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GE Legal Takes the Lead

2007 April 18
by John Wallbillich

Corporate Counsel magazine has announced the winner in its second annual selection of the best US legal department. Out of 500 legal departments who were invited to participate, 30 responded, with self-nomination materials.

The winner: GE. As the full report notes, GC Brackett Denniston leads an in-house team of 1,225 lawyers (with a budget near $1 billion), who make particularly good use of technology. One example is the Early Case Assessment (ECA) program:

The matter gets logged into the legal department’s tracking system. Within 60 days to 90 days, lawyers assigned to the case identify and interview witnesses; collect, review, and report on relevant documents; and assess the risks. The attorneys can also tap into a system designed by the legal department’s technology team and pull up any legislation or case law that could affect the dispute. Ultimately, the litigation team can decide, early on, whether it’s best to settle or take the case to trial.

ECA and other initiatives allowed GE to reduce litigation costs from $120.5 million in 2002 to $69.3 million in 2005. It’s an interesting and important statistic when a growing company lowers legal costs. Something for law firms scrambling for more business to ponder.

GC Legal also uses a robust IT department to make it work, including:

… ten full-time staff and one attorney. They custom-tailor systems to meet the company’s legal needs, such as virtual deal rooms, work-flow tools, and tracking systems. The group spends $2 million a year developing and supporting those systems — but they estimate the up-front costs save millions in lawyer productivity each year. “I’d love to buy more [software] off the shelf,” says John Brudz, senior counsel of legal tech, “but we get more added value [developing it ourselves] because off the shelf just doesn’t work for our size.”

You can hear a collective sigh from the legal tech community, who would love to get some of that spend allocated to their products.

Like its core businesses, GE Legal leads from a combination of top-shelf talent and a concentration of financial and capital resources. It almost seems like they have reached critical mass, and are generating improvements that come from the network that is GE Legal.

Also recognized by Corporate Counsel are the legal departments of J.C. Penney, Allstate, and Accenture.

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