Smaller Legal Departments can be 'Value Champions' too!
The latest ACC 'Value Champion' creates significant value in a small legal department under the leadership of a new General Counsel. Suburban Propane partnered with Questel on a consolidated approach to legal spend management and customized workflows to become an ACC 'Value Champion'.
Suburban Propane is a leader in distributing and marketing propane and other fuels to over a million customers in the United States.
Under the leadership of a new GC in 2019, the Suburban legal team embarked on a journey to examine its legal operations, processes, technology, staffing, overall culture and mindset to target key strategic opportunities where improvements or efficiencies would help transform its operations and the overall effectiveness of the company’s legal function. The transformation that occurred provides a powerful example of how a unified legal team with shared goals and the right partner can collaborate to benefit their stakeholders.
The partnership began several years ago when a new General Counsel joined Suburban Propane and determined that automating with an ELM system was a priority. Previously, all spend, vendor and matter management tasks and related reporting were managed manually with spreadsheets, email and PDFs.
Before working with Questel, Suburban Propane’s legal department confronted challenges in their day-to-day tasks and had limited visibility into the metrics that drive more strategic decisions.
The Suburban legal team relied upon numerous manual processes to perform vital tasks such as reviewing and processing invoices, budgets, accruals, AFAs, vendor/timekeeper management, litigation holds, matter status updates and related documents and reporting.
There was also a consensus that the legal coverage it provided clients and internal legal operations could be improved to increase efficiencies.
After several months of surveying, assessing and scrutinizing its legal coverage model, it was apparent that technology alone would not create the desired efficiencies. However, Suburban could now define their selected processes and outcomes with a partner.
Initial challenges included staffing. Thus, their General Counsel created a Manager of Legal Operations position, which role was assumed by their current Department Manager. Additional challenges included:
- Outdated Billing Guidelines (limited by old manual review process).
- No existing eBilling/matter management tools (or related reporting/analytics).
- Poor reporting/visibility into outside legal spend and associated financial metrics (budget/AFA compliance, matter staffing, spend by firm, practice group, matter, etc.).
- No automated vendor/timekeeper collaboration. Vendor onboarding and related timekeeper/rate requests and diversity capture were manual.
- Unknown unknowns. Going from a manual process to an automated platform typically inspires additional unknown process changes after going live as the team becomes familiar with what’s possible. The team wanted to partner with a vendor that could help them evolve best practices without incurring additional costs as workflows change.
Legal spend management was one of the initial priorities. This was the most extensive manual, inefficient process that affected every team member across every aspect of invoice processing (e.g., intake, review, approval, payment, reconciliation). To modernize this process, the team engaged in a rigorous RFP process to identify leading-edge software options to enable better legal spend management more efficiently. The team ultimately selected Ascent ELM by Questel. Despite COVID-19 and its impact on businesses, the team partnered with Questel to design, integrate and implement ASCENT and train all necessary personnel while both teams worked remotely from their homes.
Suburban’s newly appointed Legal Operations Manager was our point person during implementation, and she managed everything on her side with the backing of her GC. She and her team shared their well-defined goals and current processes, and the Business Analyst and Project Manager on ASCENT’s implementation team suggested best practices for each workflow along the way.
As a result, we could mirror and automate Suburban’s workflows in ASCENT, ensuring more discipline and better reporting downstream. Additionally, Suburban’s legal team, vendors and business constituents can now interact more efficiently with their colleagues in a single collaborative space.
Suburban’s “Journey to Innovation” touched every aspect of the legal team’s operations and impacted stakeholders internally and externally. They didn’t only need eBilling, matter management, legal holds, reporting and analytics, etc. They needed a comprehensive ELM system that covered all the bases AND a partner that could evolve with them going forward.
Better collaboration, reduced spending, less manual work/time savings and greater visibility are the “Bottom Line” benefits of this partnership. We’re honored that we played a small role in helping the Suburban Team earn this prestigious 'Value Champion' award from the ACC.
Standardizing and automating these various workflows on a single collaborative platform provides Suburban’s legal department with a single source of truth for all financial and matter-related metrics. But that’s just the start of our journey. Along the way, we addressed all of the team’s initial goals, including:
- Enhancing collaboration and timely service to business constituents via ASCENT’s SmartLink integration with Microsoft Outlook.
- Enforcing updated billing guidelines using ASCENT’s Rules Engine to streamline invoice review and capture additional savings.
- Using ASCENT’s reporting tools and SmartView Analytics Dashboards to provide visibility into outside legal spend and matter status. Benchmark Timekeeper Rates now provide context for rate negotiations.
- Using ASCENT’s Legal Hold Management module to automate and track all holds, related notifications, escalations, and releases. Holds are linked to associated matters and documents in ASCENT.
- Automating vendor onboarding and timekeeper rate request workflows. Timekeeper D&I info can also be tracked now.
The Ascent ELM team supports the above and more without adding costs as the Suburban team grows and evolves. Two use cases in particular highlight why Suburban Propane is an ACC 'Value Champion':
- New Billing Guidelines and Fraud Detection – New billing guidelines were established for all external service providers submitting invoices for legal work on behalf of the company. The combination of ASCENT and new billing guidelines supported the legal team in identifying and thwarting an extensive billing fraud that one of its outside partners had attempted to perpetrate against the company, which would not have been as easily identified without ASCENT.
- Legal Spend Management – Since implementing Ascent ELM, the team has reduced paid outside professional service fees by ALMOST HALF (48%) over the past three years. Using Ascent ELM and other process improvements, the team significantly improved every aspect of their spend/matter management processes (e.g., price rigor, benchmarking and negotiation, AFAs, invoice review, budgeting/predictability, payment processing, and audit).
Our mutually beneficial partnership with Suburban Propane continues. ASCENT continues to roll out new features, and Suburban Propane’s goals continue to be refined. That evolution is reflected in new workflows and reports to deliver the results that help make Suburban Propane an ACC 'Value Champion'.
doeLEGAL, Inc., a Questel Company, provides innovative Legal Enterprise Management (“ELM”) software and Litigation Management (eDiscovery”) services to the Legal Community. Corporate legal departments choose Ascent ELM to streamline global legal operations, manage legal spending, and analyze all matter data. Ascent ELM provides visibility into all aspects of your legal operations with our fully integrated, configurable “SmartView” analytics dashboard. For more information, please reach out to our experts.