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September 07 Businessexcellence 49 Jenner & Block’s executive director and chief operating officer Meredith Mendes tells Jenn Monroe how change can be introduced into a law firm Changing the law Jenner & Block

Businessexcellence September 07 50 Successfully managing the needs of a law fi rm takes a special type of balancing act, and it’s one at which Meredith Mendes is particularly adept. As executive director and chief operating offi cer for the Chicago-based Jenner & Block, Mendes brings a business perspective to managing the administrative support areas of the fi rm. Although she has a law degree, she also has an MBA and CPA and Mendes has spent the majority of her career in the business world. In 2005 she joined Jenner & Block, and immediately found her business experience invaluable in terms of strategies to help the fi rm meet its goals. “Law fi rms have unique needs,” she said. “The challenge for me was to fi nd ways to make the partners happy and move the fi rm’s operations ahead strategically.” Some of the ideas involve improving work fl ow, while others employ technology. At the center of all improvements is Jenner & Block’s drive for effi ciency. “We are doing projects,” said Mendes, “and historically law fi rms haven’t followed the principles of project management. To succeed at this, people have to be motivated to continuously want to do things better.” Mendes brought in two professional project managers and a new CIO to help move things along. Jenner & Block is not using a formal continuous improvement process, but Mendes’ approach is having an impact. In an industry where everyone tends to want to do things others have tested, “people are asking about what we are doing,” she said. Brainstorming and staying in communication with partners, associates, staff and others in law fi rm management positions are also important aspects of the approach. “I’m constantly interviewing people,” Mendes said. “We’re talking all the time and keeping our ears open.” In one interview, a partner told Mendes that his administrative assistant was functioning more like a workfl ow coordinator, doing more of what a project assistant does or would do. This led Mendes and her staff to encourage support staff for paralegals and project assistants to become trained in litigation support software and to think about developing a pilot project that would allow administrative assistants to train with paralegals and project assistants. Additionally, Mendes and her staff are piloting a teamed administrative support approach for certain incoming and second year associates. “Some associates’ needs are not being met by the traditional pairing of partner and associates with one secretary,” Mendes said. This is in large part because of the different needs of associates fresh out of law school. Secretaries perform typing, billing and time input for partners, among other things. It is rare to fi nd associates who do not type their own work. “Our associates come in ready to work with new technology and are the fi rst to ask for it.” On the other hand, senior partners often still use dictaphones—which Mendes defended as “effi cient.” Technology is critical to Jenner & Block’s improvement plans. In fact, the fi rm is in the middle of two vital technology improvements. First is a move to a VOIP phone system that started a year ago with the installation of new infrastructure. Before Mendes arrived at Jenner & Block in the fall of 2005, the plan had been not to replace the phone system until after the fi rm’s scheduled Chicago offi ce move in 2009. “When I got here the infrastructure was not where it needed to be,” Mendes admitted. Additionally, she discovered that if the fi rm implemented VOIP before the move, 100 percent of that technology could be moved. As with all projects, and as might be expected with a law fi rm, Mendes and the CIO made sure they had all the information they needed before making a case for the change. “We present objectives, evidence, and facts,” she said. To this end, two vendors were invited to the fi rm to give on-site presentations, and then employees were asked which phones they preferred. Jenner & Block chose Cisco, and is currently in the process of implementation. As part of the VOIP implementation, the fi rm will implement uniform messaging, which integrates traditional telephone messages so they can be retrieved from PDAs and computers. “Everything is becoming one,” Mendes said. “It makes people 100 percent mobile. People can function more effectively and be available and productive 24/7. That keeps our clients well served.” Soundpathsm Legal Conferencing was created by lawyers for lawyers. Jenner & Block saves time and money for clients and the fi rm by using Soundpath’s automated system for entering client and matter numbers, which tracks billable conferences. They also choose their own easy-to-remember personal conference passcodes. More than 35 of the AmLaw 100 use Soundpath. You can too. Soundpath Legal Conferencing The Northern Trust Company provides fi rms like Jenner & Block and its partners innovative credit and deposit services, custody and investment of retirement assets, and treasury management. Through a unique combination of local expertise and world-class resources, our dedicated teams for legal professionals, executives and business owners deliver comprehensive fi nancial solutions and an exceptional client experience. Northern Trust