Welcome back to the Big Law Business column on the changing legal marketplace written by me, Roy Strom. Today, we look at how a 25-person software development team is helping Fish & Richardson save time and money. Sign up to receive this column in your inbox on Thursday mornings.
What began with a lawyer sketching an idea on a napkin at Fish & Richardson in 2008 is now a program the firm estimates saves its lawyers at least 15 minutes a day—adding up to millions of dollars a year.
The intellectual property powerhouse in August released the third version of the program it calls “Power Docket,” which keeps tabs on 40,000 active matters and draws 400 users a day. It’s become the digital dashboard for patent lawyers at the firm since Fish’s 25-employee software team developed it.
Despite the technical sophistication underpinning the web-based app, which can be updated without being taken offline, the concept is straightforward.
It’s a place where lawyers can see the most important information on their matters and communicate with teams and clients. Pulling data from the firm’s accounting system, it shows lawyers in real-time how they’re performing against client budgets. And it understands how long certain tasks take, ranking the highest priority matters at the top of a user’s to-do list.
The latest version allows users to track the process of discrete tasks inside the app—removing a workflow that is usually handled through emails or calendars.
John Hayden, the firm’s patent practice leader, who manages around 2,000 docket actions at a time, said the Power Docket has eliminated hundreds of daily emails. Lawyers estimate the product can save up to an hour a day—eliminating the equivalent of a morning commute. The saved time creates the capacity to bill nearly 300 more hours a year, or frees lawyers to do something other than their work.
“It’s this vast amount of messaging that has basically gone away with the launch of Power Docket,” Hayden said. “That’s inherently a huge time saver.”
A team led by Beau Mersereau, the firm’s chief legal technology solutions officer, built the platform. The firm in 2019 spun out Mersereau’s team from the IT department to build applications that make the firm more efficient. The team employs software developers, business analysts, project managers, a data scientist and a group that builds automated quality assurance tests.
The group decided to build the docketing app when it couldn’t find a comparable product available on the market, said Jennifer Beaudette, a director in the legal technology solutions team. Most of the systems they examined provided a way to track hard deadlines at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
But thanks to the idea jotted down a napkin, the Fish team knew its lawyers wanted more than that.
“It brings information from other systems that does not reside in the docketing system but helps inform the practitioners how they need to work,” Beaudette said. “The minimum goal used to be just to never miss a hard deadline. That’s not our goal anymore. Our goals are a lot loftier than that now.”
The tech solutions team is focused on providing metrics to the firm that show its return on investment, Mersereau said. The metrics include the amount of work the team has done, how much use its products generate, and the amount of time and money its tools save.
For instance, Power Docket averages around 120 users every hour. If it saves 400 employees just 15 minutes every weekday, the math works out to 26,000 hours a year. If those lawyers, paralegals and other employees had a blended average billing rate of $400 an hour, that time would be worth more than $10 million a year. Again, 15 minutes is the conservative estimate—if the true figure is an hour, the savings could be four times that amount.
“There is real value in these applications and the firm understands that,” Mersereau said.
He said Fish’s lawyers are willing to invest in the technology solutions team in part because a large amount of them had careers in tech-forward industries before becoming lawyers. They were doctors, software engineers, or biologists before becoming patent lawyers. That’s one of the reasons Mersereau said he’s been able to have a 20-year career at the firm.
In the future, he envisions clients might be able to access a version of Power Docket. And more aspects of it will be automated. Investing in technology, he said, is one of the only ways to respond as clients ask law firms to do more for less.
“The only way, in my opinion, firms are going to survive is by automating as much as possible,” he said. “You can’t solve your problems with more people. The labor shortages right now are proving that. You can’t keep hiring more people. There are not enough skilled people to do this work.”
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That’s it for this week! Thanks for reading and please send me your thoughts, critiques, and tips.