The Legal Helm: Episode #15
Managed services is a hot topic in the legal landscape right now. In this episode of The Legal Helm podcast, Helm360’s Director of Consulting Projects & Managed Services, Melinda Ward, shares insights into how law firms can leverage managed services to not only increase their system’s functionality, but to also up its value.
Estimated read time: 21 minutes
Bim Dave is Helm360’s Executive Vice President. With 15+ years in the legal industry, his keen understanding of how law firms and lawyers use technology has propelled Helm360 to the industry’s forefront. A technical expert with a penchant for developing solutions that improve business systems and user experience, Bim has a knack for bringing high quality IT architects and developers together to create innovative, useable solutions to the legal arena.
Melinda Ward is Helm360’s Director of Consulting Solutions & Managed Services. A legal tech industry veteran with more than 20 years of experience consulting for global SaaS firms, Melinda leads our onshore and offshore teams to support service delivery for the company’s managed services clients. Before joining the Helm360 team, Melinda served in senior consultant management roles for leading software companies, including Thomson Reuters and Intapp. She optimized consulting teams, shaped client business development strategies, and helped sales teams close complex and high-value deals.
Bim: Hello everyone, and welcome to the next episode of The Legal Helm podcast. Today I’m very excited to be joined by our very own Melinda Ward, who heads up our Professional Services and Managed Services teams here at Helm360.
So, let’s dive straight into it, Melinda. Maybe we can start with an introduction of yourself and a little bit of your background.
Melinda: Hi. Bim, I’m happy to be here. My name’s Melinda Ward and I’m the Director of Consulting Solutions and Managed Services for Helm360. I joined Helm360 with over 25 years of experience in consulting, particularly in the legal tech industry. I’ve got a background working and managing implementation teams for Thompson Reuters Elite suite of products, as well as the InTapp suite of products for legal.
My specialty includes consulting with law firms around change in technology as well as change in business process. It’s a holistic approach to ensure that firms are getting the maximum benefit from their technology investments. I also have a lot of experience in managing teams, and I’m really looking forward to building the teams within the Helm360 organization and providing superior service to all of our clients.
Bim: Thank you, Melinda. That’s amazing. For those who don’t know, Melinda and I go way back and actually spent quite a bit of time working side by side at Thompson Reuters when I was there for 16 years. It’s great to have you on board at Helm360.
One of your focus areas here is obviously managed services and helping law firms really extend what they do from a service delivery perspective for their internal systems, particularly around the 3E portfolio. Can you help us understand what managed services is all about and why a law firm might be interested in them?
Melinda: Well, one of the big challenges that law firms face when they implement new practice management systems is the natural constraint on time. money and resources (people). A lot of times, the really big benefits that they could have become de-scoped or delayed. One of the things that managed services can do is step in and not let those wished for phase two things lie in a list somewhere never become reality. They let firms leverage our skills, our talent, and our experience to find an economical way of implementing those changes and really getting the most out of their systems.
Another thing that we provide is support for customizations within their practice management systems. Because a lot of times, the original software vendor will support their own software, but they will not support the customizations. That leaves firms at a loss if they do not have an in-house team to do that work themselves. We can step in, bring our expertise to the table and provide support to the customizations that they have and any additional customizations should they be required.
Bim: Fantastic. Thank you. Most of the firms that we work with, Melinda, will already have an in-house IT team to some degree, right? Some will have small teams, some will have large teams. What I’d really be interested to understand is how is managed services and the managed services team that you kind of represent and bring to the legal market different from what an in-house IT team would typically do, and does a law firm considering their options need both. How does that synergy really work?
Melinda: I believe in-house IT teams at law firms are often tasked with being involved with managing many different disparate products so that not only the practice management system, but the word processing whether it’s Microsoft Office or Google Docs or whatever other package they’re using, the document management system, any sort of form and workflow processing, the HR system, the client relationship management system, a huge number of systems. The problem is an IT team, even if you have 10 or 20 people, you’re going to have database administrators, you’re going to have security experts, you’re going to have people who can do a bit of programming, but you’re not going to have people who have that deep, multi-year experience with one product. They’re more generalists because they have to be.
We provide that specialist support and work with the IT teams of firms to fill in their gaps, both in knowledge and in expertise. We provide a scaled support; some firms need a lot of extra help and some need help with only the more complicated, specialized tasks. We’re flexible on that and we can help provide the support that’s needed on a case by case basis.
Bim: That’s an excellent point. I think I’ve heard this kind of message time and time again. That IT teams are very busy and stretched with the amount of work that they have to do, particularly with the hybrid model, which is pretty time intensive in terms of being able to make sure that the business can run as normal. When you throw in an expert product like Thomson Reuter’s Elite 3E platform that requires, a significant amount of knowledge to manage, maintain and extend… Like you say, that can make a real difference as to how much is on somebody’s plate.
If I’m a law firm looking to really leverage a firm like Helm360 to extend what we do, so not replace the functions, but really get the specialty skill sets they need to be successful, what kind of things should I look for in a managed services provider?
Melinda: I would say key aspects to look for are definitely industry experience, because there are a lot of people offering, IT services, not so many people are offering services in the products that the firms might have. Whether it be Elite 3E or InTapp, they should be looking for somebody who has that depth of experience in those particular products and with interfaces to those products as well, if that’s the nature of the work that needs doing.
Knowledge of the industry is also helpful. The team that’s supporting them can know what questions to ask. They won’t take the requirements given at face value and potentially build an incomplete or incorrect solution. I find a lot of times firms, for example, for a report, they have an idea of what they want. They can sketch it out. But they might miss something because they don’t know what they don’t know. We can provide that consultative experience to look at the requirements, make suggestions, and ask the detailed questions. Not just build what’s been originally requested. That value-add means that what you get is much more useful to the firm and much more comprehensive. It provides value for money.
Bim: Lovely, thank you. How have managed services changed in the post-Covid landscape? Obviously, there’s been a lot of additional pressure on IT teams which means there’s been a rise in the need for managed services. I’m interested to hear from you in terms of have you seen any changes post-Covid on the impact managed service delivery, or any trends that you’re seeing from that perspective?
Melinda: Post-Covid a lot of firms are going in two different directions, which are a little bit conflicting in my view. One direction is to reduce what we would call back office staff as much as possible and become as cost effective and efficient as possible. And while that’s an admirable goal, sometimes those cuts are going a little bit far.
On the other side of the coin, the need for effective system support and potentially automation support as well is becoming greater because workforces are working more remotely. They’re trying to do more with less across the firm. And if your systems are basically held together with duct tape and bubblegum, that’s not going to be a sustainable mode for the future.
So this is where a managed services model can come in because that takes the extra work that needs to be done without requiring full-time headcount for a firm. They can often justify that spend more easily in the budget. It’s an ideal model to say, “Look, keep your core in-house staff, which you need to keep things ticking over, but for specialist work where you don’t necessarily need full-time equivalent head count, come to a managed services model and we can scale up and scale back easily and dynamically to match the firm’s needs.
Bim: Great, thank you. So, if I am interested in signing up as a managed services customer, can you give us a little feel for what that entails? If I assign tomorrow, how do learn my system and really understand the dynamics of the products I might have implemented in terms of how things are talking to each. What is Helm360 s approach to making sure that you can provide that effective service deliver?
Melinda: Well, our initial scoping involves having a look at the number of customizations that a firm has in place, the products that they have in place, and what their vision is for those products. If the firm has fairly new implementation, they’re not going to need upgrade services straight away, for example, but they may have some customizations that need doing so we can talk about that. We can talk about priorities and come up with a custom solution and budget for what it might take to get those tasks done.
For a firm that has a system that’s been in place for a long time or is maybe looking at retiring a system that’s basically end of life and migrating to a new system, we can offer a different level of support. We can offer things like data analysis and cleansing to ensure all of those duplicate data records and those things that’ll make a migration difficult.can be cleansed in advance. We can look at providing support for the implementation, including QA teams, test scripts custom documentation, support for data extraction, data conversion. A lot of the things where when firms are looking to do an implementation, they sometimes get slowed down because the vendor might not have resources available as quickly as the firm might like, so we can kind of backfill in some of those area and provide those support services and then transition post- go-live to more of the ongoing support model for care and feeding.
Every deal we write with every client is different because every client has different needs. Do they just want support for what they have now, or do they want to change and expand and develop new customizations? Do they want help with performance issues? Do they want help with upgrade issues? Do they want help with QA and testing exercise? There’s a huge list of services we can offer, and all of those discussions happen up front, but of course can be scaled over time as the firm’s needs change.
Bim: That’s excellent. So, it can be tailored to what the firm really needs which is fantastic to hear. Great.
Movement in the legal technology spaces is evolving rapidly. We’re seeing new products being brought to market. Lots of exciting things happening. What do you feel are some of the most exciting opportunities within legal technology?
Melinda: There are a couple of angles that I find really interesting right now. I find the use of more cloud-based solutions is quite interesting. Initially, in this legal space, there was a lot of resistance to cloud-based solutions. Even five years ago, people were really hesitant about it and concerned about the security impacts and where data is held. Those are still factors, but a lot of those questions have been answered. Now firms can viably look at having more hosted solutions or moving some of their own infrastructure into the cloud. That’s one area where I think firms can get a lot of scalability and benefit from technology.
The other area that I find really fascinating, and I’m excited to see what comes of it, is in AI (Automated intelligence). This is something that’s been buzzword bingo to death and has been really hyped, but beyond the hype, there’s some actual benefits to it. Some of these benefits, like being able to quickly access information, being able to save time and therefore save money for fear earners, for example, who are looking for information, you know, if they’re on the phone with a client and the client asks, “Can you tell me how many. cases your firm has done in mining in Canada,” for example. It used to be that the lawyer would have to say, “I’ll check on that and I’ll get back to you.” Then they would have to send a request maybe to the billing team or the marketing team and gather the information and get back to the client.
But with some of the AI solutions that are out now, especially Termi from Helm360 ourselves, while they’re on the phone, they can say, “just a second.” Type in the question, get the answer back and carry on the conversation with the client. That empowers the firm and the partners and the fearers to be able to have that information directly, help the clients directly and win more deals as a result.
Bim: I totally agree. I think it’s very interesting what’s happening in the AI space. It’s gone from let’s just throw this buzzword out there to actually having tangible solutions that are leveraging AI to do what they need to do to really add value, improve productivity.
That example you just gave is not just saving a lawyer’s time, but it’s also allowing them to have a better service delivery to their client. That’s huge in itself. And there’s some really exciting things happening with regard to deep learning models, transformers in particular. Not the old Transformers movie, but transformers that are deep learning models that really allow you to see what the future of AI solutions will look like.
There’s a very interesting company out there called Open that is doing some wonderful things with progressing deep learning models. One of the things that they recently built was Dali II, which is basically a system that you can type in natural language, a description of something, and it will produce an artistic image of whatever you’ve written. It’s pretty interesting to see how capable it is. And although that’s kind of an off-the-wall example, the level of understanding that you can get from AI systems today is pretty interesting. How that applies to the legal world in future will be very interesting to see.
I appreciate your input on that. So, Melinda, what steps can a law firm take to prepare for managed service?
Melinda: Well, in advance of having our scoping discussions, the best thing to do is to really just start with documentation. Gather up all of your documents from any previous system implementations that you’ve had. Gather up any lists of items that have been postponed, deferred, or tagged as phase two items.
Another big thing that doesn’t happen anywhere near often enough is talking to the end users. Ask them, “What are the things in your current process that are taking the most time or giving you the most trouble?” Make a list of those things. You can’t make any promises, but that will be grounds for us to discuss possible effective solutions for the firm to streamline processes and procedures may be had an origin back in a workaround for an old technology problem from years ago that’s since been resolved. It’s amazing how many times I see firms carrying processes forward from 10-15 years ago. There are so many inefficiencies, but they just don’t realize that this can be changed and improved.
So get that list from the people who are doing the job every day. Then let us have that discussion with you about what we might be able to do to.
Bim: What fantastic advice. I think it’s interesting because what tends to happen is you get firms that implement a product like 3E and they spend a lot of time, effort, and energy getting it to a point where it’s right enough for them to go live and use the product. That’s a significant investment.
What we want to do post-go-live is maximize that investment and the ROI. What a lot of people don’t realize is that those small incremental changes that happen after go-live because you’ve had the opportunity to settle into the system, your users know how the system works and what it’s capable of doing, that’s a really good opportunity to do exactly what you say: document your wish list, what gaps you see when you’re up and running and operational. Allow that change to happen incrementally.
Melinda: I’ve always had the view that firms should revisit their systems at least once a year, especially the first year after go-live. and assess what is working well and what could be improved. There’s always something that can be improved, especially if you’ve gone live with what we often call the minimum viable product because everybody’s got implementation fatigue; it needs to get done. So you get the implementation over the line, you get it in place and those things that you really wanted to do. the nice-to-haves, the things where you’d really see the benefit of the new system, often get delayed. But don’t delay too long otherwise those things will be forgotten.
Also people’s enchantment with the system and engagement with the system will drop. So as long as firms and users are seeing continuous improvement, in a systematic fashion, then they will remain engaged with the system, positive about the system, and be advocates.
Bim: Wonderful. Thank you. Now I have a question regarding some of the travel that you’ve done. You’ve, you mentioned earlier that you’ve traveled the world visiting various clients in different countries, continents, all over the world. Tell me what was your most interesting experience in your travels over the years?
Melinda: Oh my. There have been so many. I’ve been on a plane that’s caught fire. I’ve been locked in an office building in Poland where I didn’t speak Polish and nobody understood that I just needed to get out of the building.
One of the funny ones was some years ago. I was in Moscow for a work trip and I was looking for somewhere to eat in the evening. In Moscow 10 -12 years ago, there were not a lot of non Russian only language restaurants, which is normal. I mean, that’s fine. I’m not conversant in Russian though. So, I happened to walk past a restaurant, looked like a big building, and it had menus in the front of the building in all different languages. I thought, “oh great, here’s a place where it’ll be easy for me to figure out what I want to eat and should be a reasonable place to go.” Looks like a business person’s restaurant.
So, I go in and I sit down. The place is fairly empty because it’s a little early for their dinner scene I was thinking. Then I noticed a lot of men coming in all in business suits, clearly coming from offices and they start sitting down at tables, but they’re keeping an empty chair between them. I thought “that’s interesting. I guess colleagues are joining them or something.”
Just before my meal comes. Music starts and this parade of beautiful, very scantily clad, Amazons walks in and they start filling in the empty seats. Then a dance show starts on the stage. I realized that what I’d stumbled into what was a strip club. I ate very quickly, paid my bill and left.
The next day I mentioned to the client where I was working. They of course asked, “how was your evening? Did you find somewhere for dinner?” I said, “Well, it was interesting. I went to this place” and I gave the name of the place. They just started laughing. They were like, “why would you go there? “ I said, “Because you didn’t tell me not to.”
So, yeah, lots of things can happen when you’re traveling in a country where you’re not fluent in the language.
Bim: What a fantastic story. Great for you to share that with us. Thank you.
As we wrap things up, it’d be good to learn a little bit more about you, Melinda. if you had the opportunity to borrow a Dr. Who’s time machine and go back to Melinda when she was 18 years old, what career advice would you give her?
Melinda: You know, that’s tricky because things have a weird way working out the way they should. I would say some career advice that I might have given myself would’ve been don’t wait so long for things to happen. Take more proactive action. In our younger years, when you don’t know your boundaries and how much initiative you can and should take, it’s easy to hang back a bit. It all worked out okay in the end, but I think I might have made it faster had I demonstrated more of initiatives that I had in my head at the time.
Bim: Wonderful. And just one final wrap up question. We have lots of different people that listen to us on our podcast, which we are very grateful for. For those that might be out thinking about making a transition from working at a law firm to going into a consulting role, any words of wisdom for somebody thinking about a career change like that, given your experience? You know, being in that role, what kind of highs and lows of being are there to being a consultant? Any tips and tricks on getting into that?
Melinda: Over the years, I’ve hired lots of people who have come from conventional office-based roles into more consultative type positions. One of the key factors for what makes that transition successful is if the individual enjoys the busy times. If you’ve just gone through a big implementation project, for example. If you enjoyed the buzz of it, the change, the always having stuff to do, then you’ll probably enjoy consulting.
If you hated that experience and you wanted everything to go back to normal so you could have your quiet day and go to lunch when you’re meant to go to lunch and leave at the end of the day when you’re meant to leave, then consulting might not suit you. Because firms hire in teams like the Helm360 team for example, when they have a problem that needs to be solved. They’re either short on time, short on money, short on experience, and they have something that needs done. And once that something is done, then you go on to the next project or the next task. You don’t get that calm, let’s just chill out for a while period in the consulting world. So, for those who are kind of bored and frustrated in those calm times, consulting is definitely something you should look into. I’m happy to speak more to anybody who has an interest.
I have mentored lots of junior consultants in the past, and when I say junior, that doesn’t mean chronologically junior. It means people who are new to the consulting space. If you’re interested in making the jump, Helm360 is growing at an incredible pace. There’s such a demand for services. I’m happy to have a private, confidential one-on-one with anybody who wants to connect with me on LinkedIn under Melinda Lee Ward, or you can me look up through the Helm 360 page on LinkedIn. I‘m happy to have a discussion with you.
Bim: Thank you very much for that advice. It has been a pleasure talking to you as always, Melinda. Thank you very much for being here. We’re really excited and looking forward to see how Helm360’s managed services and consulting team evolve under your guidance.
Melinda: Thank you for the invitation, Bim. It’s been lots of fun. I look forward to seeing what our future is going to bring.
Want to know more about Helm360’s Managed Services? Contact us! We’re happy to help.