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LTWC 2008: Chevron GC's Keynote Address

Chevron GC and former Jones Day antitrust partner Charles James proclaimed himself a Fred Flintstone when it comes to technology during this morning's LegalTech West Coast keynote address. So how did he get picked to open the show? "I am the target... my IT needs are astronomical."

Like a guy who's had five root canals addressing a dental convention, James found himself both praising the hard work and technological advances of his several-hundred-strong audience, and decrying the need for that work in the first place. He started by running through some impressive numbers. Chevron gets sued an average of 2.5 times a day, he estimates; they've got more than 400 lawyers on their in-house legal team, and spend $190 million a year on outside counsel; the oil company has about 500 law firms working for it around the world -- James says he helped winnow that down from 700 when he started in 2002 -- with the lion's share of the work going to about 35 preferred provider firms. "I go to bed each night with $10 billion in potential litigation exposure hanging over my head," he said.

He then cited some of the IT success stories he and his team have made in recent years. Chevron has an in-house Web site detailing legal procedures for their teams around the globe -- it was in shambles six years ago; now it's the first thing they teach new in-house hires how to use. Their new e-billing system for legal has given them the kind of granular info they needed to get rid of extraneous or ineffective law firms, and hire more in-house lawyers (they've added 60 in the past year). Like a grocery store's customer rewards card, it stores all kinds of added details about each firm, beyond just dollars and cents. If Chevron sees that a single lawyer at a firm is billing them more than 1,200 hours a year, James makes him or her an offer they can't refuse: Come work for us in-house, or we'll find someone else who can.

But James also took the opportunity to run down his list of vendor gripes. First, stop grossly overselling the practical capability and functionality of products. Jargon like "complete enterprise solution" and "seamless integration" are misnomers that get thrown around in far too many a vendor pitch, he complained. I knew that somewhere in the back of the room, Law Technology News editor Monica Bay was smiling in weary recognition.

Second, noting the convention center's proximity to south central LA, James quoted Rodney King: "Why can't we all get along?" Interoperability continues to be a major issue. New systems are built on proprietary standards, increasing the cost of installation, while an older but effective system loses support when its maker merges with another vendor and decides to let that product fade into history.

Finally, James lived up to his early morning promise to be controversial. "Electronic discovery is a waste of society's resources," he told the room full of e-discovery specialists. Allowing himself to fantasize out loud for a bit, the embattled oil executive painted a picture of a world without plaintiffs lawyers, litigation holds or over-zealous attorneys general. "Everything is a crime these days," he said. "I'm not being facetious." So what's left for all the legal tech vendors in this idealized where most of their work is unnecessary? Knowledge management -- tools that can help a massive, global corporate entity like Chevron take care of business effectively. And maybe help them make gas a little cheaper too.

Posted by John Bringardner on June 26, 2008 at 04:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

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