Case study

Practical Law: The insights you need to shine

See how CrowdStreet general counsel manages legal costs and resources in economically challenging times

Kristen Howell, General Counsel and Chief Compliance Officer at CrowdStreet, has gained more than 25 years of experience in some of America’s most prestigious law firms. She has also been quoted in Law 360 and other publications and is a sought-after speaker on fintech, investments, and crowdfunding. We recently put her “on the spot” about the challenges of working for a fintech company like CrowdStreet and how she empowers her team through technology.

Empowering teams without employing outside counsel

We started by asking about the cost implications of being a start-up and how that influenced her working methods, particularly in an economically challenging time. She told us: “Well, we really describe ourselves as a scale-up, now we’re generating revenue. Even so, in 2022, we could see that we would need to cut our expenses as we moved into 2023. And as an in-house lawyer, a big area to cut expenses is in your use of outside counsel.

“So, I looked at the whole portfolio of our work and identified a couple of areas where we could better use our internal resources and give them a chance to expand their knowledge base and their skills to take over something that we had previously used outside counsel for. A good starting point for that process of letting our attorneys and even paralegals to expand their knowledge base is to send them first to their Practical Law resources, so they can start with the material and get the bigger picture, which you often miss when you're in-house because you're often dealing with single, specific issues.”

Digital solutions that start productive discussions

The decision to either jump-start matters in-house or call in outside counsel is always crucial. So, we asked Kristen how she generally reaches that decision. She told us: “I like to learn about what I'm doing before I even call outside counsel. So, I find it helpful to use resources like Practical Law to complete my understanding of the legal issues before I even decide if I need that external resource.

“The other interesting thing for us is that we have gone fully remote and have employees across the country. All our meetings are digital and the way we share information, communicate, process, documents, in fact, everything we do has a digital process associated with it. And so, having a resource that we can readily share with each other is crucial. For example, I'll be working with someone on compliance, and I'll want to have a quick summary to share with them. I can go online to Practical Law and pull down a toolkit and we can work with that together, to move quickly into having that policy done. So, for us, having online resources is key.”

The whole truth and nothing but the truth

We were interested to know exactly how Kristen uses Practical Law. So, we asked her if she uses it merely to jump-start matters or to conduct more in-depth research. She commented: “One of the most important things to me about Practical Law is that it starts from the bigger picture. So, when I need to understand a legal issue, if for instance we're entering a new regulatory space, or one I've only dealt with in a very specific capacity, it helps me to step back and make sure I start with a complete explanation of the legal issues. And then I can drill down from there into the specifics.

“It's a real risk that if you just go searching the Internet to find summaries that some really wonderful law firms have written, they have a tendency to have a particular focus, or they don't tell you the whole story because of course, they want us to call them to get the specific answer. When I go to Practical Law, I don't get left at the cliff-hanger where I have to call outside counsel. I actually get the whole story, and then I get the specific information that I need, with case citations and regulatory citations, so I can dig deeper if I need to.”

Making an investment that makes for savings

Naturally, in these financially straitened times, few general counsel want to spend money they don’t have to. So, we asked Kristen how she justified the cost of a subscription to a resource such as Practical Law. She commented: "When I was making the decision whether to subscribe to Thomson Reuters Practical Law, we were particularly focused on the return on our investment. I manage to a very tight budget and I wanted to make sure that this would not just be an added cost, but actually enable me to save money on our outside counsel. And we have found that to be true.

“Just in one month, we've saved easily over $10,000 on outside council, probably more. And through the course of a year, I expect we'll be cutting more than an entire employee's worth of time from our outside counsel budget."

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