient, balanced way of completing them.

He said Advanced delivery enables us to tell clients we have a toolkit of different types of resourcing and technology matched to their needs. As important, “we can pick and choose from that menu of options to create solutions tailored to a specific challenge they bring us”.

“This is an exciting area,” he said. “We’re the only major law firm to have wholeheartedly embraced this way of working and worked out how to fit the pieces together to create a comprehensive toolkit of compatible and complementary parts.

“Our aim is to make Advanced delivery an integrated part of what A&O does, not some separate, standalone unit. It will be at the heart of our proposition to clients; we’re using it as a differentiator in developing our client relationships.

“A lot of exciting client solutions are being developed off the back of that.”

The integrated skills of the LSC, Online Services and Peerpoint were called on in a recent corporate reorganisation. The LSC supervised a review of 20,000 contracts, Online Services created a full document using our ‘Collaborate’ platform and Peerpoint consultants handled client-side project management across 30 countries. As a result, A&O was able to provide the client with data through a transparent, disciplined, cost-effective process, and meet the client’s interim staffing needs promptly.

Beyond providing services

Jonathan said it goes beyond simply providing services. With the Advanced delivery toolkit, A&O has professionalised every task, applied technology in smart ways, and brought our expertise and standards to every challenge.

Take project management: though not new, alongside the demand for ever-tighter control of deals that themselves are increasingly complex, it has evolved as a distinct discipline, said Ranjit Nahal, head of Legal Project Management.

So have the legal support services offered by our LSC in Belfast, said its head, Jane Townsend.

Ranjit said clients expect tighter control of schedules and budgets. Many partners are finding it valuable having a legal project manager (LPM) who manages the finances of the matter throughout and coordinates work on our most complex matters.

“Clients are getting more global in nature and want their legal advisers to reflect that,” she said. “This is A&O’s ‘sweet spot’. We have lots of multi-jurisdictional matters that complement our network. Managing them doesn’t need a lawyer.

“Dedicated legal project management is great for transparency. And sometimes, on non-legal queries, clients don’t necessarily want to speak to a lawyer.”

Jane agreed. It’s about having the right resources for the job, she said.

Jonathan said the traditional approach, where partners and their teams handle all parts of a deal from their own resources, creates the risk that overqualified people do work someone else is trained to do, such as reviewing documents or extracting details.

“Advanced delivery enables us to allocate tasks to the most appropriate resource, human or technological,” he said. “What it means is a trainee or junior associate is freed up to concentrate on parts of the deal that do require that person’s expertise. If the task doesn’t require that, we’re geared up to handle it in a way that reduces cost while maintaining quality of output for our client and quality of work for our lawyers.

“We have people in the LSC who are experts at certain things – document review, for example. They do it more methodically, rigorously, and at a lower cost than a hastily assembled team of trainees or junior associates in London.”

Jane said the LSC team comprises A&O-trained lawyers and legal professionals, people who are familiar with A&O documentation and processes, and who work to a very high standard, as you would expect of specialists. Her team in Belfast specialises in the document-based elements of large matters. Additionally, whereas an A&O associate might do only one or two massive litigation claims in his or her career, “here we have senior associates doing that volume each year, managing a team that includes LPOs,” she added.

Leading technology capabilities

The LSC team makes good use of the leading technology capabilities developed by our Online Services team, led by Mark Dibble and Vince Neicho, who heads our Litigation Technology team. The main tools, Collaborate and Caseroom, are indispensable in the age of ‘big data’; Collaborate for managing big transactions and Caseroom for searching, analysing and reviewing client and third-party data, mainly in the context of disputes and investigations.

This technology proved its worth in a successful early case assessment (ECA) of one million documents for a dual-language litigation. After third-party technology split the documents by language and reduced the number to 300,000, Caseroom’s ‘concept clustering’ technology further narrowed the set to 40,000 key documents, ready for LSC review. The resulting preliminary ECA enabled the client to decide quickly whether to fight the case, based on an early grasp of its merits, and thereby avoid unnecessary costs.

Collaborate helped A&O complete a 74-country jurisdictional legal survey with its milestone tracking, communication and data manipulation capabilities spread across local counsel, the LSC and lawyers in A&O’s Amsterdam office. Alongside updated knowledge, the outcome brought optimisation of cost and quality through global project discipline and client transparency.

Recently both tools have adopted a more visual user interface to make it easier to understand complex matters. For example, where data is presented as a map, the colours of different territories may change to signal changes in the level of risk or legal issues in those jurisdictions.

Mark sees this as “empowering lawyers to think creatively” around different kinds of engagement. “This is a real game changer,” he added.

Underlying challenges

Variable demand is an underlying challenge identified by Richard Punt, CEO of Peerpoint. Some variability is seasonal and, therefore, predictable. However, much is related to individual deals, investigations or situations – and therefore more challenging to address.

“Both clients and our own firm face fluctuations in demand – and as headcount has come under tighter control then access to top quality people on more of a real time basis is critical,” he said.

Peerpoint is helping both clients and A&O transition to a more agile approach to meeting peaks in activity. “With our model, you vary the resourcing with demand – you get senior, experienced people when you’re under pressure.”

It’s a scenario familiar to Jane: LSC lawyers are also regularly sent in to cover peaks in demand at the appropriate level.

Isn’t that stepping on the toes of Peerpoint? Not at all, she said. “We complement each other. Where Peerpoint typically has senior lawyers who would be deployed in ones and twos, we have more junior associates who can be deployed in threes and fours.”

Jane said speed is another, perhaps unexpected, benefit from deploying members of her LSC team on appropriate tasks. If 12 people could complete in one week a task that would take two people six weeks, anyone would prefer that option.

For Richard, Peerpoint is not just about clients – in fact its primary objective is to create new career pathways for lawyers.

“Clients aren’t the only ones looking for something new in the way legal services are delivered. Increasingly lawyers want the opportunity to take greater control of their careers – and Peerpoint is providing the platform to enable them to do so,” he said.

Driving growth

Richard said an attraction of variable capability is the ability to “drive growth when it comes, and manage costs on the downside when the business is quieter”.

In 2015, Peerpoint helped A&O grow part of its IP business in ways it could not otherwise have managed when consultants worked alongside members of a small but successful litigation team.

“We provided a significant number of people into that team of consultants,” Richard said. “We also identified a number of barristers positioned to work with that team.” Those additional people enabled the Litigation team to expand its business significantly.

“Very often consultants come with different sets of skills. They often have project and stakeholder management experience that tends to be greater than that of the associates they sit beside. That balance of skills with experience has proven extremely valuable in a number of transactions,” he added.

Ranjit agreed. PMs in her department “naturally complement” the lawyers, bringing different skills to the table. “We’re there to make their lives easier. In that respect project management has really worked,” she added.

Building capabilities

The different capabilities in the Advanced delivery toolkit have been built up mainly over the last four to five years, but some – aosphere for example – have been in development and use for ten years or more. PMO, on the other hand, was set up as a separate department only in May 2015.

“The starting point for all of this is the clients,” said Jonathan. “Our Advanced delivery tools were very much a response to challenges our clients face. What’s clear is that this capability has real resonance with clients.”

Advanced delivery is contributing significantly to A&O’s top and bottom line, giving us a competitive advantage in winning work – often work we wouldn’t previously have won. It will also take us places that our traditional practice doesn’t necessarily engage with.

Recognising a need for cost-effective small and medium-scale M&A, A&O has worked with the LSC to develop a ‘bolt on’ package. The LSC carries out due diligence, document drafting and post-completion work, and A&O handles term sheet, document negotiation and signing, resulting in a process that can deliver A&O quality at a competitive price.

Opening new markets

Advanced delivery also has the ability to open up new markets. One such is U.S. asset management, where aosphere’s products are in demand. CEO Marc-Henri Chamay said signing up clients who are new to A&O “allows us to develop and refresh the client base of the firm and create new relationships”.

aosphere helped solve a problem with cross-border data transfer compliance involving 60 countries by replacing the client’s inefficient proprietary legal survey with aosphere’s shared, industry-standard online subscription service. The client benefited from updated information, lower risk and a low, fixed cost.

“The need for our tools is recurring, so clients will use them regularly, giving them exposure to A&O on a regular basis,” said Marc-Henri. “Over time, we hope they’ll reach out for A&O when they have a more complex or specific need – because they already have a relationship with the firm through aosphere.”

Of all the Advanced delivery capabilities, the element that is most strikingly different is aosphere. It makes A&O the world leader in that kind of subscription-based applied law. “We’re like Sky Sports,” said Marc-Henri. “One product, many users.”

Marc-Henri said aosphere tends to work for in-house and compliance teams in banks and asset management firms who are faced with recurring questions, for example what types of services or funds different jurisdictions around the world will allow them to market or sell. “Our clients can see instantly on our database what the rules are in different countries.”

As he sees it, aosphere has ridden the swell created by three main drivers: globalisation, regulatory complexity and cost-cutting. “The world has evolved past the point where individuals can survey regulatory complexity on their own, as they might have tried to do before the financial crisis, at considerable cost. Now, with pressure on cost, they look for a solution off the shelf,” he continued.

“Standardisation allows us to invest time, money and energy to create an incredibly sophisticated and comprehensive resource.”

Jonathan said aosphere is the least susceptible of the tools to wholesale integration into what A&O does generally. “It works for some clients, but isn’t on the whole a tool that you typically deploy as part of the deals and disputes we routinely work on.”

Benefits of experience

Marc-Henri has about 30 people on his team, including 21 lawyers – all of them women, all working flexibly, many from home. Included in this number are lawyers with 15-16 years of experience who might have been lost to A&O had this option not been available, and whose expertise greatly enhances the client benefit of the service.

Similarly, Peerpoint trades on the standard of its consultants. Richard said the service’s competitive advantage over other interim solution providers is the high level of skill, experience and quality of its consultants. This is attractive to the big financial institutions, where Peerpoint has so far made the majority of its placements.

Ranjit said the PMO is made up of skilled project managers who have each worked in the legal industry for a number of years, both within A&O and elsewhere. They understand managing a legal project is not akin to, for example, managing an IT project. They apply proportionate, ‘just enough’ project management to guide the work efficiently and effectively to conclusion, without being overly bureaucratic.

Jane said the LSC’s current strength of about 75 includes two levels of lawyer: associates with 6-10 years of post-qualified experience (PQE) and legal professionals who are law graduates but not necessarily qualified.

Another LSC resource is its pool of five PhD-qualified scientists whose knowledge of physics and molecular biology is invaluable in IP litigation, in industries such as pharmaceuticals. “Some claims revolve around disputes in relation to the science,” said Jane. “To understand documents and fight these claims, you need people who can follow the literature.”

Global footprint

And what of the future? Since its launch in 2013, Peerpoint has grown to about 130 London-based lawyers, with another 30 across Asia Pacific in Hong Kong, Tokyo and new offices in Singapore and Sydney.

Richard said expansion into Europe and the U.S., particularly New York, is under active consideration, as is broadening the range of skills Peerpoint offers to include other professional capabilities that would complement the legal skills.

Similarly, with the PMO, Ranjit said the intention is for it to expand beyond London and take on an international dimension to mirror A&O’s business, with hubs across the globe. That’s for the longer term. In the medium term, the PMO will continue to embed team members into each of A&O’s major practice groups.

Looking ahead, the PMO is developing a legal project management course to deliver to clients. “They face the same problems in their legal departments and it would be a great opportunity for us to add further value to our relationships,” she added.

For more information on Advanced delivery, click here.

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