What was the original problem you were trying to solve?

In November 2016 when I arrived at Wellington City Council to establish a legal services function there was no systems or processes in place. The Council had, in the most recent history, had an outsourced and centralised system for seeking legal advice. This means that each business unit within Council would seek advice directly from law firms, and then receive the advice directly. The immediate issues for me were (a) finding out what work was being delivered, to whom and by whom; (b) establishing a centralised repository of information/advice; and (c) working out what the demand for legal services was, and in what areas, so I could build a business case for the team I was building.

What was the existing solution or workaround?

As above, there was no existing solution or process.

How did you go about choosing your solution and what were the factors you considered?

I contacted other legal teams within the large Councils and looked at the systems they were using.  I spoke to our IT department about the systems within Council. I wanted something easy to use, and that would deliver the reporting that I wanted.  Essentially, I put together a “dashboard” of what I wanted to be able to report, and then I looked for a system that would deliver that. WorkflowMax was being used within Council already, so we could see how well it worked in our environment.

What are the benefits of your new solution? For your team? For the organisation?

We use WorkflowMax, which is made by Xero. It delivered what I wanted in terms of ease of use – my team can access it on their smartphones, enter information quickly and keep their files up to date.  It also produces data based on the customised fields that we created when we implemented it, so that we can produce our dashboard reporting. The benefits for me are that:

  • I know what is happening with my team without having to ask them individually, I can access the system and get real time information about their files;
  • I could build a business case about the demand for legal services, and hire lawyers knowing that there was a stream of work for them – this means I can be really honest in the recruitment process about what their work will be like;
  • I can support my people being flexible because when people aren’t in the office I can still access key information/documents etc
  • I can have really meaningful conversations with external lawyers about the work they’re doing for us, what they’re not getting a share of, and what I think our future demand for their firm will be like

The benefits for the team are:

We can tell a story about what we do and how we add value – we can show our leaders that we are serving their business units and in what areas;
I know how much they have on without them having to tell me, so it’s easy for me to get a sense of where there is pressure on my team;
We can plan our work and communications efforts – we know who we are working for, and importantly who we are not – this makes it easy for us to know who we need to engage with 

The benefits for the organisation are:

  • Transparency – the executive gets regular reporting about spend and time being spent on legal matters
  • Prioritisation – regular reporting means that we get feedback from the executive about where we should focus our energy – we identify what we think are the top risk items, and then the executive give us feedback about whether we’ve got that right, whether there are other matters that are high risk from their perspective etc.  So we are always focussing our energy on what is important.
  • Evidence based resourcing – we built a business case to build the team off hard data about demand.  We have been revisiting every six months, and now we are stable, we will review annually.
  • Cost/benefit analysis – we know that we deliver services more cost effectively than they can be delivered externally.  We can provide the data that supports this.

Are there any additional or flow-on benefits you didn’t anticipate?

It makes my life a lot easier in terms of focusing on the key issues!  It’s not just a list of matters, it’s a list that is prioritised and categorised, so I can very quickly drill down into what I really need to know. It’s also a good way for me to manage the wellness in my team – I can see who is carrying heavy loads, and make sure we’re all sharing the work around.

The data was really helpful in our RFP process this year in being able to tell the story about what our needs are. We didn’t have to rely on memory to know what categories our work is in and what specialties we need.  We have data for that.

What has been the impact on your external providers?

The external providers have for the first time had reports showing where they are serving Council, both in terms of the work they’re doing, but also about what work our other providers are doing. I’ve used the reporting from WFMX to show each firm’s “share” of our spend, in categories, to inform discussions with the firms about where they see themselves, and where we see them.  This also helped inform a discussion with the firms about how the arrival of the in-house team was going to impact on them (for example, knowing that the team would increasingly manage general operational matters, the firms who traditionally did this work would be more impacted than firms specialising in litigation or projects).  Without this data, the firms will only have a picture of what they know they’re doing. 

I found the firms had a lot of myths around what share of work they were doing (at both extremes – some firms thinking they were “the” provider, and providers thinking they were not getting their fair share – both were untrue!). It was helpful to be able to dispel these myths. It was also helpful to be able to put some historical data into the system too, and then show the trends over time.

Ideally we will at some stage be able to use the information to put in place some alternative billing methodologies with our firms because we have metrics around what we’re doing, how many and what it generally costs. 

However, at this stage because we’re still building our team capability there’s still too much uncertainty about how much the internal team can deliver vs how much will continue to be outsourced. We have however used the data to show the firms the range of work we do, and in what areas.

What is the next challenge your team is trying to address?

I’ve been in Council almost two years but most of the team has only arrived in the last year.  Our current challenge is balancing delivering to the Council vs working on our priorities to improve the way we do things around here.  In the absence of a legal team, there are lots of “organisational hygiene” projects for us to take on, and we have a plan around those. We’re also in the middle of a request for proposals for legal services providers. 

We were really pleased with the support we got from firms interested in doing our work, and we are working through what good external services for Council is going to look like – watch this space!  And our video…

Congratulations to the Wellington City Council Legal Team for taking out the Russell McVeagh In-House Team of the Year award at the New Zealand Law Awards in Auckland on 15 November!