When you order a meal at a restaurant, there’s a menu and a waiter to provide information, service and, if something goes wrong, accountability. It’s a pretty simple system, but it works. What happens when someone on the business side wants to order up something from the company’s legal team? It’s not always so easy. And that’s the issue that Wolters Kluwer ELM Solutions wants to address. Lee Matthews, the new ventures strategy director, and Matt Kivlin, a senior director of product management growth markets, sat down to talk about their approach. The interview has been edited for style and length.

MCC: What challenges do in-house counsel and legal department managers face when someone from the business makes a request for a legal service, such as reviewing a contract?

Matthews: Traditionally this process has been conducted manually and rather ad hoc. Business people might submit their requests by email or they would just call the legal department to make the request. While this may seem convenient at the time, it can also be rather chaotic for legal departments to manage. When you think about it from the perspective of the stakeholders in the group – practice area managers and attorneys – there was no transparency and visibility into what requests are coming in and when. Who's responsible for responding to the request? Who's tracking the status of the request at any given point in time and communicating with the requester?

Similarly, without a central place for storing and managing requests, the burden falls on legal operations to overcome the challenges of managing storage and access. Many legal departments do have matter management systems. But many requests really never rise to that level of becoming a legal matter. Companies lack the tools needed to address those types of requests. The ones that don't rise to the level of a matter, that's a clear gap.

Kivlin: Also, let's not forget that there's another player in this workflow. Of course that's the business requester, the person who made the request in the first place. From their perspective, this request gets submitted, maybe through email, and it's very difficult for them to know the current status. Where does it currently stand? Many of the inefficiencies that Lee just talked about for the corporate legal side also exist for those who are requesting the services.