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LegalJuly 25, 2022

Legal Leaders Exchange: Planning for and managing the largest legal matters

For episode 11, the Legal Leaders Exchange podcast featured a conversation between Wolters Kluwer ELM Solutions’ Nathan Cemenska and Jennifer Phillips, the Associate Director of Legal Operations and Business Relationships at Novartis, on the topic of managing “megamatters.” Megamatters are very large matters that generate a high level of spend and sometimes represent high-stakes issues for the company. These matters present some challenges that more typical matters do not, which means that legal departments should be careful to ensure they are properly and proactively managed.

During the discussion, Jennifer shared her expertise in managing these matters and the risk associated with them. In this post, we cover some of the advice Jennifer has for listeners dealing with megamatters.

Be proactive

When you hear that a large or high-stakes matter might be coming up, start planning and preparing right away. By the time you are being sued or have received a notification from a government agency, you have missed an opportunity to help the organization get ready for the matter. One of the first steps to take when preparing is to select your outside counsel representation as early as possible.

This early stage before matter opening is also the point at which you should notify the relevant internal stakeholders who will need to plan for various aspects of the matter. Finance will probably need to do some planning. There may also be a need for IT involvement if you anticipate a discovery component. The more time you have to prepare, the fewer mistakes teams are likely to make.

Choose the right fee model

Use the data you have about your historical matters to understand what you can typically expect in a circumstance like the current one. Reporting can be very helpful in setting expectations about matter cost and planning a strategy to maximize value from your outside counsel. If you were able to get started early and engage a law firm, you can share historical data with them about how much and what type of work can be expected. This will help you agree to a pricing structure that is fair to you and the firm.

Jennifer recommends considering a flat fee or fixed fee by phase when appropriate. This necessitates scoping out your matter thoroughly and aligning on the expected cost of each phase, but it can provide valuable efficiency by eliminating hourly billing. Having one invoice for an entire matter phase simplifies the billing process for the firm and the review process for your team.

Communicate clearly with outside counsel

When they have a longstanding partnership with a law firm, in-house attorneys sometimes assume that they are on the same page about various aspects of a matter without articulating it. But it’s important to state the obvious, even when you have an established relationship with the firm. Be explicit about your goals for the matter and clear about your definition of success for outside counsel. Speak clearly about your expectations for timelines, communication, and other important components of the collaboration.

It is also important to document these expectations. It’s not unusual for key staff members on the in-house or law firm side to leave. If that happens, then any understanding that wasn’t in writing is lost.

To hear Jennifer and Nathan’s discussion in full, listen to Legal Leaders Exchange: How Novartis successfully deals with megamatters. If you are a podcast app user, be sure to follow our Legal Leaders Exchange show on your favorite app (Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcast, Amazon / Audible.com, iHeart Radio) to make sure that you don’t miss any of our informative episodes.

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