Universities and colleges have a unique set of needs for legal operations
No legal practice is exactly like that of a college or university legal department. No matter what type of educational institution you serve, you know that your legal department faces a variety of issues that are unique to higher education, and sometimes even to your institution. You may deal with some of the same issues that other legal departments handle, including contracts and litigation. But a university or college legal department may also address matters relating to campus safety, diversity, athletics, Title IX and fundraising. It’s not easy to stay in compliance with the ever-growing body of laws and regulations that apply to higher education.
Adding to the challenge is the variety of groups and individuals that your legal department serves. Your clients may include every department at the school and multiple campuses. You handle legal matters relating to presidents, chancellors, regents, trustees, board members, deans, department heads, administrators, faculty, staff, students, parents and alumni.
With such a long list of issues and so much variability and diversity, how can you keep it all straight? A flexible legal operations system can make all the difference. Learn how to implement matter management software in your university or college legal department to help organize and streamline your workflow and information.
Step 1: Figure out what matters
To design an effective legal operations system, you first want to talk to all of the attorneys and staff to find out what issues and matters your legal department handles. While most college and university legal departments track many similar types of matters, no two institutions are the same. While it’s fine to look to other institutions for inspiration, you only need to track and manage what matters to your school.
By starting with a comprehensive list of matter and case types, you will be less likely to miss something important and more likely to see groupings of topics, which will help you organize long lists into more manageable chunks. For example, contracts could be subcategorized as vendor contracts, employment contracts and real estate contracts.
Step 2: Identify hidden tools and processes
Your college or university legal department likely has “hidden factory” activities. These are the tools and processes that people use to get their jobs done that no one else in your department knows about. Hidden factory activities can be counterproductive to your goal of effectively and comprehensively managing all of the school’s issues and matters.
In a college or university legal department, examples of hidden factory activities might be paper calendars, handwritten notes and reminders on an attorney’s phone. By identifying these activities, you can get a better understanding of how people work and what aspects of a legal operations system might be most beneficial to them.
Step 3: Dump the spreadsheet
Excel can be a helpful tool, but it has some serious shortcomings for a legal department to try to use as a legal operations tool. You’ll find three major issues. First, you can’t update a spreadsheet if someone else has it open. Second, a single Excel spreadsheet or workbook only provides a piece of the puzzle, as people often use multiple spreadsheets to track the details of different matters. Third, it’s difficult to link documents and other items using an Excel file.
To stay organized, you need to end your legal department’s reliance on Excel. You need a collaborative, multi-user system that efficiently handles matters, documents, email, deadlines and data management—with easy exports to Excel. This gives you complete, real-time information, with reports only a few clicks away.
Step 4: Put email in its place
It’s not uncommon for the college or university attorney or legal department administrator to receive 100-200 emails a day, and the nature and complexity of those emails vary. You can reply to some emails with quick advice, while others may be related to ongoing issues. Other emails may start out as uncertain in nature and escalate into larger issues.
When attorneys and staff manage and store email independently, important information and requests can get lost in any number of places, including Outlook folders, local/network drives or on printed pieces of paper.
To stay on track, you need a simple method that works directly with your email to quickly organize emails by matter. Important emails can then be accessed and searched from a location that’s easily shared with others, or kept private when appropriate.
The three university-tested ways to organize your emails in a matter management system include general advice, matter specific and items for review. You can also talk with your staff to develop other categories to better serve your needs.
Step 5: Know your budget
It’s important to know how much your legal department has spent or has reserved to spend on outside counsel fees, litigation costs and other expenses related to risk management. Look for a legal operations system that offers an expense tracking or e-billing component.
If you don’t need e-billing, keep in mind that some matter management systems cannot be implemented without this feature. Because it can be a complex and costly add-on if you don’t need it, be sure to select a solution that provides e-billing as an option, not a requirement.
Step 6: Consider what’s right for you
When looking for a college or university legal department matter management system, you should get exactly what you need, no more and no less. You want a system that meets all of your unique needs, without adding features you don’t need. You also need a legal operations system that is easy to use and learn. What you want is flexibility.
Legal Files Software offers this flexibility by providing the versatility of a custom-built software for case management and the affordability and user-friendly nature of a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) solution. Our team also provides the implementation, training and support services to help you make the most of your legal operations system.
When implementing a new legal operations system, we have one final piece of advice. Be consistent. By consistently using the new system, you will quickly become proficient in it, which will help your college or university legal department become more streamlined and organized.
For more information about legal operations for university and college legal departments, visit Legal Files at the 2018 NACUA Annual Conference in Minneapolis from June 24-27.