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Sharing knowledge and producing innovative solutions

It may be fitting that Littler Mendelson, the largest global employment and labor law practice, has started to do the heavy lifting on legal innovation for others. The firm, with more than 1,000 lawyers in more than 70 offices worldwide, has become a recognized leader in implementing innovative programs and technological advancements to further serve clients. Now, however, the firm has begun sharing that knowledge with clients directly and even building tools for them to implement.

But this evolution wouldn’t be possible without the firm engaging in a bit of forward-thinking throughout its history. “Throughout Littler’s history we’ve had a culture of innovation,” says Jeremy Roth, co-managing director for the firm. “We’ve always embraced doing things better, things that are more practical. For example, it’s now pretty ubiquitous for large firms to have Knowledge Management – but we’ve had it for 15 years.”

Being ahead of the curve has pushed firm leaders to look at the changing legal market differently. Indeed, Roth says when he asks colleagues to name the firm’s biggest competitors, they rattle off the names of various law firms. “But I would argue that one of our biggest competitors is Google,” he explains. “Clients don’t call us anymore and say, ‘I’ll pay you a quarter-hour of time to find me the minimum wage in Maryland.’ Nothing happens without someone first using a search engine.”

This techno-encroachment has driven two core realizations at Littler. First, the firm needs to have a culture that is supportive of working to develop client-friendly, market-focused solutions. “We have to examine how to put ourselves out there as practical and pragmatic, with real strategies for clients that address their needs,” Roth says. The second realization is that technology is driving everything, and law firms have to start thinking in very different ways about what innovation means and how problems can be solved. “Law is actually a lagging industry in this,” he adds.

This thinking at Littler has led to innovations in product development. For example, the firm is well- known for its proprietary technology platform, Littler CaseSmart®, which has redesigned the way clients respond to administrative charges coming from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission as well as single-plaintiff employment litigation. Developed more than five years ago, the product allows clients to manage these matters in a more cost-effective and efficient way. “We looked at how to drive greater value by capturing tasks that can be more or less routinized, and, additionally, tracking the data that you get out of that information,” Roth explains, adding that “for clients, it’s about using predictive data to make better decisions and mitigate risk of future claims and litigation.”

We have to examine how to put ourselves out there as practical and pragmatic, with real strategies for clients that address their needs.

Littler CaseSmart, which has handled more than 13,000 administrative charges and more than 500 cases in the litigation model, saw revenue increase 86% in 2015, and has become an award-winning, brand differentiator for the firm, Roth says. “It allows us to retain and capture some margin on work that, frankly, from a pricing standpoint might be more challenging to capture.” Littler has continued to expand the CaseSmart model, adapting it to handle wage-and-hour  class actions.

More recently, the firm helped create ComplianceHR in a joint venture with Neota Logic, an intelligent software designer. The program, which was cited in two separate innovation awards Littler recently received, is a Web-based platform that helps companies make critical employment decisions, including who can be retained as an independent contractor and which employees need to be paid overtime. “It’s the perfect example of something that the employer community typically wouldn’t reach out to ‘craftsman’ lawyers to get ‘bespoke’ answers to, because the cost is too prohibitive,” he says.

Littler has also been praised within the industry for its use of data analytics – the much-feared big data – both to improve processes within the firm and to offer better services to clients to guide HR and litigation strategies. To that end, the firm last year hired Dr. Zev J. Eigen as its first global director of Data Analytics. “There are two parts to that,” Roth explains. “One is about our internal efficiencies – how we run our law firm. More interesting, however, is the client data.” Because Littler is the largest labor and employment firm in the world, it has a lot of data. And Eigen is taking the data and modeling how the firm can provide value-added services to clients.

For example, a client could have data analyzed on its loss exposures, legal challenges faced, settlements paid; then, Eigen and his team can identify the one sentence in the employment offer letter the client uses that creates a disproportionate number of challenges. “It’s not just: There’s been a spill, and we’ve been hired to come in and clean it up; it’s telling you that if you focus on this, you’re going to avoid the next 10 spills.”

Roth says that’s where the differentiator is now with Littler. “That’s where we have separated ourselves from other firms, in trying to figure out what to do with this data,” he says, adding that areas such as predictive hiring models or cost-avoidance solutions are eagerly sought by clients.

And that has taken Littler to the next step – building these products for clients to use and implement. “We are building more and more toolkits, in effect, ‘solutions-in-a-box’,” he explains, adding that start- up companies, where clients are confident to engage in more self-help, gravitate to these do-it-yourself tools that allow them to address hiring, staffing and human resources concerns.

In all, it’s a pretty far cry from where Littler began more than 70 years ago. “I’m not saying we are going to displace Google® on this,” Roth jokes. “But at least on the topic of labor and employment, we have to provide a path if we want to sell those services or solutions in any way that’s different than picking up a phone and calling a lawyer.”

Still, when it comes to accessing legal services online, Littler may just give Google a run for its money.

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