Revenue Relevant: Wendy Rubas, General Counsel at VillageMD, Sheds Light on the Evolution of Data Analysis and Continuous Performance Management for Legal Departments

Revenue Relevant: Wendy Rubas, General Counsel at VillageMD, Sheds Light on the Evolution of Data Analysis and Continuous Performance Management for Legal Departments

Wendy Rubas is one of the most innovative GCs in the country today. Her presentation, “An Innovator Starting from Zero: A Roadmap for GCs” was named one of the “Top Ten Reads for GCs in 2017” by LEXOO. We were lucky enough to sit down with Wendy and ask for her insights on data collection and analysis for legal departments, and to learn about her experience in going from “dark to light” in her data evolution.

In our Value Drivers series, I interview legal industry leaders and innovators that are bringing transparency to legal performance in their own unique way. Wendy’s specific approach involved a shift in her mindset, going from a memo-writing lawyer to a data-visualizing businesswoman. In this edition of Value Drivers, we learn how to increase the value of our legal departments through effective measurement and use of data to create lasting, effective change.

Rolf Provan:
Wendy, I understand you began your data journey back in 2007 with a binder and hard copies. More than 10 years later, can you tell us how data has transformed your job as General Counsel?

Wendy:
Well, I never really set out to learn about data. I started experimenting with ways to try to get in front of big problems that impacted my clients. As lawyers, we are reacting to the phone ringing, or to the government calling, or to a lawsuit. But I started to explore how to prevent things from happening, and one of the things I ended up learning is how hard it is to convince people to take action. In my experience, data triggers action, but it has to be presented in a meaningful way.

The desire to make change and to show what I am doing is where data came in for me. I always tell people that work with me if you can’t explain what you are doing, you’re not doing the right work. We always have to be able to show our value because we are not generating revenue in our company. So, I try to think like the business owner and to question why I would hire expensive lawyers unless I can show that they are helping me.

The Evolution of Data Analysis

RP:
As technology has evolved, what are the biggest changes you see? How did you persevere through the change?

Wendy:
Our first “technology” move was simply a database that just helped me track work because I was losing paper everywhere. But what’s interesting is that once you start working that way, it’s like the light is on and you can’t go back to the dark.

The next step for me is integrated information. That would provide us with the information right where we need it when we need it. But it starts with counting, sorting, labeling and putting things in buckets and then it builds from there. And once you build something, then you realize how it could be better, so it is a constant evolution.

You also never reach a point where people go, “You know what, Wendy, thank you for building that! That is great!” That reaction never happens. Instead, technology triggers people to think of how what you built should be better.

Why Change in the Legal Industry is Difficult

RP:
Do you think the legal industry is resistant to change?

Wendy:
Many professions have built-in autonomy by building walls around their expertise, which allows them to stay immune to what is happening in a lot of other departments. The book, “The Future of Professions,” covers this well. It talks about how, as lawyers, we have this special expertise, so therefore we have some immunity from what has been going on in the corporate world. 

Lawyers also see a danger in the interpretation of quantification, and as you know, change comes from measuring results. In medicine, as an example of the danger in misinterpretation, you can have a physician who has no lawsuits filed against him, but that single metric isn’t really a measure of quality. It could be that patients really like him; it doesn’t necessarily mean he’s better. I think lawyers are overly suspicious of quantification for this reason, but broadly I think people have let lawyers get away with it. Lawyers let their law firms get away with it, and corporate boards and companies haven’t expected law departments to generate performance data and so they haven’t.

How Data Analysis Leads to Continuous Performance Improvement

RP:
What have these efforts helped you with in terms of performance management or resource savings?

Wendy:
The biggest benefit was that I learned to focus my time differently. I was afraid of being a law department that was always busy and yet doing nothing of value or relevance. A lot of times as lawyers, as a trait, we are always working really hard. But does our work really matter at all? To answer this, I started trying to look at my work from the perspective of a business owner. For example, we do a lot of work with contracts, and there have been times when I would negotiate, revise, change and keep contracts open for a long period of time to eliminate contract risk. I started trying to actually measure this work, and the first thing you do is count how many you have done. That feels really good because you show you are really doing a lot. But then I started to measure how much money the company had not lost or lost because of my department’s efforts, and it was a big blank. So, that was an existential crisis and it changed my view of doing contract work. I started thinking about how much time are we spending and how we are wasting time, and so I started focusing and changing my strategy on contact review.

I also wanted to use data to go into a meeting and say I made money or I was revenue relevant. To do that, I turned to the smart people working with me and we started brainstorming what can we do to start generating money. Then we started measuring that, and we started counting how much money or value that brought in. It did really change the work we did.

Using Data to Manage Value from Outside Counsel

RP:
How do you determine the quality or value that you are getting from your outside counsel?

Wendy:
There is an obvious measure which is cost, and that is part of the picture. There is also an intangible measurement which is just the trusted advisor factor. For example, do I trust the advice you give me? Are you usually right? Do I think you are helpful? That is kind of the intangible piece people collect with opinion surveys. And, you know if it is a litigation matter, it is quantifiable in an outcome sense, so not just what I paid you, but I’m willing to pay you a little bit more if you save me from a huge judgement. I am exploring different ways to tie advice to a risk and starting to look at how much time and money are we spending on this risk. I think that we can, over time, establish benchmarks for that.

RP:
And what would be the things that you would want to quantify?

Wendy:
Well, part of it is the enterprise risk side of me wants to know what we are spending time and money on, and part of it is how valuable is the work. For example, in what form did I receive it? When I get work product back that I have to redo because it is not client ready, meaning I can’t put this in front of my client because it is too robust – keep in mind I have 30 seconds to get their attention – it’s led me to think about how to quantify that level of quality. It is something that I am still exploring.

RP:
Tell us a little bit more about how important the presentation of information is from your outside counsel and what it means to be client-ready.

Wendy:
The first time I ever did a project when I came in-house – I still had that law firm mindset – I wrote a memo. It was so good, and I remember vividly the business lead looking at me and saying, “Please don’t write me memos because I’m not going to read your memos.” It wasn’t rude, but it was just painful for me.

I’ve been the most successful when I can show something to someone in a picture or in a graph. That’s especially important when you are conveying a message about change or when you are trying to synthesize complicated information.

A great example of a simplified message that I experienced came from a project involving a multimillion-dollar implementation of software. The software company used one slide in five minutes to do an executive briefing, to set expectations for accountability and to call people to action. They were successful because they didn’t burden the audience with a lengthy report or memo, like an attorney might use.

RP:
Have you shared any of your performance metrics with any of your outside counsel? What kind of reactions do you get from them?

Wendy:
Yes, and if you have a lot of litigation you can easily generate scorecards for your panel and say this is how many matters; this is our average cost per matter; this is how much you charge for summary judgement motions, and this is how much you charge us for depositions. Once I implemented matter management and I started breaking up the idea of lawsuits into pieces and I started measuring the pieces, I started generating performance data. In some ways, the data tells you what you already knew or what you intuitively knew. But, it does help you have conversations with your panel based on data, and that allows for meaningful takeaways.

I would say that one of the hardest parts of being a general counsel is finding firms that are aligned with you in terms of the way you have to serve up information. Finding firms that are working in that same style with you is hard.

How Data Helped to Find ‘True North’

RP:
How would you describe your team’s impact on internal stakeholders? How do you think they see you and how has that changed since you started working with data?

Wendy:
We are on a journey of predictive analytics. We created a vision on how we can have an impact, and that gave us purpose and a strong sense of true north. Once you have that, it is very hard to work without that.

Once you start measuring what you are doing, monitoring what you are doing, having a multiyear plan and strategy, it becomes something that can be really special. Measuring is scary because if you don’t do it well, everyone will know, but the reality is that people know anyway. The first time I had financial goals was very scary. The first time I measured the total cost of noncompliance was terrifying. But once you start to see improvement, it’s a great feeling, and it can help you focus and feel like you are making a difference, which we don’t always have as lawyers.

RP:
Are there very specific things that you can point to where your customers internally can say something is better now based on your work?

Wendy:
One thing I did that was impactful was forming a recovery unit. I studied work from Tom Sager at DuPont several years back, as he did an innovative recovery unit. I tried it, and it worked very well for us because it allowed the legal department to serve as an advocate for our peers across the organization. It also gave us a view into vendor relationships that may have been headed down a path toward a dispute and provided us an opportunity to address those relationships and add value by helping our peers manage vendor performance.

RP:
If there was a magic wand that you could wave around the legal industry right now, what would be your biggest wish?

Wendy:
I think innovation needs to be a part of it. Innovation is an important part of everything that we are doing as lawyers and that means that we have to think differently.

The first thing that will cause change is selection, and I think that some of the firms that are suddenly interested in change are finding that their billing practices are being called into question, and, as a result, people are selecting out of traditional law firm relationships. For example, Seyfarth in Chicago was kind of a market leader on this and they were offering to do your employment litigation as well as provide benchmarking. They would keep all your data on all the work you were doing so they can help you explain to your CEO or CFO not only how you are doing on a particular case, but how this compares to others, and how your risk profile looks in similar industries. That is transformational change, and people are flocking to the firms that are doing that. People are looking for that value.

Know a Value Driver or would like to be included in the series? Please email us at rolf.provan@qualmetlegal.com.

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