Managing contracts and license agreements has always been a highly detail-oriented and complex process and the pace of innovation in law firm technology and new regulations such as GDPR have only made it more difficult to manage. Many of us likely had to learn on the job. If we were lucky, we had a peer group and/or mentors to offer advice but occasionally we also learned from our own mistakes. While there will always be unique considerations depending on the software or subscription content, experience has taught us that there are best practices are applicable to most situations.
As senior manager of the Library & Knowledge Information Systems group at Fish & Richardson, I oversee a group of research and information specialists providing advanced IP, legal and business intelligence research and legal analytics for the firm’s attorneys and legal support staff as well as the Marketing & Business Development, Conflicts, and Finance groups. To perform these services and support our internal clients’ direct research and reference needs, we manage more than 70 different resources. Most are specialized licensed research and/or analytics databases ranging from traditional legal research platforms like Westlaw and Lexis to newer AI-aided and analytics tools such as CARA Casetext and Docket Navigator. As an intellectual property boutique firm, we also license specialty tools focused on a variety of scientific research disciplines and other software for administrative needs.
Sounds overwhelming, right? I won’t lie, it certainly can be, not only due to the wide variety of needs and tools and content needed to fill them but also because everyone on my team, from research analysts to our systems staff play a critical role in acquiring, supporting and managing these resources. Some of our key challenges included:
- We had a process but needed to streamline and document what tasks and steps we needed throughout the process so that nothing fell through the cracks. For example, not missing an auto-renewal clause in a contract
- As the subject matter experts, our research and document retrieval staff needed to be involved in evaluating resources. Given their heavy request workload, we needed to make it easy for them to know what they needed to do and when, such as running test searches and ranking the results in resource comparison matrix
- With multiple people needing to be involved in different phases, we needed a better way to outline who was responsible for specific tasks and map timelines to track their progress. For example, making sure a resource was set up in our resource tracking software so we could capture usage metrics during a trial.
- We wanted to interface more efficiently with current and potential vendor-partners so as not to waste their time or ours. We already had a best practices document with a high-level overview of our budget timeline, who makes final decisions and specific information needed before scheduling demos or engaging in contract negotiations. It was due for a review to ensure that it was still helpful in setting expectations and saving time and effort for all involved.
Recognizing that these challenges were only going to increase as tools continued to evolve, we decided to take a step back to review and refine our process and procedures. So how did we do this and how might others learn from and adopt ideas from our experience to streamline their own processes?
We were already subscribers to Jinfo, a company focused on helping teams to “optimize their information sources, technology and value through practical content, community and consulting.” In addition to articles, reports and webinars on strategic planning, Jinfo offers community sessions and consulting services focused on helping teams put their content into practice in managing their information resources and licenses. We decided to use their consulting service to help us facilitate reviewing our current process and identify ways to optimize and improve our workflows. In addition to having an objective, outside part guide us through various exercises, this also helped us to stay on track and keep to a timeline for making strategic changes.
We worked with Robin Neidorf, Director of Research and Head of Consulting at Jinfo to review and re-engineer our current processes. This involved working through a variety of exercises such as:
- Identify our current resource management tasks by SOAPDS; for example, what we could Streamline, Outsource, Automate, Push Back On or Stop Doing
- Map where these tasks fell in terms of value impact (high or low) and level of difficulty (easy or hard)
This helped us to define specific phases of the resource management lifecycle. Next we worked to refine the “recipes” of what (tasks and checklists) and who (which staff) were needed to ensure each phase was completed successfully. For example, one key takeaway was coming up thinking strategically about whether to consider a resource let alone take the time to evaluate it. Rather than immediately scheduling a demo or starting a trial based only on vendor outreach or an attorney request, we now take the time clearly define the need or problem(s) we’re trying to solve. We then develop a vision statement based on that along with a clear set of requirements we can share with vendors in advance. This helps us to determine if a specific resource has the potential to meet our need and is worth further evaluation.
We also developed the following framework divided into two key phases with related sub-phases and tasks for managing resources throughout their full lifecycle:
- The Evaluation Phase includes Initiate, Prep & Plan, Evaluate and Decide & Acquire.
- The Launch & Maintain Phase covers Usage Tracking, Record Keeping, Access, Training, Communication, Invoice Management, Trouble-Shooting and Sun-setting.
These phases us to streamline and organize the many tasks involved in considering, evaluating, and managing the Fish’s research resources and software. They can also be easily adapted; for example, a straightforward renewal agreement of an existing resource would only need some of these phases while all would help to guide a more complex evaluation of multiple resources to see which one(s) fit best.
Having a plan is great but it is not worth much if it isn’t easy to put it into practice. We experimented with some different project management tools but none quite fit our needs. As part of the IT team, were able to take part in evaluations of other PM tools that led to the firm adopting Wrike. This allowed us to create a project template from which we could duplicate and customize phases for each project. Wrike enables us to assign tasks, track progress and share updates. Like any new technology, it takes time and effort to learn but it has helped us to be more efficient in how we spend our time. It also ensures we are collecting the necessary quantitative and qualitative data in a timely manner to make informed decisions on the best suite of resources to meet the firm’s research and legal analytics needs.
Managing software and online resources is never a one-and-done thing. We are continuing these efforts by looking at tools for managing contract details and mapping resource spending to usage statistics to help ensure we are getting the full value out of our resource investments. Devoting the time and bandwidth to strategic thinking around our processes and procedures, and learning how to adjust as needed, was worth it in terms of making sure our department is staying on budget while still ensuring Fish has what it needs to excel at the practice and business of IP law.
Jill Strand, Senior Manager of the Library & Knowledge Information Systems, Fish & Richardson#DesktopandApplicationServices