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Making an OMMlit

O’Melveny & Myers transforms Its approach to litigation work.

Two years ago, O’Melveny & Myers made an OMMLit that not only broke several eggs, but transformed how its own lawyers approached the often arduous task of litigation research and matter management.

Not surprisingly, the firm’s OMMLit platform, which allows its lawyers to glide through the litigation process by simplifying or automating 400 of the most commonly performed tasks, has also allowed O’Melveny to serve up greater efficiency and cost savings to clients.

Forum Magazine caught up with Jeff Rovner, the firm’s managing director for information and one of the architects of OMMLit, to ask him about how the product is performing now.

Forum: We saw some of the accolades that OMMLit received when it was first launched, but how has it been performing for the firm since then?

Jeff Rovner: I was initially surprised by the attention OMMLit received outside our firm. But upon reflection, I think it’s because OMMLit operates on a different level than other innovations. Most innovations do one particular thing better than before, whereas OMMLit seeks to innovate the entire litigation process. Because it is a single system, it is easy to learn and use. But within that single system are countless software tools, practice tips and outside resources that connect directly to our litigation workflow. As we build or acquire new tools, including artificial intelligence applications, we have a logical place to expose them to our lawyers. So OMMLit is kind of a framework for multiple innovations under a single umbrella.

Forum: When you created OMMLit, what made you think that this was a platform to pursue?

Rovner: It all arose from an insight by one of our partners, Mark Samuels, who was key to the whole project. He had been the head of our IP litigation practice, and he’s our vice chair. One day, he remarked that O’Melveny was like a fine restaurant. It served terrific food, and its chefs were highly regarded. But if we didn’t operate our kitchen more efficiently, then our prices would be higher than necessary, and some of our customers would eat elsewhere.

One of the ways to run a more efficient kitchen was to ensure that the tasks we perform in our litigation work are performed by the right people – that we don’t have someone who is much more senior than necessary, and therefore more expensive, performing a given task. Initially, the idea of OMMLit was to think of ways to improve how we staff tasks for litigation.

To implement that staffing idea, we realized we would have to break our litigation process up into very specific tasks. And once we had done that, we realized, “Wouldn’t it also be great if we could associate each task with our best method to complete it, so we would not only know who should do the task, but we could also direct them to the most efficient method that we have, given all of our technologies, all of our library subscriptions and all of our specialists inside the firm?”

Forum: What did the creation of the product actually involve?

Rovner: In terms of the execution side, the first step was to break our litigation process into pieces. We had a small team of lawyers, paralegals, practice support people and others who created an initial list of 400 chronological tasks, which we were pretty sure was a good starting point. Then, because we wanted to marry the methods to the tasks, we needed not only to know the internal knowledge and technologies that could be applied, but also the things outside the firm that would be helpful. We were very fortunate to have some terrific collaboration by the folks at Thomson Reuters Practical Law™, who were able to start with our list of 400 tasks and then associate each task with very specific materials within Practical Law® that would help somebody who was undertaking that task.

I think the firm’s younger lawyers find OMMLit useful because it enables them to get their work done more efficiently and with more confidence. More senior lawyers like the fact that it helps us to live within the budgets we set and to price our services more competitively.

Rovner: A growing number of our clients’ requests for proposals specifically ask us to discuss our innovations and the things we do to add tangible value. In that regard, we mention OMMLit and describe what it does; if they are interested, we will demonstrate it at pitches so they can see how it works.

We like showing it to clients because it’s a way to demonstrate visually that we really do take efficiency and client value seriously, and we have an effective way to deliver it.

Forum: How has the product changed in the two years it’s been in use?

Rovner: As we learn a faster, better, more efficient way to do something or a way to automate a task that was formerly manual, we modify OMMLit to reflect that change. Sometimes those innovations come from within our ranks, and sometimes it may be things we learned from clients. So, in a sense, we’re crowdsourcing OMMLit all the time across our whole organization.

For example, one of the first tasks in OMMLit’s chronology is to draft a litigation complaint. For that task, we made it very simple for people to bring up in our search system all of the complaints that we have drafted as a firm so that one could drill down on specific industries, clients, judges, legal subjects, jurisdictions and so on to find a suitable starting point.

Then, one of our litigation partners sent us a note saying one of the things a lawyer should do before finishing a complaint is to review the instructions that will ultimately be submitted to a jury in the case, because you want to make sure to allege at the beginning of the case the points that will be essential at the end. I thought that was a very smart, practical bit of wisdom from a partner who had done a lot of litigation, so we included it in the task page for complaints.

In addition to these incremental improvements, one of our practice groups has established a substantial precedent library within OMMLit, dedicated to the group’s legal specialty. I expect to see more of that sort of growth over time.

Forum: Was there anything that surprised you about this process?

Rovner: Well, that is a great question, and the answer is yes – absolutely. It goes to the way this innovation arose within our firm. Before we had our initial meetings, talking about restaurants and kitchens and so on, there was a pervasive view that we should do a better job of systematizing some of the things in the litigation process. That’s because we have a lot of lawyers with diverse work histories and backgrounds. The thought was that we were probably losing efficiency just by virtue of the different ways in which people chose to work.

We had discussed this problem at length for some time within the firm. But it wasn’t until we got down to a small group of determined individuals with the right experience and passion to really sink their teeth into the subject that we began to make real progress. From that point on, the project moved pretty quickly. That has taught me a lot about how to innovate faster, as well as the traps that can arise in innovation projects.

And the evolution of OMMLit from the initial conception of a staffing tool to its ultimate form as an efficiency tool has been a surprise. It’s tempting to think we could have come up with the efficiency emphasis sooner and saved some time. But innovation is like mountain climbing – sometimes you have to scale one peak tosee the next one.

I suspect OMMLit has more peaks yet to reveal.


Meet the interviewee

Jeff Rovner
Jeff Rovner is managing director for Information at O’Melveny & Myers.
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