Pratik Patel is a leader and an innovator. In his own words, he is a “forward-thinking entrepreneur, consultant and business advisor with deep experience in legal department and law firm spend, strategy, technology and operations.” Pratik is the Head of Innovation at Elevate and I asked him about a range of topics related to his work and his experience within the legal innovation space.
Tell me a little about your background and how that background led you to your current role with Elevate Services.
My background has always been in legal services since the start of my career. I wanted to be a patent lawyer, but never ever made it there (for good reasons). Before I could make it to law school, I was approached by Huron and the original team that that spun out of Anderson Consulting. They were building a high growth legal consulting practice and I was just at the right place at the right time. I spent 7 years at Huron helping build and grow the practice. With enough experience under my belt, I decided to depart in 2010 and join an early stage legal tech / consulting firm, RFx Legal, who was specializing in outside counsel management, analytics and sourcing. I was brought on to build out their consulting and legal spend analytics solution line. I spent two years building out RFx Legal with the co-founders there and then ran into Liam Brown, who had just created Elevate. A good mutual friend, Ron Friedmann, put us together and said “you two need to work together”. The rest is history. I sold my stake in RFx Legal to Elevate, rolled in the consulting and analytics line, and became a co-founder. I helped launch the Legal Business Solutions, Consulting and Product lines here at Elevate. And most recently, I transitioned those lines to experienced business heads over the past two years and became the Head of Innovation, focused on making sure Elevate stays ahead of the curve in combining legal services and technology.
Do you see Elevate Services as being emblematic of the changes underfoot within the legal profession? Why or why not?
Yes, I see Elevate both driving and being emblematic of these changes. We purposefully worked hard as a management team to maintain control and voting rights of the company to ensure that we could continuously deliver on our mission – deliver efficiency, quality and outcomes for legal teams. We were the first law company that fully combined multiple legal platform components (Consulting, Services, Technology) into a single entity to deliver that.
We are also the first law company who heavily invested in building an ELM technology suite – Cael – alongside our services. This was driven based on customer demand for more integrated solutions. We think the use of technology in all legal services will be the norm.
We call it ME 2 Machines and Experts in Everything.
There remains a lot of hype around legal technology. How do you cut through the hype?
Indeed. A good way to cut through the hype is to focus on your department’s needs, rather than just buying what you hear about. Your processes and the gaps within it tells you everything you need to know about what you need. Lots of law departments get caught in the hype and buy things that don’t align to their business goals or is way too powerful (and thus complicated) for their lawyers. They waste money and burn a lot of valuable time trying to jam it in. Instead, just focus on process mapping your current state, highlighting where the use of technology could be helpful and simply go get and integrate those pieces into the process instead of buying each shiny new object. I’ve seen many law departments save a lot of time and money by following this process. I also think its important to lay down a very simple ‘spine’ solution for tracking and workflow to ensure your legal team is at operating on the same platform (and storing knowledge in a single, reportable place).
Oh, and there is a lot of hype around AI. So I will touch on it. I can assure you it *will* play a key role in the delivery of legal services. But don’t try and use AI to replace your lawyer and his/her brain – instead, use AI to help that lawyer perform the basic organizing, processing and filtering of information that lawyers often to do before they fully apply their legal brain. Using AI for that layer (de-duping documents, extracting info from documents, organizing the extracted info and highlighting relevant information) can save up to 60% of lawyer time and allows them to focus more time on providing high value advice and counsel. We bought the legal AI company LexPredict to do just that and are having lots of success eliminating the “unsexy” work from lawyer’s plates through use of AI.
Once we master the basics of AI, then you’ll see us begin to deploy the “Predict” piece of our solution to help use that data to predict matter costs and outcomes. We’ve seen early successes of this. But we need more and more legal leaders with good data to work with (hint, call me)! We are looking to build litigation, M&A, banking and matter pricing predictor tools.
How do you optimize the value of legal spend, in particular outside legal spending?
This is a great question and the *right* question. Many GCs chase the headline of “reducing external legal spend”, but it shouldn’t be about that. It’s more about making sure every dollar you spend on inside or outside resources are producing maximum value. To do this, it is important that all work be categorized appropriately in terms of type, complexity and significance. Then it is important to understand spending patterns or variances based on these buckets of work. Law departments will often find that they are spending way too much money on low complexity work (e.g. there is a small delta between their fees at the high end of the curve and the low end). This is where GCs should start – by requiring law firms to unbundle routine matters as well as the high volume, the low complexity pieces within high complexity matters. These elements of work can go to more efficient resources, including law companies, who often use technology to deliver these components. GCs can significantly reduce spend in these areas and re-allocate it to high impact revenue generation or asset protection efforts.
Further, I think it’s important that legal project management be deployed for high spend matters (well, I think all matters, but let’s at least start with high spend ones if we need to choose). Just a simple framework that requires planning, monitoring and rhythmic reporting is enough to stay ahead of unnecessary spending and surprises. You’d be amazed at how much money is saved by just creating a budget! It amazes me how many lawyers fail to do this, but that’s why we’ve spent so much time building and delivering simple legal project management solutions like Cael Project, which can be learned and adopted within a ½ hour.
How do you "build, and implement mutually beneficial ‘business of law’ solutions"?
First, you need to change how legal teams get compensated and incentivized. You can’t have a billable hour model and expect innovation at the same time. The two are counter-intuitive. So GCs need to drive for more alternative fees (based on outcomes or success measures) and put the burden on their legal service providers to innovative and wrap business principles into the delivery of legal services. And AFAs don’t have to mean less money for law firms – in fact, they can actually mean more profit!
Second, you need to have the right people on the team. You never see a baseball team with 9 pitchers on the field, do you? So why do we see legal teams with 9 lawyers? We need to mix it up – maybe 6 lawyers, 1 legal project manager, 1 technologist and 1 account manager. That combo is likely to yield better field results (quality, efficiency and outcomes as we like to say at Elevate).
And finally, I think we need to share ideas, experiences, failures and successes across the aisle. If you treat your provider like a provider (or vice versa, your customer like a customer), you’ve just limited yourself. You need to consider all parties a single team, who collaborate and are super-duper transparent in their learnings to create a mutually beneficial legal + business solution.
What has been the biggest lesson that you have learned about innovating within the legal industry?
Don’t spend too much time with lawyers who can’t manage to get the lawyer out of them. Spend more time with lawyers who consider themselves business leaders. They chase the right goals.