Change and Disrupting the Legal Industry
Caryn Sandler, Partner and Chief Knowledge & Innovation Officer at Gilbert + Tobin, joined our Impact Podcast Series to share her experience implementing a significant and disruptive document review unit. Her goal? Deliver the best document review solutions to clients.
GT Docs is the name of this innovative, centralized document review unit and platform to support regulatory and litigation matters.
In this episode, Stephen Allen, the VP of Get Sh*t Done at Elevate, and Caryn Sandler talk about planning and implementing efficient change that meets user’s needs – and provides a high-quality work product.
Caryn said – “What GT Docs does for us – it allows us to have a platform from which we can continue to innovate and rethink legal service delivery.”
Click on the links below to hear what we have covered in our first episode of Impact Series:
- [00:51] – Caryn realized it was the right time to move to a Knowledge Management role.
- [04:37] – Caryn describes a change she delivered within G + T.
- [07:58] – How G + T implements change.
- [13:17] – After implementing GT Docs, G+T surpassed its initial utilization estimates.
- [15:55] – Caryn’s thoughts on the benefits of radical change.
- [18:42] – How GT Docs helped G + T achieve their business targets.
- [21:05] – GT Docs as a competitive advantage.
- [22:35] – Key advice from Caryn to deliver a successful change project.
Note: This transcript has been adjusted to improve readability. Transcripts are generated using speech recognition software and human transcribers. The context and more than 95% of the actual transcript have been preserved. We strongly encourage you to listen to the audio file.
Nicole: Welcome to the Elevate Together podcast. Voices of Change in the Business of Law. Hello, this is Nicole Giantonio, the Head of Global Marketing at Elevate. The podcast episode you’re about to hear is part of our Impact series, featuring Elevate customers who have implemented transformative change. Stephen Allen, VP of Get Sh*t Done at Elevate, and Caryn Sandler, Partner and Chief Knowledge and Innovation Officer of Gilbert + Tobin, talk about planning and implementing change that meets the needs of the user, is efficient, and provides a high-quality work product.
Stephen: So, Caryn, thanks for joining us. It’s lovely to speak to you again. General scene-setting question, first of all, because I think this is always an interesting question to ask somebody who’s in your kind of role. When did the light bulb come on for you, that stuff needed to change? Or was it more of a gradual realization?
Caryn: I think it was more of a gradual realization, to be honest. If I think about my background, I was a practicing lawyer for many years in equity, capital markets, and M&A. Off the back of that, and at that stage in my career and with a child on the way, I decided client-facing law probably didn’t work for me. So, I moved into a knowledge management role. I think it was more of a journey for me. In that knowledge management role, I focused on process improvement. I was going into a knowledge management role, thinking you’re not going to do any precedent work and legal-related work.
Somehow I found my trajectory moving into data and process optimization—things you don’t typically do within a knowledge-based role. But being at Gilbert + Tobin, there certainly is the flexibility to do that. Along that journey, it became an area that interested me. And with the change in the broader legal landscape – a real focus on innovation, on looking at efficiency and process to deliver legal services – I suppose I found this space by default rather than by actual direction.
Stephen: That’s interesting, but now you’re fully drinking from the fountain?
Caryn: Absolutely. It’s a perfect combination because it utilizes my legal knowledge and understanding of how legal matters evolve, and now what is a love of process, looking for efficiencies and my thinking around strategy.
Stephen: There’s a quote I read from you, which I think is key, and for many lawyers who are concerned about or fearful of change, I think it’s a good quote for them to hear. Which was, “I think that a need to have a deep understanding of legal is more essential than ever.” I think it’s interesting for people, as we’re talking about efficiency and workflows and all of those things, for them to understand that it also enables lawyers to be more of a lawyer.
Caryn: Absolutely. And it’s interesting, Stephen, there is a lot of talk in the market around all these sorts of non-traditional skills that lawyers require going forward. And I subscribe to that thinking. Lawyers need to expand their remit around legal project management and design thinking and what it is to improve continually.
With the advancements that we see with technology, it will be critical for lawyers to hone in on their legal skills and be the best possible lawyers. I believe fast forward five years lawyers – particularly junior lawyers – will be doing far more advanced work at much earlier stages in their career than what we see at the moment. I always like to preface that by saying, yes, you would need other skillsets, but first and foremost, you are lawyers. And the requirement to have that deep legal expertise will never be more clear.
Stephen: That’s helpful. I think the other thing is that you’re somebody who’s delivered change. Many in the field want to deliver change or talk and write about delivering change, but there aren’t many who have delivered change. It would be helpful to take an example of a big change that you and G + T have delivered together and discussed why that change was needed. Because it always starts with the why.
Caryn: Absolutely. If I think about that, I would probably say the introduction of our discovery or review unit. We launched GT Docs on the 20th of August of last year. GT Docs is a document review unit, primarily for our regulatory and litigation matters. It is a centralized unit where we have a team, both onshore, a dedicated team, and offshore through Elevate, which comes together to deliver document review solutions for our clients.
“GT Docs is a document review unit, primarily for our regulatory and litigation matters. It is a centralized unit where we have a team, both onshore, a dedicated team, and offshore through Elevate, which comes together to deliver document review solutions for our clients.”
– Caryn Sandler
The lawyers work hand in glove with the actual GT docs team, so it is a collaborative approach. It is centralized, and it is the custodian of knowledge around document review. We also have search capability within those teams, so whilst we might have a core team of, let’s say, nine people onshore, we can scale up that to 20, 30, 40, 50, depending on our needs. And similarly, through our offshore team, through Elevate, the same principle applies.
Really it was delivered to streamline and scale document review on a day-to-day basis, certainly a large-scale change project. The reason I mention that is because along the way, we’ve certainly done a couple of large things, but we’ve also done a lot of incremental change. I think there are differences in the way in which you deliver innovation internally within an organization. It can be incremental, and it can be quite disruptive. GT Docs is a unit where we leverage both onshore and offshore resourcing through Elevate, which was unique to the firm. So, a lot of consultation was required. Any change in practice, particularly when we’re talking about a large piece or phase of work within a broader regulatory or disputes matter, it will be quite, as I said, disruptive to how the lawyers were operating.
For me, this particular piece was relatively disruptive in how lawyers operate, but certainly quite a significant change within the organization. We had enormous growth in litigation and regulatory work within the firm over the last few years. As a result of that, we needed to investigate a model for our document reviews that were both sustainable and scalable, but at the same time delivered the quality that Gilbert + Tobin are known for. That was critical in how we thought about why we needed to implement this change and how we needed to implement this change. We certainly needed to have surge capacity within the team to deal with the ebbs and flows of our matter work. At the same time, we needed to deliver a solution that maintained the quality but delivered efficiency.
Stephen: In terms of how that surfaced, first, there was a need, then what a possible solution would be. How did you go through the process before you even got to the design piece to garner input, thought, etc.?
Caryn: This was something that we had thought about for more than a year. We identified the need, and that need only became larger as our disputes and the regulatory team grew. The overall planning, before the launch of the project, took about ten months. So, it was a decent piece of time. We were quite purposeful in how we approached things in that we wanted to have the required and in-depth consultation upfront because my view has always been that if you invest in the planning, typically, the end result works well. I looked at it in three different buckets. One is consultation, and obviously, it is critical to do that extensive consultation in a partnership. A lot of point solutions in the past were quite a large change in how we’re going to deliver the work.
We had initial sessions with a huge volume of partners in the regulatory and the disputes team. We obviously took it to the board as well. We did lots of consultation with the lawyers, and that was really to understand and help define the scope of the problem, identify best practices that they had seen in the past. As the project developed, we sought additional feedback from a broad range of stakeholders. We invested a lot of time. Some meetings were great, some were difficult, but that was part of the learning. That’s what we wanted; we didn’t want to uncover those issues once we had launched the actual GT Docs unit. We wanted to uncover them at the outset, and we wanted to understand what we were managing and what we were trying to deliver on.
In terms of the operational design, we had many drafts of the operational design that we shared with the stakeholders very early on. The detailed operational design, development of playbooks, and the like occurred over about a two-month period up to launch. That’s when we started finessing what the actual unit will look like. That included the Elevate team traveling from Gurgaon to Sydney to be with us in workshops, which was important because it had buy-in from both sides. Obviously, there are learnings from the G + T side, but then there’s also learnings from Elevate. They’ve worked with a lot of large organizations globally in this space.
For me, the most critical component, in addition to the consultation, was the change management piece. We thought long and hard about that and educating our lawyers on the new working model. We addressed that through Change Champions. We had Change Champions within the organization who focused on this unit. They could talk at meetings about it and our progress. We had lots of electronic communications. There were pamphlets, and we had drop-in coffee sessions towards the end. By the time we implemented that unit, I think people felt they were well consulted and that the change management components were dealt with. There were no surprises.
Stephen: No surprises is so important. When you went to launch, did you soft launch? Did you launch for a smaller group first to control flow?
Caryn: That’s an interesting one because I’m very much a proponent of a pilot, but given this was an innovation as a service, it was very difficult to do that because we were standing up a team. We have a core team in Sydney. We’ve got a core team through Elevate in Gurgaon, and that has been fantastic and instrumental to our actual design, in that we have one GT Docs unit. We don’t think about it as the Elevate Team and the Gilbert + Tobin team. We think about it as a combined team, and then we’ve got surge capability and capacity across onshore and offshore team members. Because we were standing up as a team and putting all the processes in place, it was very difficult because you don’t know what matters could come in. Typically, the matters that do come in require a significant number of people in a very short period of time. We have a new matter come in, and we might need to stand up 20 or 50 reviewers to enable us to deliver on that work within 24, 48 hours.
We launched the unit on the 20th of August. In fact, we had a demand for the unit before the 20th of August. I think we even had two matters running before the 20th of August, which is highly unusual but indeed indicated the need for the unit and the level of comfort resulting from the consultation that took place prior. But no, we didn’t do a pilot on this; we went straight in. But I think because of the amount of time we invested upfront, we were quite confident in how we would deliver the solution for the lawyers.
Stephen: Definitely a testament to the planning. How is it being viewed now? It’s been running for some time. I suspect in some ways it’s become the norm. People have forgotten how radical it was, which is always a testament to a successful change project. Are there any lessons or surprises that came out of that, that you’ve had to recalibrate or adjust?
Caryn: Absolutely. The unit has been incredibly successful by all measures, certainly from our perspective. We had some estimates around utilization and the like, and I think in the first nine months, we surpassed those initial utilization estimates by more than 150%. We had an enormous demand for the unit. It had allowed us, particularly at the back end of last year, when we had so much regulatory and litigation work to continue through COVID.
We’ve been in a pretty fortunate position. For example, it allowed us to scale up 25 local resources and I think 24 offshore resources within 48 hours. The key thing for us, as I mentioned earlier, was the quality. The prior challenge around standing up a group, whether it be casual paralegals or trying to find resources within the firm to meet the demand, was not sustainable given the work volume. It certainly has been an incredibly positive move for the firm.
The area that I was certainly surprised at is just how quickly the lawyers adapted to this particular unit, and I think there is a lot to be said for the phrase “necessity is the mother of invention.” I think it certainly is true in this particular circumstance, given the work volume that the lawyers had, and even though you would expect, there might be an incremental change that happens within an organization. As I said, it was disruptive to the way in which we work, but the lawyers felt compelled to use this new offering because it delivered enormous benefits to them. To be honest, given the volume of work and given the fact that the lawyers were quite stretched in the way they needed to operate on a day-to-day basis, this was a fantastic alternative for them.
Our lawyers are still intricately involved in the review process. There is no doubt about that – and they’ve worked hand in glove with the GT Docs team, given that they are ultimately delivering on legal review. But certainly, for the administrative tasks, finding resources, and working out what one needs to do on a day-to-day basis, it is something that’s we’ve enjoyed.
Would like to know about Elevate’s Document Review?
Stephen: Now that it’s progressed, what do you think are the other incidental benefits of having made a radical change? With this innovation being successful and the partner’s propensity to accept new things – what other things do you have up your sleeve?
Caryn: I think we have a very open partnership to change. We’re very lucky in that way. I think given that it was all done in the right way, and there are certainly learnings for us as well in that. I asked the question around, have we learned anything, or have we had to change tact? The whole idea of this unit is a unit around continuous improvement. For example, where we started in having various playbooks, we’ve continually refined those playbooks, and we will continue to refine those playbooks on day by day basis. On a matter basis, we’re introducing a template, and document review process maps have been very consistently applied over the last year since it’s been in operation. We have far more precedents in place as well, and you know, not all of this was set up when we implemented GT Docs. We also thought that the initial move to GT Docs or the initial work in GT Docs would be slower than what it actually was.
We thought we would have had more time to evolve those processes in the beginning, which we didn’t because of how busy the actual unit was. Certainly, that is something that we have honed in over the last 12 months. We constantly have feedback with the lawyers and the review unit to ensure that we are continually improving. There have been times where we’d have to refine things, and there have been times that lawyers wanted us to tweak around the edges. There have been times we’ve had to work with the lawyers to think about different processes from the legal side. It has been a very collegiate and collaborative approach to continuous improvement in this particular unit.
Stephen: And did it achieve! There’s a bunch of things in terms of efficiency, scalability, those things – and knowing you, Caryn, you will have set a bunch of metrics by which you were going to target and measure. Did you manage to achieve all of those targets that you set yourselves?
Caryn: I think if I’m honest, yes. This surprises me that I can even say that to you, given that it was quite a large change project. But, as I said, we are very focused on measuring metrics. Even that initial utilization outpaced our expectations at more than 150%, I think just the ability to scale to the number that we’ve been able, with quality resources has been absolutely terrific. Our local team, when we started, was a core team of three, and we’re now sitting at a core team of 10, but at any given time, we pretty much have a core team of about 35 onshore. And it’s been very similar to our offshore team as well. We’ve got a core team of about six or seven. And at any given time, we might have 30 or 35 people working.
We have met a lot of the metrics that we set. I think if we look at it and what we wanted to achieve around efficiency, it has certainly done that. I think the quality is even better than it was previously. That was very important to us. As I mentioned, we have very high standards internally, and obviously for the delivery of client services. That was absolutely critical. By all accounts, we’ve had lawyers come to us with comments such as, “We just couldn’t ask for anything more. You’re our absolute hero. You’ve saved us.”
So, really lovely qualitative feedback alongside the quantitative benefits. We have also been able to phase out certain types of paralegals that we had previously. We used to rely on agency paralegals, and that’s something we’ve been able to phase out, which has been good for the organization. We now have stability. We know that surge resources that we are working with, which means there’s that continuity piece as well. Certainly, from a metrics point of view, I think we were on our 15th iteration of the process reviewer guide. Again, it’s that embedded continuous improvement. Yes, we’ve definitely delivered and probably faster than what we originally sought to deliver in terms of our metrics.
Stephen: That’s fantastic – and do you feel when you pitch to customers now, and they ask how you’re going to deliver the project and what the price point is, do you feel it’s started given G + T a competitive advantage in terms of pitching for work?
Caryn: I think first and foremost, we have exceptional partners and lawyers in our regulatory and disputes teams. They stand on their own within the legal market. As you noted, I think clients are very focused on seamless and efficient, and quality service delivery. I think this demonstrates that Gilbert + Tobin is focused on continually improving our services and identifying opportunities for improvement. Which is certainly a theme that we are seeing within the legal environment.
So, yes, absolutely. I think just this ability to scale so quickly, given the volume of work coming our way, has been very important from a client perspective. And every client likes to hear that you are, as you said, continually improving. This concept of retrospectives and ensuring that GT Docs is the custodian of knowledge in the context of document reviews. We make sure that there is continuous improvement on a day-to-day basis. Yes, I think it’s probably fair to say. We definitely have a very strong offering, and this has only extended that offering and made it even stronger.
Stephen: Fantastic. I’ve got one final question, which I think is probably a key question for anyone listening to this and hearing how you deliver a successful project. If there were one or two pieces of key advice you would give to anyone who’s about to set out on a journey similar to the one you set out on, what would they be?
Caryn: Okay, so that’s difficult because there could be 20; if I have to stick to two, I will go back to design thinking principles on this one. For me, it is focused on the end-user. That is absolutely and was very critical for us – we always had that end-user in our mind when designing the solution. I think the other piece of advice would be to invest a lot of time in planning upfront. From my perspective, those two pieces have been absolutely critical to the success of the delivery of GT Docs because that consultation and that planning upfront meant that we were able to deliver something that met the needs of the user and everyone felt engaged in the process. Which I think is incredibly important, particularly when you are delivering on change initiatives within law firms.
As I said, I think I’m very fortunate to work in an environment like Gilbert + Tobin, who is very accepting of the change. We’ve got a partnership that certainly supports and is very forward-thinking. At the same time, like every human, we like to do things in the way in which we’ve always done them. That consultation and planning have been very important. As I said, focus on that end-user – because you’ve got to design solutions for those that actually will use those solutions.
Stephen: That was so helpful, and hopefully, everyone listening will have learned enough to at least get started – and they’ll probably start stalking you on LinkedIn to find out more.
Caryn: Very good. Thank you, Stephen, for the opportunity. Greatly appreciated, and always good to speak to you.