Inside counsel explore the benefits and challenges of a matter management system

Steven M. Greenspan of United Technologies Corporation and Frank Orzo of Mitratech Holdings, Inc. break down the usefulness of a matter management system

Frank Orzo, vice president, Mitratech Holdings, Inc.: “Steven, thanks for taking time to share your thoughts and ideas about the benefits of a matter management system for stakeholder collaboration, and the challenges United Technologies faced implementing and maintaining such a system. Let’s start by asking you: What have been the main benefits that UTC has received from using a matter management system?”

Steven M. Greenspan, vice president and chief litigation counsel, United Technologies Corporation: “There are two primary benefits. The first relates to improved communication between us and our outside counsel. The many outside firms who collaborate with us really became partners with us because they view our matter management system as the electronic file. It enables us to track and manage the case from a scheduling, procedural and administrative perspective, both historically and prospectively. It also allows us to manage the strategic aspects of the case to understand what is happening substantively, and to capture in one place the factual and legal issues involved in a matter. It enables me to have a single access point to obtain information and documents. I rely on it daily: Before I have a meeting, I brief myself by going to the matter management system and I am able to quickly understand where the case has been, where it is now, and where it is going.

The second benefit, and this is really important for UTC, is that we have hundreds of lawyers worldwide, and it is unusual that the same lawyer is responsible for the matter from birth to grave. Therefore, in order to ensure a smooth transition as our lawyers rotate through the legal department, our matter management system is vital. When a new person comes in, he or she can be up to speed very quickly because the matter management system shows where a case has been, the current status and where it’s going. So those are the two primary reasons why our in-house legal department cannot function effectively without a comprehensive and user-friendly matter management system.”

Orzo: “Those are certainly two excellent benefits. You mentioned your matter management system helps you strategically. Can you elaborate on that?”

Greenspan: “Sure. First, it is a strategic benefit for the individual case, especially in litigation. With people changing roles and with the pace of litigation, sometimes strategic ideas are lost in memory. If there’s a good case evaluation that’s uploaded at the beginning of a case into the matter management system, then all of the notes and comments and all the decisions about timing are in one place to aid in planning the strategy of the case. Secondly, we have a lot of cases that are across different businesses with similar issues. It’s very easy for us using the matter management system’s search functions to look for information to learn from one case to help in another. So it’s helped us a lot in some of our asbestos and certain product liability matters to have all the information about different cases available in one source.”

Orzo: “That’s makes sense. Moving on, what challenges do you see in implementing such a system for new users or sustaining such a system for current users?”

Greenspan: “I’m going to take that in reverse; I think once a system like ours is implemented, sustaining it has proven to be very easy. Internally, once people see how helpful it can be, and that it’s not a burden and it’s user-friendly, we’ve had nothing other than isolated or no issues internally with folks not wanting to use it and not seeing its functionality. And same for outside counsel: Once outside counsel sees that it helps them communicate better with us, and once outside counsel sees that it also can be a very effective case management tool, outside counsel have embraced it. And I realize outside counsel are going to do anything that we want them to do — if it makes us happy, they’ll do it. But I do think they realize that it is a very useful tool, so to me sustainability is really not a challenge, or at least for us it hasn’t been.

Implementation is a challenge. It’s a challenge because you can’t automatically convince people there’s a better way of doing old things. People perceive that it’s going to create additional work, or they believe they communicate well enough anyway. It’s a challenge because there is an initial investment of money. It’s a challenge because outside law firms — at least initially — balk a little bit and they don’t really want to have to do any more than otherwise required to do. I believe that the key is not to try to launch until you know exactly what it is you need and how the matter management system is going to address those needs and make it easier for your in-house lawyers and your outside lawyers to do their job. If you launch too early without a real concept and without a real strategic idea of how you’re going to use the product, I think it can fail.”

Orzo: “That is an excellent point. It has been our experience that sometimes a general counsel will recognize they’ve got a problem and say, ‘Well, let’s get a matter management system.’ They buy it thinking it’s going to be the magic elixir, and they just have to turn on a switch and their problem is solved. To quote Yogi Berra, ‘If you don’t know where you want to go, you’re never going to get there.’”

Greenspan: “Yogi had it right. My advice to any company considering implementing a matter management system would be: Even if you think you need it, start with a bottom-up approach. Talk to the line lawyers that manage your matters and get them involved in the selection process of the matter management product, and in the development process of what the product is going to look like, because if you get buy-in, then you will achieve success on implementation.”

Orzo: “We are singing from the same hymnal!”

Greenspan: “Believe me, any time we’ve launched something new, if we go to the junior lawyers that deal with it every day who are out in the field and we say, ‘Here’s our idea, is this really a problem, if you agree it’s a problem, we need your help to develop a solution.’ Then, you get buy-in and the entire team is part of the solution. It really helps; you get good ideas and you get buy-in, and then support.”

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Orzo: “Okay, another thought that I wanted to hear your ideas on was just a general overview of the system from a high-level workflow point of view. When does an event or activity first become an entry in the matter management system; when do other stakeholders get involved, and so forth.”

Greenspan: “Well, for us the matter management system is at the center, because before we can do anything with the matter, before we can hire outside counsel, before we could spend a penny on the matter at all we have to have a Lawtrac number. So across all disciplines we are centered on our matter management system, so if today we get a claim letter, or if today we get a phone call from one of our business people saying they want to enter into a lease agreement or buy a company or pursue a trademark question, whatever it is, an immigration issue, we start with a matter management number and we assign a professional, an in-house lawyer, to the matter and everything starts from the matter being opened. It’s part of our culture; we cannot do any legal work on any matter without starting a new file within the matter management system.”

Orzo: “Okay, good. Let’s say that claim does come in from a disgruntled customer, or you are thinking about an acquisition, who opens the matter? Is it a paralegal, is it the attorney themselves, who starts that process?”

Greenspan: “The lawyer gives a direction to an administrative assistant or a legal assistant to open a matter and provides an initial set of information: a brief description of the matter, the team members, not only the professional in charge but everyone else on the team, and then slowly add information to it.”

Orzo: “That is certainly straightforward. Finally, can you please speak of the benefits that you have seen the business partners and outside counsel receive?”

Greenspan: “The business people do not access the matter management system directly, but when they want information, the status of a matter, related documents, copies of contracts, anything at all, our business unit lawyers go to our matter management system to get the information, and when we prepare our reports the source of our information for our internal litigation and claims reporting is our matter management system.”

From an outside counsel perspective, our collaborating lawyers and many firms understand that the matter management has value, not just because we like it, but because it actually can be helpful to manage the matter in a more efficient way.”

Orzo: “In conclusion, is there anything you would like to add that you haven’t already covered?”

Greenspan: “My only other comment is that we have learned that the time and effort we initially invested in our system, coupled with the ongoing care to maintain its accuracy on an ongoing basis, continues to pay dividends beyond our expectations. The best evidence of this is when UTC recently issued a corporate-wide directive to reduce expenses, the law department was excluded from taking any specific action related to this directive because our department had consistently demonstrated an increase in value delivered to the corporation without a comparable growth in expenses. We could not have accomplished this without our matter management system.”

Steven M. Greenspan

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Frank Orzo

As Vice President of Lawtrac, Mr. Orzo acts as the primary account manager for Mitratech’s Lawtrac client base. Co-developer of the original Lawtrac Law Department...

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