Self-service legal: Give the people what they want

You don't want to “run the meter” every time you have a simple question that the firm has already answered a thousand times

In last month's column, I wrote about how some law departments are leveraging technology to create “self-service legal” programs. By developing expert systems that allow businesspeople to get input from legal without actually interacting with any lawyers, these departments have been able to minimize cycle time and move on to higher-value work.

This month, we explore another angle in the self-service legal trend, this one provided by a law firm. On July 1, Cooley LLP launched Cooley GO, a resource center for entrepreneurs, described in a press release as “a mobile-friendly microsite that provides a wide range of free legal and business content covering formation, financing, building a team, working with directors and advisors, intellectual property, M&A, IPOs and more.”

In a nutshell, Cooley GO is a free resource that enables a level of “self-service legal” for entrepreneurs and other businesspeople. The tool is designed to answer common questions and to help create key documents, minimizing the need for contact with (and hourly fees from) outside counsel.

“We want to engage with amazing companies even before they are amazing, which means we have to engage with a lot of them,” says Peter Werner, partner at Cooley and one of Cooley GO's curators. “We built Cooley GO to allow us to support entrepreneurs. It's about making an investment that allows us to provide world-class service efficiently, and cement a position as primary counsel.”

Cooley clients (and non-clients, since Cooley GO is open to all) can reduce their costs by leveraging the tools and information provided on the microsite. These assets are divided into three main areas: documents, guidance and trends.

Documents: Cooley GO Docs includes sample documents and a document generator that allows companies to build their own “battle-tested” documents, based on Cooley's experience forming thousands of companies. In many cases, the entrepreneur will need some advice from counsel, but that is typically limited to only a few key issues rather than the whole document. Cooley GO Docs was built using the latest version of Business Integrity's Contract Express. “Our partnership with Business Integrity is great example of how our technology partners can develop value-added services. They’ve been very flexible and created a tool for our clients to easily create form documents,” says Werner.

Guidance: The Guidance section is akin to an FAQ, with short articles and videos on topics ranging from “Choosing and Entity Type” to “Tips for Building the Perfect Pitch Deck” to “Getting Ready for an M&A Exit.” Again, the idea is to provide clients with most of the information they need, leaving consultations with attorneys for only specific or complicated issues. “We focused on creating short, approachable answers to the top 100 or so questions we get from clients,” says Werner.

Trends: Cooley GO's Trends section is still a work in progress. At the present time, it simply contains some of the survey reports the firm already publishes. The plans, however, are to make the section much more flexible, allowing users to run their own granular reports that are most useful to them, for example using data only from a subset of deals in their industry and geography.

The business people in your company have a disdain for the expense and inefficiency of calling the law department for every little thing and so should you. You don't want to “run the meter” every time you have a simple question that the firm has already answered a thousand times. Whether you are a Cooley client (and again, Cooley GO is free for you to use either way), its time to start insisting that your firms find more efficient, and less expensive ways to deliver service to you.

Brad Blickstein

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