Dentons has recently undergone a merger with McKenna Long
Tara Kim Eberhart, Director of Paralegal Services and Docket, has used the merger as an opportunity, leveraging her department’s expertise and access to docket data to ensure both the continued and increasing relevance of her team to the firm.
Being relevant requires providing value; providing value requires understanding what other groups need.
How did Tara’s group approach this challenge?
Over a period of 12-15 months, Tara’s team met with the various department heads (docketing, HR, IT, accounting, finance, conflicts, legal recruiting, and practice groups).
- What information can your team currently access with ease?
- What information does your team need?
A key area of interest identified during the process was access to, and an understanding of, the firm’s own litigation history – such as judges the lawyers had experience in front of, the courts they had collectively appeared in, and outcomes.
Much of this data is, of course, carefully tracked by docketing teams.
However, in the answers to Question 1 above, Tara’s team discovered that many departments were either partially or wholly unaware of the availability of this information.
Silos can arise out of an emphasis on specialization. However, they can lead to redundancy and data loss. Why did Denton’s decide to put Paralegals and Docketing under one roof?
Prior to the merger, both legacy firms kept paralegals and docketing separate.
The decision to combine was an organic process: having worked closely with her docketing department prior to the merger, Tara became aware of significant overlap between paralegals/docketing (who had additionally previously reported to different managers).
In order to streamline processes post-merger, the firm combined reporting.
Tara feels the departmental merger has been successful, in large part due to her docketing heads, who have helped on key projects, such as transforming the previously regional docketing groups into a single team providing docketing services to the entire firm.
Working across departments can be tricky; being proactive and strategic can facilitate productive working relationships.
The concept of “adding more value” to your law firm can seem inaccessible when most professionals are already at full capacity (and then some).
The key is the old cliche: work smarter, not harder.
First, identify the end goal: providing the best service to your internal (and thereby external) clients.
Then make sure the department best suited for any particular task is taking on that job.
For example, Tara’s team was aware of certain overlaps with the library with regards to tracking litigation. After meeting with the library services group, whose expertise falls in the areas of business development and research, they decided that library would track closed cases (which fall outside Dentons’ litigation) and Tara’s group would track live cases.
Clear parameters negotiated upfront mean staff can easily direct calls and ensure that internal clients get the best help available – without making anyone feel like they are shirking a task by re-directing it.
“Hey, can you help?” vs “How can we help you?”
Tone and time are critical in establishing good working relations; starting always from a standpoint of, “is there something I can help you with?” not only builds goodwill – it helps you identify areas where you and your team have an opportunity to grow and develop.
Moreover, recognizing that building a successful corporate culture is a serious and difficult challenge, and allotting adequate time to the process, is key.
Tara is the Director of Paralegals and Docket at Dentons. She has more than 20 years’ experience in big law and is an adjunct professor at the George Washington University Paralegal Studies Program. Anna is also a frequent speaker on technology, law firm management, and process.