Justin Ergler (left) and Meg Sullivan
Justin Ergler (left) and Meg Sullivan

Justin Ergler of GlaxoSmithKline has led a corporate boycott of the billable hour in a unique demonstration of the power of business to force change on the legal industry.

The global pharmaceutical group’s alternative fee director was singled out by judges for implementing a radical policy of switching outside counsel to flat fees based on both value for money and shared risk.

Meg Sullivan was hailed by judges for her success — particularly as a “non-lawyer” — in effecting change from within a conservative law firm. After joining Paul Hastings to head the US firm’s marketing and business development operations, she worked to turn sustainability and diversity into growth opportunities before they became fashionable in the wider business community.
Leyla Boulton, Chair of judging panel

Profiles compiled by RSG and FT editors. The list is divided to reflect two sides of the legal profession: in-house legal teams and law firms.

In-house legal teams

Winner: Justin Ergler

Director, alternative fee intelligence and analytics

Justin Ergler, GlaxoSmithKline lawyer, Research Triangle Park

Over the past 10 years pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline has moved to end paying for legal advice on an hourly rate. It introduced alternative billing arrangements with the law firms it uses regularly and set up a reverse auction process.

Justin Ergler entered into legal procurement in 2010 and has developed strategies and pricing models to move all law firms to mostly value-based fees. He selected the highest-value mergers and acquisitions, litigation and intellectual property work as test cases, the logic being that if the system worked on complex matters, it would apply to easier ones too.

To ensure fees are fair and sustainable, Mr Ergler leads projects that analyse fee data for specific tasks and develops prediction models.

Tariq Abdullah

Managing counsel, global governance: data, analytics and operations

Tariq Abdullah

The US retailer’s business depends on being able to offer products at low prices. Tariq Abdullah’s role in developing technologies and practices that allow the legal team and other employees to work more efficiently contributes to the broader corporate mission.

Mr Abdullah focuses on the value of using more tech. He says: “We have increased willingness to embrace new ways of working, the adoption of new tools and technology and [shifted] decision-making to become data-driven.”

Since joining Walmart in 2013, Mr Abdullah has implemented technologies for document automation, data analytics and ediscovery. These have included an artificial intelligence tool that automates responses to repetitive claims, such as those relating to certain workplace accidents. The team are now analysing the data in order to understand underlying risks.

Jason Barnwell

Assistant general counsel — modern legal

Jason Barnwell

Jason Barnwell created the modern legal team within Microsoft’s corporate, external and legal affairs department to drive cultural change, train and develop team members, and increase the use of technology.

There is still a cultural hurdle, however. “The hardest and most important thing we will do . . . is show our colleagues how technology can improve and transform their work,” says Mr Barnwell.

One way this is being achieved is through a new “productivity hackers” programme to invest in skills to support digital transformation.

Last year Mr Barnwell led the company’s law firm engagement strategy, helping to redesign how it works with more than 650 firms and manage hundreds of millions of dollars in external legal expenditure.

Sergio Letelier

Vice-president and deputy general counsel, corporate, securities and M&A
Hewlett Packard Enterprise

Letelier Sergio

Sergio Letelier joined Hewlett-Packard in 2002 and took an M&A-focused legal role two years later.

In 2013 he led the development of the company’s M&A “legal master process” and supporting technology platform, which involved breaking the process into 597 discrete steps to then include them in project management software.

The technology allowed the HP legal team, with support from outside law firms, to take a lead in 2015 on splitting the $110bn company in two, after which Mr Letelier moved to Hewlett Packard Enterprise.

The program is now used to manage Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s M&A legal practice. It gives staff guidance and templates, and allows management an overview of live deals.

Mary Shen O’Carroll

Director of legal operations

Mary O'Carroll

The role of the legal operations professional has moved centre stage in recent years, thanks in part to the success of the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium, a network of experts in legal operations.

Mary Shen O’Carroll is a founding member who became president in January. Her work to define legal operations dates from 2008, when she joined Google and established processes for knowledge management and managing outside counsel.

She introduced an outside counsel dashboard, which allows the in-house team to monitor, evaluate and cut legal spending. Such analytics-based decision-making has enabled the company to implement new policies, processes, training and technology.

Ms Shen O’Carroll says: “We’ve seen the role of legal operations grow in prevalence, scope and stature — that is something I’m proud to be a part of.”

Law firms

Winner: Meg Sullivan

Chief business development, marketing and corporate social responsibility officer
Paul Hastings

Meg Sullivan

Meg Sullivan has been an agent of change at her law firm for 16 years, designing new ways to work with clients and driving broad cultural shifts.

Ms Sullivan created frameworks such as a value pyramid that helps both lawyers and staff take a fresh view of clients’ needs. This led to a reorganisation of Paul Hastings’ business lines to focus on clients’ needs rather than the firms’ own practice areas.

Working with the firm’s talent managers, she has helped reinvent training to offer different career routes for associates. In a rare move for a non-legal professional at a law firm, she created a new practice: “impact and sustainability”.

Outside the firm, Ms Sullivan founded the Quorum Initiative, a project to help female executives advance their careers.

Michael Caplan

Chief operating officer
Goodwin Procter

Mike Caplan -- Environmental Headshots - Goodwin, NYC, Monday, February 25, 2019. (Michael Pollio/Feature Photo Service)

Before joining Goodwin Procter five years ago, Michael Caplan had run a legal operations consultancy, and worked in that field at Marsh & McLennan and Goldman Sachs.

At Goodwin, he argued for a new model of working with clients, offering both legal advice and business-of-law services.

This has led lawyers to take a different view of the 825 non-legal professionals in operations, technology, HR and marketing as a valuable resource for clients.

A large part of Mr Caplan’s role is client-facing. He talks to clients’ legal operations heads and helps them implement electronic billing platforms. He has also raised the number of matters conducted via alternative fee arrangements. A finance and accounting professional, Mr Caplan shows you do not have to be a lawyer to sell legal services.

Katie DeBord

Chief innovation officer
Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner

As global innovation lead at Bryan Cave, Katie DeBord has designed and led new business lines that expand the services the firm offers.

These include co-developing and launching Cantilever, the legal operations consulting arm, and BCLP Cubed, a service to handle clients’ high-volume work.

The business lines have generated new client work and increased the firm’s lawyers’ knowledge about legal operations.

Ms DeBord is also helping train a new generation of legal technologists via an internship scheme that she developed in collaboration with Colorado university.

“My greatest impact has been to help show how we can be more than subject matter experts to our clients — we can be true partners of the business,” she says.

Melissa Prince

Chief client value and innovation officer
Ballard Spahr

Melissa Prince

After practising as a lawyer and then legal project manager, Melissa Prince moved to Ballard Spahr in 2015 to create her 20-strong team from scratch. They now use pricing models and project management tools to benefit clients.

Ms Prince led the creation of a suite called Ballard360 which includes tools used by both the firm’s lawyers and its clients for document review, automation, case management and pricing.

The team created a new pricing model, which increased the transparency and predictability of the firm’s fees. More than 60 per cent of fees are now billed using blended or fixed fees, fee caps or discounts rather than hourly rates.

Ballard Spahr says these arrangements saved clients nearly $41m in 2018, while the firm remained profitable.

Meredith Williams-Range

Chief knowledge and client value officer
Shearman & Sterling

Meredith Williams-Range

Meredith Williams-Range has a wide remit, with responsibility for the firm’s knowledge management, research and informational services, as well as legal project management, conflicts, governance and new business intake teams.

One of her goals has been to connect these teams to make better use of the firm’s resources, systems and data.

In just over a year, she has led initiatives to modernise te firm, creating a culture of innovation and improving efficiencies.

Her approach has been to change everything at once, a potentially risky strategy at a traditional and venerable law firm.

Ms Williams-Range spearheaded Shearman Analytics, a new approach to using previously unconnected data to help guide decisions about staffing, pricing and risk, and to help predict outcomes in legal matters.

Explore the Innovative Lawyers North America rankings 2019


  • Most innovative law firms
  • Most innovative in-house legal teams
  • Rule of law and access to justice
  • Collaboration

Business of Law

  • Technology and data
  • New business and service delivery models
  • New products and services
  • Talent, strategy and changing behaviours
  • Diversity and inclusion

Legal Expertise

  • Accessing new markets and capital
  • Creating a new standard
  • Enabling business growth and transformation
  • Litigation and disputes
  • Managing complexity and scale
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