Shearman & Sterling launches legal operations offering for in-house teams

Dedicated service intended to ‘close the gap’ between legal ops and tech providers and unmet client need

Top 50 US law firm Shearman & Sterling has launched a dedicated legal operations consulting service aimed at corporate law departments. 

Known as Legal Operations by Shearman, the new offering is intended to provide clients with the tools and know-how to set up and maintain complex legal ops. Shearman already provided aspects of the new service to its clients but said the dedicated offering is meant to ‘close the gap’ between legal ops and tech providers and needs clients say are still not being met. 

The New York firm will draw from existing teams for the venture, which is led by Anthony Widdop, Shearman’s global director of legal operations, who is based in London, alongside chief knowledge and client value officer Meredith Williams-Range and chief technology officer Lawrence Baxter, who are both based in New York.

"We observed that in-house law departments face similar challenges to our lawyers and identified alignment between areas of need from our clients and our own capabilities, to support the development of a legal operations offering,” said Widdop. “Our client conversations indicated that many legal operations departments are still in the early stages of development, while our teams have been supporting the business needs of lawyers for a generation."

Described on Shearman’s website as a start-up within an established business, the new venture will initially offer services focused on knowledge management, process improvement, legal tech, business intelligence and training & development. 

Its flagship offering is a visualisation tool called Shearman Accelere8 that the firm said would enable clients to reach decisions in days that would normally take months; use cases include deciding when outside counsel should be engaged and improving a complex existing process

The service also includes access to legal ops professionals via Legal Operations in Your Pocket, a customised subscription offering that Shearman said negates the need to hire legal operations specialists for smaller law departments or those with ad-hoc support needs.

"In 2021, members of our teams started to bring their capabilities directly to bear with external clients. In an environment where many corporate law departments are developing their own legal operations teams, there were significant areas of common focus,” Baxter said. “While law firms don’t have all the answers, they do have experience of what has and has not worked, which can be very valuable to newly formed legal operations teams."

A number of prominent law firms including Dentons, Clifford Chance, Hogan Lovells, Herbert Smith Freehills and Taylor Wessing have developed legal ops services aimed at clients in recent years as firms look to diversify beyond traditional legal work to differentiate themselves from competitors and compete with alternative legal services providers. 

Although still a rare move among Wall Street firms, earlier this year Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton launched ClearyX, a tech-focused business unit mandated to develop new ways of delivering legal services and with a focus on transactional work. 

And in the UK, a consortium of City firms made up of CMS UK, Dentons, Norton Rose Fulbright, Herbert Smith Freehills, Linklaters and Slaughter and May also launched a programme last year to train legal ops graduates, in what was understood to be the first instance of law firms joining forces to create such a scheme.

The Big Four accountancy firms have also been stepping up their work advising legal departments on digitalisation. In 2020 both KPMG and Deloitte launched legal operations arms.

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