Creating Slicker, More Efficient Processes
The City Attorney’s Office for the City of Ventura, California, plays a vital role in municipal life: providing top quality legal services to city departments as they conduct their business. As well as drafting all the necessary legal documents and providing expert advice relating to contracts, transactions, litigation, and employment matters, it also represents the city’s legal interests before judicial and administrative agencies.
All this is managed by a small team of just six lawyers and three support staff. In 2020, Senior Assistant City Attorney Andy Heglund and his colleagues started considering ways to manage their files and run their office more efficiently. Their search led them to Thomson Reuters HighQ—the modern, adaptable solution to simplify legal processes— and it is transforming their work.
Previously, the City Attorney’s Office was using what Heglund describes as “an antiquated system” to manage its files and produce reports, one that was not user-friendly and was therefore underutilized. The team used Microsoft® Outlook® for all its emails and calendaring and stored all of its documents on a local hard drive that, though well-organized, was not easily searchable. Although the team was comfortable with its paper-based systems, it felt it needed to embrace software solutions that could help them do their jobs even better.
A key example of this was a desire to simplify their time-intensive administrative processes, especially when it came to the intake of new legal services. Prior to implementing HighQ, city departments requiring legal services would need to submit a request. Then the City Attorney’s Office staff would need to scan the attachments
“There were a lot of steps involved with our old systems,” says Heglund. “One of the things that was attractive to us about HighQ was the ability of the city departments themselves to do all that work. Now, they have a simple form online where they can submit all the necessary information and add the attachments directly in HighQ, and it automatically assigns the case to the city attorney that should be working on it. Everything’s done for us. So, HighQ took what was quite an inefficient use of time and made it very efficient. It changed the way we do things. ”
Another major improvement is the report functionality in HighQ. In the past, a secretary would have to print out reports for the city attorney, so that he would be properly briefed ahead of his monthly one-on-one update meetings with the lawyers in the office. Now, with real-time insights provided by HighQ, it’s easy for him to see matter status or view a lawyer’s workflow at any time, or he can click on a graph to drill down into a file and see the notes. “It’s completely changed the city attorney’s ability to manage the office,” explains Heglund. “It gives him so much more information at his fingertips in a user-friendly format, without having to ask anyone else for it.”
Saving emails is also easier, as they can simply be dragged and dropped into the system, so that everything is available (and locatable) in one place.
A Smart Choice
The City Attorney’s Office was already using Westlaw® from Thomson Reuters for its legal research. Having investigated several different software solutions on the market to help it better manage its files and generate efficiency gains, the team was introduced to HighQ by their Westlaw representative. Heglund says, “We were almost ready to go with another product, and then we looked into HighQ and thought it captured better what we needed to do. We also liked that it is designed to integrate with Westlaw eventually, so that in the future we can save our research in Westlaw into HighQ.”
The office went live with HighQ in Spring 2021 and is currently using the Collaborate module. It is also about to deploy Document Automation. “The HighQ team that helped us with the implementation were great,” adds Heglund. “We had a lot of questions along the way, and they responded quickly. And if we needed a workaround for something, they would try to accomplish it.”
HighQ has now been rolled out across the office, and it is proving particularly useful as a transaction management tool, or as Heglund puts it, “It’s a transaction attorney’s dream!” With so much document drafting to do—such as contracts, resolutions, or ordinances—the ability to make annotations and add comments to documents and to control different versions is vital. Not only does this reduce the risk of using the wrong version, it makes it far easier to find the final version (instead of a draft that had been prematurely labeled “final”) if needed at a later date.
Given that the office generates large volumes of contracts, Heglund anticipates that Document Automation will deliver significant efficiency gains when it goes live, and his team has already converted its ten most-used contracts into forms that can be tailored to suit. “We expect it to revolutionize the contract drafting process,” he says.
Internal and external engagement with HighQ has been even better than expected. Heglund admits that no one could be sure how the city departments would take to the new system and whether they would be able to input all the necessary information in the right way. He needn’t have worried. “There have been zero problems,” he says. “It’s so simple to use that on the very first day a handful of requests came in without issue. The feedback is that they really like it. Moreover, it facilitates communication with city departments. As soon as a request comes in, they get an email saying it’s been assigned to this attorney, with a due date on it, without us having to do anything.”
Another major success story is the way in which the office in general has embraced HighQ, from the more junior staff right up to the city attorney himself—who, though recognizing the important role such solutions could play, wanted to see for himself how well it worked firsthand. Heglund reports that the city attorney is now very enthusiastic about what the solution can do and is keen to learn more about how to use it in new ways, taking the office one step further toward going paperless.
Although the office is structured in such a way that each lawyer specializes in different areas of work, Heglund expects internal collaboration to increase over time, thanks to HighQ. He explains that it is now easier to have two people assigned to a case, as they can both work on the documents, without having to email files back and forth, and because document versions are carefully controlled.
“In a short amount of time, we’ve seen a lot of aspects of our operations, such as legal services intake requests, changed for the better, and our city attorney sees the benefits for him and his practice and is super excited about using it,” says Heglund. “We’re expecting even more efficiency gains ahead.”
CITY ATTORNEY’S OFFICE, CITY OF VENTURA
The city attorney acts as the City of Ventura’s general counsel, providing legal services to the City Council, City Manager, all city departments, and all appointed boards and commissions, as well as managing outside special counsel. In addition, the office litigates civil and criminal cases on the city’s behalf.
Administrative processes were previously time-intensive, so the office wanted to simplify them, creating efficiency gains. It wanted its systems to be more user-friendly and more searchable, to help easily find the correct versions of files. Improved reporting functionality was also important.
HighQ makes it possible to automate many processes, notably providing city departments with online intake forms to fill in themselves. It delivers real-time information to increase matter visibility and has sophisticated data visualization and reporting capabilities. It also has the potential to add in Document Automation and, in the future, to integrate with Westlaw.
- All information relating to legal requests is held in one place
- File management is streamlined
- Dashboards provide excellent matter visibility, aiding workload management
- It is easy to use for internal and external users
- It creates efficiency gains