Faced with tight budgets and burgeoning regulatory requirements, campus law offices are turning to enterprise legal management systems to put matters in order.
Lawyers don’t always cut the most sympathetic figures, but spare a thought for campus law teams that increasingly find themselves caught in a full-court press: squeezed on one side by budget cuts and on the other by a growing mountain of regulatory requirements. It’s enough to make a legal eagle buy a comfort beagle. Or, in the case of the University of Alabama system, invest in a new enterprise legal management system (ELM).
“We’re trying to do more with less,” said Cooper Shattuck, general counsel in the Office of Counsel for the UA system, about the situation facing campus law departments. “At the same time, there’s a higher expectation for colleges and universities to be responsible for more things and more people.”
Much of this responsibility comes in the form of a growing number of government mandates. “One of the primary drivers is the more intense regulatory environment in which we find ourselves in higher education, whether it’s statutes passed by the federal government, directives from the Department of Education, or requirements for compliance in our individual states,” he explained. “These have increased at an exponential pace.”
In an effort to handle this surge, the UA Office of Counsel turned to eCounsel, an ELM from Mitratech, an Austin-based software company that specializes in legal-management issues. An ELM is more than just a document-management system. It allows a legal office to tap into all the resources and experiences of that office rather than relying on lawyers’ individual memories. eCounsel gives the UA legal team easy access to past matters (law speak for legal files), similar matters, research, contracts, and agreements.
“If I’m dealing with the Department of Justice on a race issue involving sororities, for example, I create a matter in which all of those documents are placed,” said Shattuck. “It holds not just documents but contacts—who was involved both inside and outside our organization. It enables us to find our e-mails and all of our internal and external documents.”
Having these materials in one easily accessible place makes it possible for the Office of Counsel to represent its clients more effectively and efficiently. It also makes it easier for new lawyers to jump into action without a long learning curve.
“You often get lawyers with great skills but not necessarily experience in higher ed,” said Shattuck of applicants who seek positions in university legal offices. “In higher ed, those regulations, directives, and rulings are so voluminous that no single person can know all of them. New lawyers need to be able to access the materials, the information, and experiences of the office as a whole.”