My company consults with law firms throughout the United States and happily recommends Needles to many of its clients. Catalyst believes Needles is the new generation of software that can partner with a firm for better efficiency. (By the way, our company recommends vendors based upon a commitment to client service and values and does not nor will not accept remuneration for referrals). We have assisted with installs in firms and we have gone in and reorganized where the law firm owners have not utilized Needles to its fullest capabilities. Without exception, those firms that have a designated Needles Manager win hands down for full utilization of Needles.
This year's Needles theme "Knowledge is Power" seems to describe the Needles Manager I wish to nominate on behalf of myself and the law firm of Hardison & Leone, L.L.P. -Elizabeth A. Leone, Needles Manager for the firm.
Hardison & Leone, L.L.P., is one of our clients, located in Raleigh, North Carolina. I currently serve as its Chief IT Officer through Catalyst. I started consulting with this firm in 1999 and helped them install their first case management system.
Beth's reputation in North Carolina as a litigator is well known but as she progressed in her career, the future of her law firm and how it would be run well into the 21 st Century became a quest of hers. She handles the management of the firm and her partner, Ken Hardison, handles the marketing. The firm has three manned offices, twelve lawyers, and some fifty staff members. The firm's reputation within North Carolina is one of respect for their legal services and their commitment to client service. The attorneys and staff are highly talented and well-trained. She hires the best of the best.
Beth became convinced that law firms in the 21st Century had to make use and have available the best technology tools to make them cost efficient as well as operational efficient. Without technology, the law firm would not grow and prosper.
She searched many programs and designed a plan that would ultimately convert her firm to a system that would allow the proper management of the firm and fit in line with a work culture that allowed both skilled and process driven positions. After much thought and deliberation, Beth made a decision which has proved to be correct: she jettisoned all existing software systems and converted her firm to a Needles based firm. Her bottom line mandate was that if the firm was going to be a Needles firm, then it would utilize 100% of the program. To accomplish this, to work in her firm you would understand Needles!
Thus the firm's "Eye of the Needle" program was launched. She put into play a six month pre-program that was designed to get the firm into shape to absorb Needles. She created an enthusiasm in her firm that allowed her lawyers and non-lawyers to become both excited and creative in the design of Needles for all practice areas. By the time the install took place, Hardison & Leone, L.L.P. was ahead of the curve. In talking with our trainer, it was obvious that Beth's pre-prep had worked to everyone's benefit. The remainder of the first year was one of ups and downs but with the firm moving quickly up the Needles system ladder. Within the first year, Beth personally wrote operational manuals for all areas of practices for her firm with the processes defined and Needles driven. She created operational manuals for all management and marketing programs through Needles. She personally designed and developed well over 1000 templates for use in her firm's practice areas. And she did it all by creating an environment of trust and learning with her lawyers and non-lawyers as a team.
Quality Assurance Auditing is a new phrase for law firms but Beth quickly saw the wisdom of having an audit system to support her lawyers and her staff. She held many training programs to show the importance of timely data input. She basically held everyone's feet to the fire until they got it down pat. She was able to track productivity of cases and get rid of menial problems that slowed down the control of the case. She has reduced the case time enough that the affect on the firm's income made a noticeable jump in 2005. She created new positions within the firm to meet the Needles demands and with this lowered the overhead of the firm. She made Needles pay for itself.
This was done through the use of some 120 user reports that are used with MS/Excel to combine financial and marketing data. Calculations are done for burden rates for profit centers, financial projections on revenue and overhead, and process efficiency for the resource centers. Since the processes were incorporated in Needles using the checklist, the reports could identify process problems. One of the underlying values of her quality assurance concept was that in a process driven system, any error is the fault of the process, not the staff. This allowed for many process improvement studies and a reduction in burden rates. All this drove improvements in case performance.
The next year was one of development of report systems that would enable her staff of lawyers and non-lawyers to monitor their cases through checklist reporting. Since she adopted the concept of a balanced scorecard driven by quality assurance, several areas were measured by Needles reports. Her firm is built on client service and she was able to design reports that showed that all clients were contacted every thirty days by staff and every sixty days by attorneys and she got a 95% and above compliance from her firm. This was just the tip of the iceberg for her. She then added reports that would allow everyone to see how long it took to get a case ready for settlement and, with Needles, shortened the time for the case to be settled or sent to trial.
She also began a training program for her firm that was designed to make Needles user friendly and one of a work partner. As a result, her staff is Needles happy! They see the reason for the system and have come to rely on it as a tool that makes their jobs easier. She made Needles non-threatening and she helped everyone interpret Needles.
Law firms generally utilize skilled base employees to run their cases, most notably lawyers and paralegals. Beth has created a law firm system based on Needles that allows her to hire process driven employees who have the ability to step into a law firm without training or legal background and help support the large number of cases her firm handles. These positions support the skilled base people.
And because client service is important to her (her number one Rule), she has designed a survey system that allows reporting by the clients of their satisfaction with major areas of the case work. And she runs the reports to prove her point. Beth has been consistent in her commitment to Needles. If you work for Hardison & Leone, you are a Needles Nut! Beth was not willing to allow people just to do their job -they had to think outside the box with Needles. She has created an atmosphere where her lawyers and non-lawyers contribute constantly to ideas to improve the system which allows the client the best possible case handling.
Beth has truly taken her law firm into the 21st Century with proper utilization of the Needles system. Needles is more than just case management; it is a way of life for a law firm. At Hardison & Leone, Needles is the third partner in the firm.
And as always when I work with law firms, the question becomes what is the pay-off. As a former auditor and upper level project manager for a Fortune 500 company, I appreciate it when I see a law firm running efficiently. Under Beth's guidance I have seen this firm exceed all possible expectations through Needles utilization. Her achievements go beyond that of an owner to one of a leader. She has set the standards in her firm for all that follow. And it appears she is not through with all her ideas for her firm and for Needles. She is taking her firm paperless this year and she has implemented many management ideas into Needles which help her track her firm's operations.
In the leadership courses I teach, I say that a born leader surrounds himself or herself with good people and good products to drive the firm forward. I have watched Beth come from an associate, to a partner, to the management partner within a seven year period. Most importantly I have seen her take complex technology coupled with Needles and drive her firm beyond everyone's expectations. She works many long hours every week running a large volume of her own cases, handles the management of this large firm, and still devotes many hours to making Needles better for everyone. She has been instrumental with my company in graciously allowing many of my own clients to come into her firm and see how Needles can work.
Beth realizes that Needles is built on a true team concept and she has been unselfish in her commitment to making Needles work for everyone. She is willing to listen and willing to try new ideas; all of which makes her firm a great place to work. She neither seeks credit nor seeks approval but rather seeks excellence in what her firm can do with Needles. She believes in her people and because of that, Needles works! It will be interesting to see how far she goes in the future with Needles. She has kept true to her word -if we buy it we use it!
Beth, by the way, has worked all positions in a law firm before going to law school, is an AV rated attorney (within five years), has been active on a chair level in many professional associations, and lives in Raleigh with the "golden girls"; her two golden retrievers named "Hearsay" and "Piper". She is known for her integrity and commitment to her profession.
There are many prestigious awards I believe Beth can qualify for but I truly believe recognition for her commitment to Needles and her firm qualifies her as the Needles Manager of the Year. She deserves the trip as she seldom does for herself and puts others first both professionally and personally. She has a genuine compassion for those less fortunate and does many things for others without recognition. Most importantly in today's world of law, she stands out as an attorney committed to integrity and to her clients and holds her firm to those same standards. She simply believes in doing the best job possible with unswerving attention to doing what's right for her firm and her clients. And she has utilized the very best of Needles to make it happen.