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A ClariLegal interview with Jeffrey Salling

Updated: Aug 15, 2020

ClariLegal had the great opportunity to interview Jeffrey Salling, Senior Discovery Manager at Novartis International AG based in Switzerland. Jeff brings significant expertise from a legal, operational, and technology perspective, which has been built upon his education and experience as an attorney. Jeff’s early legal career included working in the Miami-Dade County Prosecutor’s Office. Jeff later jumped to Deloitte to help build out its new eDiscovery document review offices in Chicago and Austin. Ultimately, Jeff moved to his current in-house position with Novartis, where he helps expand the company’s internal eDiscovery capabilities. Jeff also holds an adjunct faculty position at John Marshall Law School teaching eDiscovery and sits on the advisory board for the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law eDiscovery Program.

We asked Jeff about his role at Novartis and how his company utilizes eDiscovery services. Jeff states that Novartis outsources the majority of its eDiscovery services to third-party vendors. Novartis’ primary reason for outsourcing, says Jeff, is quality; Jeff notes that the company has been lucky, unlike other corporations, to not have to focus as much on cost, which allows Novartis, in Jeff’s words “to focus on partnering with people that are going to get it done the right way and operate at an exceptionally high level” – leading to lower overall costs and better outcomes for Novartis. Jeff mentioned that part of the appeal in joining Novartis was that they were not focused on cost reduction, but looking at expanding a process that was built on efficiency and was industry leading.

Turning to the big question of what value means to him, Jeff defines value as “getting a better work product than you paid for.” Most importantly, value to Jeff means running an efficient eDiscovery process so that he can return as much time and money to the business which allows it to continue to discover new drugs and save lives. However, Jeff notes that, different people have different definitions of value – “[with] some people, value is just going to be looking at cheaper options; other people, it’s going to be looking at great quality,” says Jeff.

Digging deeper, we asked Jeff how he views value as equaling quality. Jeff began by stating that “to pick a quality vendor or to have a quality project, it’s a million little things that wrap into one.” Jeff notes that quality begins with simple aspects such as communication and responsiveness; without those, a service provider cannot set itself apart with the value-add of consultative service. Jeff further notes that, for Novartis, because the company is large and complex, it can’t have a vendor who reacts slowly or is complicated to contract with. Says Jeff, “contracting can be painful enough on one end that we cannot afford to deal with it on the other end” because legal business often involves waiting until the last second and then rushing to get tasks completed on time. “Many of the process improvements we are doing within Novartis will allow us to respond quicker, with better metrics so that our attorneys are better prepared for our matters,” says Jeff. But quality service goes both ways for Jeff; if a vendor can make his job easier and allow him to go home to his family, Jeff notes he is equally likely to say to that vendor “hey, we don’t need that tonight; you can do that tomorrow” – in other words, quality can become the linchpin to being true partners.

We next asked about communication of value in the legal industry. Jeff began by noting his view that, over time, communication has gotten much better, but Jeff believes there is still plenty of room to improve. Specifically, Jeff notes that parties in the legal industry now take steps they didn’t usually take nine or ten years ago, such as having a kick-off call. Jeff sees the largest improvement in communication of value at the start of a matter (to agree on accountability, roles, and scope), with remaining room for improvement as matters progress since challenges arise ensuring that information is passed along and that client expectations are met.

On the issue of communication, Jeff further notes that different people have different methods of communicating; for himself, Jeff points out that he is an “email guy…who wants someone to email me and everyone else involved…if you want to call…[afterward], summarize it in an email.” Jeff argues that if decisions are made over phone, rarely is everyone who needs to know that decision on that call; thus, there is a need to summarize those decisions in an email to all interested parties – when people are missing on calls, information can get misinterpreted by the subsequent need to play “telephone tag”. Jeff notes that he is especially impressed by service providers who take the step of summarizing calls in a digestible written format sent to all relevant parties. Jeff says, “after all, we are attorneys, we want (and sometimes need) a written record. We have been testing chat-based collaboration technology within Novartis – [it has] great benefits as communication can be accessed at all times.”

Furthermore, Jeff is convinced that candor and directness are key to effective communication. During his time as a consultant, Jeff had clients that left him guessing on what they needed or how they felt about his productivity on a matter. On the other hand, Jeff prefers to handle communication with a ‘there is no way to misinterpret that’ approach. If Jeff feels a task should have been quicker than an invoice describes, he does not ‘note it for next time’; instead, he sends an email explaining his concerns. In some cases, he has described more efficient ways for the vendor to complete a task. In other cases, the vendor communicated that the task was more complex than Jeff anticipated. Jeff says these discussions have led to stronger relationships with vendors who receive the feedback and improve, but have also led to declining relationships with vendors who meet these discussions with excuses and justifications.

As a follow-up, we asked Jeff for his thoughts on how RFPs and vendor selection/management tools facilitate communication of value. Jeff jokes that “anyone who’s done an RFP has a hatred for them…it’s a unique soul who has an enjoyment for that work” – RFPs in their current incarnation are broken because they take too much time, are often not targeted to the work sought to be performed, are too long, are too hard to compare, and usually don’t have reliable data, and as a result do not add value and are not worth the time and effort. Jeff points out that this antipathy for RFPs stems from the fact that the responding party is often required to provide information that no one is going to read and/or is irrelevant to the project, while the contracting party doesn’t want to read through multiple voluminous, unstructured, hard-to-compare bids. Jeff believes that RFPs break down when companies fail to take the time to focus the questions to the needs of the department being served. At Novartis, the procurement team does an excellent job of partnering with the contracting department to understand its specific needs, resulting in a more-focused RFP process. Jeff says, “our procurement department knows exactly what we need, so we are able to interact as one, seamless team”. Jeff further notes his belief that the scope of RFPs often spirals out of control due to a buyer’s lack of sophistication; “if your buyer is sophisticated in e-Discovery, [it] is going to have very few questions because [it] is already going to know…the vendors in the space.”

We asked Jeff about measuring the delivery of value and the value exchange. Jeff argues that measuring the delivery of value starts with benchmarking and defining goals and targets upfront, citing a hypothetical example of “well, productions went out, no one came back saying that we disclosed privilege or gave away the CEO’s home phone number, so it’s a good day and everyone did great” until the “invoice [comes back] twice what we thought it was going to be.” Value and the value exchange cannot be measured unless goals and targets are defined – in most eDiscovery projects, the scope or outside circumstances often changes, requiring revision to the deliverables to reflect the new realities of the work. Jeff further argues that parties can sometimes have unrealistic expectations when measuring the delivery of value, such as directing a vendor to have terabytes of data processed and ready for review the following morning. Jeff believes that these unrealistic expectations arise “when [you have] a buyer doesn’t know what’s possible, and a vendor who’s too eager to please and is not as transparent to say ‘no, that’s not going to happen.’” Interestingly, Jeff notes that vendors can have unrealistic expectations as well. There are situations where the seller will think that they hit the deadline but they ultimately need considerably more time and money than was necessary or agreed upon to hit the deadline. If their technology is not working properly, or their team does not know the most efficient way of completing tasks, it is on the seller to raise these points openly. Jeff argues that it is critical to measure the delivery of value throughout the project, not just at the end.

Lastly, we asked Jeff to define the value what Novartis expects from him and its other employees. Jeff says that his company “expects him to set expectations from the start of a matter…ensure those expectations are filled…and when those expectations can’t be filled, ensure that information is communicated quickly and clearly to the people that need to know.” Jeff notes that he is also expected to ensure that his vendors quickly and clearly provide him with the relevant information he needs to send upstream. “At Novartis,” says Jeff, “our goal is to exceed our requirements when it comes to legal and privacy standards. We have a complex matrix to navigate but have invested heavily to ensure we can pivot quickly and answer the needs of our legal team as quickly and as accurately as possible. In the end, we have one main goal—to reimagine medicine. In the legal department, we need to do our part to ensure that we allow our business to reimagine medicine in the best way possible so that we can help improve the lives of others.”

Disclaimer: The statements of the interviewees in the Value Article Series are opinions and observations of a personal nature and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and policies of their respective employers.


About the authors:

James Johnson is principal attorney of First Venture Legal, a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based law practice focused on corporate and transactional law for very-early-stage startups. James assists entrepreneurs and small business owners with corporate formation and structuring, contracts, commercial law, employment matters, and early-stage fundraising. His practice utilizes alternative fee structures to deliver value-based service to early-stage ventures.

In addition to practicing law, James works with ClariLegal, focusing on building out its innovative platform and spreading the word of ClariLegal’s mission to reduce cost and complexity in legal vendor selection and management for law firms and corporations.

Cash Butler is the founder of ClariLegal A seasoned legal technology innovator, Cash has over 18 years of experience in the legal vertical market, primarily working in eDiscovery, litigation & compliance. Cash is an expert in legal vendor, pricing and project management.

ClariLegal is a preferred vendor management platform for legal services that improves business outcomes. Made for legal by legal experts. We match corporations and law firms with preferred vendors to manage the work through a fast and complete RFP and bidding process. ClariLegal’s platform allows all internal client segments to improve business outcomes across the board – predictability, time and money. Learn more

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