In another sign of the changing times we are in, leading New York law firm Shearman & Sterling is formally launching a Legal Operations capability. The move follows fellow elite rival Cleary Gottlieb launching Cleary X, its innovation-focused legal delivery arm.
A decade ago many would not have expected New York’s top firms to be that bothered with anything other than high-end legal advisory and disputes work, but the legal world is evolving.
‘Legal Operations by Shearman’ will offer a range of services including legal tech help, data analytics, and inhouse department design, but may work with ALSPs and other groups when it comes to CLM onboarding, with these other providers handling actual implementation and with Shearman focused on the bigger legal ops picture.
While clients clearly do need assistance with these areas, one other reason given by Shearman for doing this is to help generate additional revenue from business support staff who are not traditionally fee-earning, yet have very valuable expertise that can be directly leveraged for the clients.
London-based Anthony Widdop, who has been at the firm for several years and joined from KPMG, will head the project as Global Director of Legal Operations. Meredith Williams-Range, CKO, and Lawrence Baxter, CTO, will also play leading roles (see pic below) in the new offering.
Widdop told Artificial Lawyer that they will also offer Acceler8, a special ‘hot housing’ capability where they will work with a client on specific challenges over a shortened time-span.
‘Ideally we’d have everyone in one room, and we will have subject matter experts [from Shearman] and an experienced facilitator,’ he explained. Widdop added that famed tech consultants Accenture have a similar model for helping clients rapidly focus on key issues.
There will also be a ‘Legal Operations in Your Pocket’ facility, which will be a subscription-based service where GCs can regularly tap experts at Shearman for legal ops-related advice.
Widdop noted that this launch has not happened overnight, and that the idea has evolved over several years. So far they’ve assembled around 40 partners, mostly in the US and UK, who will be engaging with clients on listening to their potential needs and looking out for trigger points that may drive legal ops demands. Meanwhile there are around 20 to 25 people in a variety of business support roles, mostly from the firm’s tech and ‘Client Value’ teams, who will play a key part in providing advice on legal ops areas, with this potentially growing in the future.
This site asked Widdop why they have done this and if there was a lightbulb moment?
Widdop said that although there were one or two events, such as clients needing the firm to work with ALSPs, that more broadly this had simply grown out of talking to clients who expressed a need for help.
The clients, Widdop explained, often could not get the solutions to their problems from existing providers, and given that Shearman has been helping clients with their business needs for decades it made sense to extend their services into legal ops and deploy some of their most experienced staff to meet these needs.
He added that for now they are focused on large, multinational companies, although not the global giants, in terms of providing their legal ops services. They are also very open to working with ALSPs and others to help provide a broader service to clients.
Widdop reiterated that often their legal ops services may be needed when there is a trigger event, such as a company having a new GC or new management team, or there has been a merger, or perhaps that company’s core sector has been impacted by a major new regulatory change.
Overall, the idea is to provide a joined-up offering, where legal ops and data analysis help (which stems from a successful internal legal data analysis project), is given alongside their main legal services, plus they will be open to working with others, such as ALSPs and the Big Four when needed.
All in all this is an important development for the market. Offering legal ops help is perhaps not that new to some law firms, but as noted, New York’s top firms have long been seen as relatively immune to the changes going on around them in the rest of the legal world. Now, with this and also Cleary’s recent moves, we are starting to see the ‘top of the global legal market pyramid’ changing as well. And that’s good to see…!