Depending on the type of technology you’re selling, the people you need to connect with inside a law firm will vary. For some vendors, the finance department is important, for others the library or research department, for others still the KM director, or the CTO, and so on. From the outside, it can be hard to determine who you should be speaking to or what the role is of the person with whom you’ve been communicating. How much connection to or influence do they really have on procurement decisions? What do they need from you that would actually push things forward internally?
In this Vendor Cheatsheet, the team at Legaltech Hub gives you a breakdown of the key roles in law firm procurement – who they are and what role they play during the buying process. Over the next few Vendor Cheatsheets, we will take the time to delve deeper into each of these roles to give more information and provide insight into how to manage the various stakeholders in procurement to ensure a smooth road towards execution and implementation.
Key roles include Innovation Manager, Director of Practice Innovation, Chief Innovation Officer
At firms large enough to have a separate department or function for Innovation (also called Practice Innovation), the leaders of that function are key decision-makers when it comes to technology that operates within or enhances legal workflows, and should be considered key stakeholders for most vendors.
Foundational technology is an exception to this rule. Innovation is not generally tasked with decision-making or procurement of the keep-the-lights on kind of technology that keep the administrative side of a legal organization humming (IT is the key decision-maker here). For foundational technology such as document management and timekeeping that involve lawyer workflows, however, innovation staff will be pulled into discussions and are still worth connecting with.
Knowledge Management (KM)
Key roles include Director of KM, Chief Knowledge Officer
Historically, much of the innovative work in law firms was led and managed by KM departments. In fact, innovation has evolved out of KM in many law firms, and the two functions are often linked under one department.
What does that mean for you?
Don’t treat KM as a secondary library function – it’s not. KM is often where much of the true innovation sits at a firm, and KM leaders are therefore strong decision-makers when it comes to procuring legal technology. In firms where there is no separate innovation function, KM should be your go-to (unless your solution is foundational technology or supports end users other than lawyers). Even where there is a separate innovation function, KM will often be a key stakeholder.
Though some vendors fear that centralized KM or innovation teams can stand in their way and hold up procurement, the reality is that a good KM or innovation leader will act as your biggest internal advocate.
Key roles include Director of Research Services, Library Manager
If a firm has a centralized research services function, any research or research-related solution will need to go through the research services team. Sometimes business intelligence tools will also fall to this function. This team is tasked with ensuring that every practice at a firm has the research resources it needs in order to operate at its best.
Unfortunately, research and library teams are frequently undervalued by law firm leadership. This results in pressure being put on research teams to keep research budgets flat, which often means that if they bring something new on board, they need to give up something else to compensate – thereby removing a resource from the lawyers.
The restrictions from firm leadership on research spend is in direct contrast to the needs of the lawyers, who want to feel they have every possible research resource at their fingertips when serving their clients.
The tension thus created for some research services groups does make it harder for them to proactively canvas for new solutions.
What does that mean for you?
If your solutions is research oriented, research services is a key relationship for you but the lawyers will be better drivers towards procurement and you will need to develop relationships there too.
Business Development / Marketing
Key roles include Director of Marketing, Chief Marketing Officer
In projects involving the procurement of technology supporting marketing teams or empowering business development at a law firm, business development will be a key stakeholder. Examples of such projects include CRM, experience management, anything to do with pitches and proposals, and the procurement of data sources to populate such systems.
Business development is rarely a sole stakeholder and IT will usually be critical in decision-making for these projects, along with other departments (such as KM for experience management, for example). Typically, business development professionals do not have the skills around technology selection that innovation and KM teams have, and so they will lean more heavily on IT to support a project and even select the right technology for the function.
Key roles include Chief Financial Officer, Director of Finance Applications
There are certain key projects – billing, invoicing, client intake, business intelligence platforms – where the finance department of a law firm will act as one of the key decision-makers in procurement. These can be difficult projects from the vendor side because, when finance is involved, they are rarely the only important stakeholder. For business intelligence projects, any number of other departments could be equally critical in decision-making, and for lawyer-facing finance projects the lawyers and law firm leadership must be involved as well as the finance department and, possibly, KM or innovation.
Similar to business development projects, finance does not have the skills to develop technology requirements and select technology platform that are fit-for-purpose, so IT leaders are important decision-makers in finance projects.
Other Business Units
Depending on the project, other business units might be stakeholders or even key decision-makers in relation to the procurement process. Talent or recruitment, for example, will be intrinsic to decision-making around the implementation of recruitment technology or work allocation systems. The diversity and inclusion team is relevant to procurement of any client-driven panel management solutions or tools allowing for the tracking and distribution of legal operations metrics.
Similar to projects involving finance or business development, these business units rarely have the expertise to develop requirements and decide on the right solution for internal needs. IT will always be instrumental in these projects, though the relevant business unit will drive the business case for investing financial and human resources in procuring and rolling out the new technology.
Key roles include Director of IT Applications, Chief Information Officer, Chief Technology Officer
Any technology investment by a law firm will ultimately come through the IT department at some stage. Many vendors make the mistake, however, of believing that the CIO is the most critical stakeholder in procurement decision-making for all technology decisions. This is not the case, though the CIO or CTO should certainly be treated as a critical stakeholder.
Unlike KM, Innovation and various other departmental stakeholders, the IT department often does not have the understanding of legal work that allows for decision-making around practice-specific or legal workflow technology. It is therefore common for projects involving that sort of technology to involve lawyer end-users and the KM or innovation teams as decision-makers, with IT pulled in for resourcing and implementation. A rule of thumb is to treat IT as more critical in those projects that involve foundational or administrative technology, or that are being driven by business functions at the firm that do not have the experience with technology to support decision-making around product-fit.
A relationship with the CIO is always a good thing. Just don’t treat it as the only relationship that’s important.
Partners and Lawyers
With any practice-facing technology, the temptation is to go straight to the lawyers to sell – both because they are the end-users, and because law firms are partnerships. The partners are part-owners of the business, so they must be decision-makers in purchase decisions, right?
Procurement decisions do not go through partners, though partners can be influential drivers.
There are a few pitfalls with selling to partners. It’s worth noting the following:
• Partners understand their own legal practice, so with research resources they will have a good sense of what is already available to their group and whether something new will be helpful or not – and they will likely act as advocates for getting a solution in if they think it will help them when giving advice to clients. This means that, for research solutions, having an open line with relevant lawyers is important.
• Partners rarely understand technology. They don’t know what the firm currently licenses, they have no sense of overlap between tools, and although they might think something looks cool when they see a demo, they don’t understand the complexities of requisite integrations, server requirements, resource lift, existing business plans, the firm’s attitude toward SAAS solutions etc.
• Partners usually recognize their deficiency in this area, so after seeing a demo, they will go straight to the people who do have the requisite expertise – IT, KM or innovation. Regardless of whether you approach them first or not, it is these decision-makers (not the lawyers) who will end up deciding whether to take a project forward and who will drive procurement processes.
• Some firms will blacklist vendors who go straight to the lawyers without first touching base with centralized teams in KM or innovation, because doing so can cause chaos and political turmoil for these teams internally.
Key advice: if you have a research product, touch base with the relevant partners, as well as research services. If you have a foundational technology solution, work with IT. If you have a practice technology solution, speak to KM and Innovation. A solid KM and Innovation team will bring relevant end users into the discussion and develop champions among them to support the business case for procurement.
Law Firm Leadership
Key roles include Managing Partner, Executive Director, Chief Operating Officer
Although law firm leaders such as managing partners, executive directors or COOs will rarely be visible during meetings around procurement in large law firms, they are key decision-makers for certain aspects of technology investment. Most often, the executive director (ED) or COO (a firm will usually have one or the other) oversees the budget for business expenditure and will therefore be called upon to provide approval for any significant technology investment.
In firms where there is a tight annual budgeting and business planning process, the ED or COO won’t necessarily need to be involved in each individual decision because budgets and projects for the year will have been approved prior to the start of the financial year.
Managing partners are less likely to be called in on budgeting decisions but may be involved in the selection or decision-making process for enterprise wide technology that impacts all lawyers, such as a new document management system.
In smaller firms, the managing partner or COO is more likely to play a key role in all decisions about new technology, not just for approving the budget but also deciding whether or not a project goes ahead and whether a particular investment is an appropriate strategic priority for the firm.
Key roles include Chief Security Officer, Director of Information Security
With cyber risk increasing every year, information security (infosec) will always play a key role in reviewing technology that a firm is considering procuring. Sometimes infosec is part of the IT department, but in some firms it’s a separate function.
Although infosec is not a decision-maker in that they will not be deciding which technology the firm should invest in, they may have veto power if a vendor is unable to provide relevant security certifications and standards.
This is typically a back-end function and it’s unlikely at most firms that you will have a direct relationship with professionals in infosec, but they are a critical part of the procurement process and understanding what you can do in advance to ensure a smooth run through the security review is important.
Ensuring you have all relevant information and certifications regularly updated and that you provide this information promptly upon request (or take the initiatives and forward it prior to the request being made) will help you with this stakeholder group.
General Counsel’s Office
Key roles include General Counsel, Deputy or Associate General Counsel
The general counsel or office of the general counsel (“OGC”), is only sporadically involved in procurement. The OGC manages risk, though in a less technical way than the information security team, and will therefore be brought in to discussions that require some decision-making around potential liability, for example. In some firms the OGC is active in procurement and has a mandate that includes review of most new technology solutions. In other firms, the OGC rarely touches decision-making around new technology.
Where a firm has created a subsidiary structure that sits outside the firm but is related to it, it can be confusing to understand who the decision-makers are. In this circumstance the key end users may not be the lawyers within the firm, but external clients or even other law firms.
The CEO or ED of the subsidiary will be a key decision-maker, and it’s likely you will also be dealing with a product manager who can provide you with information about use cases and end users. As all law firm subsidiaries are set up differently, with business models that vary from one to the other, the key here is to develop a relationship with the relevant project lead and ask enough questions to understand what you can do to make the procurement process easier.