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October 2007
How Many Lawyers Does It Take…?
By Heather Head

     When Jessica Brasington, director of staffing operations for the Charlotte branch of Hudson Legal, asks the question, you know it’s not just another lawyer joke.

      Offering a combination of legal expertise and a personal, boutique approach, Hudson supplies a variety of solutions for their clients, including lateral and permanent placement of attorneys and paralegals, contract and permanent legal staff recruitment, and space and support to meet long- and short-term litigation needs. Their suite of services has earned them the distinction of being the largest legal staffing company in North America.

     In the last year, new federal legislation has been enacted adding a whole new dimension to the “How Many Lawyers” question. The new rules codified developing case law requiring companies to keep records of electronic communications and documents for the purpose of legal review. Consequently, the requirements for handling electronic data have enormously increased the amount of legal staff required to prepare documents for mergers, acquisitions, and litigation.

     The field of law has always been heavy on documentation, requiring legal staff to spend significant amounts of time reading, interpreting, sorting, organizing, and creating documents for the courts. However, prior to the 1990s, the scope of documentation was necessarily limited by the fact that it was created and stored manually. When a legal team was called in to respond to a litigation issue, the amount of documentation they would sort included only what was stored in the filing cabinets of their client.

     But with the advent of e-mail, Internet, and the widespread use of computers for document creation, the scope and volume of documentation has exploded. Instead of a room or two full of filing cabinets, a litigation team may now be faced with terabytes of information to sort through.

     Those papers include not only every document ever created, every invoice ever sent, and every memo ever filed, but also every e-mail ever written, forwarded, or in reply. When you consider that the same e-mail may be replied to, copied, and forwarded dozens of times, that adds up to a lot of material to evaluate. The process of reviewing, condensing, and organizing all that data is generally referred to now as “e-discovery,” and it’s a process that Hudson excels in facilitating—in fact, they’ve become North America’s number one provider of attorneys to do document review in the e-discovery world.

 

A New Solution

     Law firms, as well as most large corporations, maintain significant legal staff to meet their general needs. But when faced with a merger, acquisition, or pending litigation, a company’s needs grow exponentially. Now, suddenly, every piece of documentation must be combed over to determine whether it is pertinent to the investigation, whether it can be withheld or must be shared, and whether it is duplicated elsewhere.

     The information must be gathered together, sorted, condensed, and organized so that it can then be shared with the courts or other involved parties. And often, this must be done in the course of a few weeks. When the task is impossible or the costs too high for the staff on hand, the obvious answer is to hire lower-cost, temporary legal staff to fill in.

     Hudson has been providing staffing solutions to the legal community for over two decades. But with the emergence of the electronic document, Hudson has gone far outside their traditional staffing role to offer more innovative solutions to clients. For instance, Hudson pioneered the concept of the “production facility,” widely accepted in cities such as New York and Washington, D.C., and now being brought to Charlotte.

     Presently, when most people think of attorneys, courts, and the practice of law, the term “production facility” doesn’t really come into play; but Hudson is hoping that will change soon. They will be unveiling their new 6,000-square-foot production facility at the corner of Trade and Tryon this month, to serve the needs of Charlotte’s legal community and house the dozens of contract attorneys they suddenly need for weeks or months at a time.

     Hudson’s new production facility will provide space for more than 50 attorneys, including equipment and connectivity, available to clients on an as-needed basis. It can be divided into separate sections so that more than one client can use part of the space while still maintaining confidentiality. And clients can bring their own counsel in to oversee the production process, or they can rely on Hudson’s project management and discovery specialist to complete the entire project. In Charlotte, Hudson has hired local attorney Derek Hilst to head up the project management and recruiting for complete outsourced projects.

 

Setting Up Shop

      Although Hudson Legal became its own entity in 2003, the company has been operating in the legal staffing industry for over 20 years. Originally Gregory & Gregory, the company was acquired by TMP—the company responsible for Monster.com—in the late 1990s, and was spun off into its own company in 2003 under its original leadership, Troy Gregory.

     As the largest legal staffing firm in North America, Hudson is well entrenched in large markets such as New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago, and others. In 2006, the acquisition of a major contract with one of Charlotte’s big financial companies opened the door for entry into the Charlotte market.

     Although Hudson already had hub offices across the United States, Charlotte offered a unique opportunity to serve as a central location to open the entire Carolinas to Hudson’s business. “Charlotte has a booming financial community, a wealth of corporate clients, and is geographically perfectly situated for our servicing of the Carolinas legal community,” says Christopher Jensen, Esq., senior vice president in charge of Hudson national Legal offices, himself a Wake Forest alum and South Carolina native.

     But there is another reason Charlotte is a great market for Hudson: compared to many other large markets, the cost of both space and staff are extraordinarily low. And this is one of the prime reasons for opening the new production facility downtown.

     Jensen explains: Many industries have increasingly begun to rely on outsourcing to India and other countries for significant financial savings in labor. The legal profession, however, has been slow to do so. Although talented attorneys are available in other countries, many legal clients are cautious about sending their confidential documents and projects overseas where the legal system may be different.

     “But,” says Jensen, “I saw that in Charlotte, the commercial real estate is roughly half of the cost compared to Washington, D.C., and New York, contract attorney labor is half to two thirds the cost, and yet Charlotte is a major city with an international airport, and a two hour drive from six law schools, so you’ve got that attorney talent and is easily accessible.”

     Jensen calls this novel concept “on-shoring” as opposed to “off-shoring.” Now a Washington, D.C., or New York client with a major, cost-prohibitive legal project can choose to “on-shore” the project to Charlotte’s production facility where U.S.-trained and U.S.-licensed legal staff can complete the project for a third to half the cost of completing the project in D.C. or New York.

 

Good People, Good Focus

     In 2003, when Hudson’s first major client in Charlotte opened the doors to the region, Jensen saw it was time to find someone to head up the Charlotte office. As a former attorney who works with attorneys, he typically looks for someone with “classic legal training.” Brasington had no legal experience. But he knew before the interview was over that she was the one for the job.

     “We got halfway through the interview when she stopped me and said, ‘I want this job. I’m your girl.’ I hired Jessica because of her enthusiasm, and her willingness to tackle a new area and become an expert in it. This e-discovery business is new territory even for attorneys, and Jessica educated herself with such enthusiasm, that she’s become an expert. She’s blown me away,” remarks Jensen.

     And it’s not like Brasington had no pertinent experience—in fact, she has 20 years in the staffing business, and, she points out, “Regardless of what industry you’re in, the business is what it is. And when you understand the business, you can drive it better.” But she loves being able to focus on a single industry, and says it is one of the things that sets Hudson apart from the competition.

     Hudson’s marketing tag line is ‘From great people to great performance,’” says Brasington. “And I have to say, after being in this industry as long as I have, that it is not just a marketing line, it is the absolute gospel truth.”

     She says it all starts at the top: she is treated so well by the company that she can’t help but want to treat her clients and prospects equally well. “One hundred percent absolute dignity and respect” is how she describes it, and how she treats both the people she places and the companies they are placed with. And that translates to clients who are as happy as she is with Hudson.

     But it doesn’t stop with a warm, fuzzy feeling. Hudson goes the extra mile by providing an extensive screening process that ensures that each position is filled with exactly the right person. And when they do make mistakes—”We are human, after all,” Brasington admits—they are able to fix them quickly and effectively.

     The tight industry focus helps Hudson stand out from the crowd as well. Brasington never has to switch gears in mid-stride or struggle to remember the salient points for a new or different industry over the course of a day. Because she works exclusively with legal staff, she has a depth of understanding for the needs of the legal community that exceeds that of most placement agencies.

      The tight focus on a single industry is true elsewhere in the larger company of Hudson, which also handles other types of placements on a national basis. The Charlotte Hudson office also offers financial staffing placement, but a separate unit handles those placements, freeing the legal unit to focus only on legal.

     Both Brasington and agree that the concept of hiring a temporary staff to handle e-discovery, though established in many other markets, is new to Charlotte and involves a certain amount of education.

     Until recently, most legal matters—including major considerations such as mergers and litigation—could be handled by the larger companies simply by utilizing their existing senior and junior staff. But with the advent of e-discovery, most large corporations are finding times when that is simply impossible, not to mention financially overwhelming, to their legal budgets. Most companies in Charlotte are just now just facing these situations, so Brasington finds that her clients are skeptical.

      “Sometimes I feel like I’m walking around like Chicken Little, saying, ‘The sky is falling, the sky is falling!’” she laughs. But the fact is, that the time really will come for most large companies and firms when they will need what Brasington and Hudson are offering. And then, no matter how many lawyers it takes, they’ll know just where to go.

Heather Head is a Charlotte-based freelance writer.
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