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If we can put a man on the moon, why can’t we solve the problems law departments have?


July 20, 1969. That day, the world watched, transfixed, as Neil Armstrong (who was actually Nicole’s neighbor – ask her about the “moon rock” story) became the first person to walk on the moon. That day has become the benchmark for doing great things—“If we can put a man on the moon, why can’t we do x?”

But the more important date may have been May 25, 1961. That day, President Kennedy announced the goal of “landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.”  Those words triggered one of the greatest feats of collaboration and engineering the world has ever seen.

The problems in the legal industry created by yesterday’s thinking won’t be solved by that same thinking. We all know that solutions to problems are rarely serendipitous; they do not come about as a result of hope. Better solutions must be designed and engineered, through collaboration and discipline. That’s what ElevateNext + Elevate Services are all about. A collaboration with our sights on the moon (at least to begin with. Maybe Jupiter next).

The “Univar Moonshot” Case Study

On April 23, 2018, Jeffrey Carr, the iconic General Counsel of Univar, Inc., (a Fortune 500 global chemical distribution company), announced the Univar Law Department’s moonshot — to reduce the Company’s legal spend by 50% while achieving the highest quality results. The moonshot team? ElevateNext + Elevate + Jeff’s Univar team. 

The thing about a 50% reduction in legal spend is that it cannot be achieved by labor arbitrage or by process improvement alone.  A moonshot like this can only be achieved by fundamentally redesigning the way the law department works with the company’s business units so the demand for legal services is drastically reduced. In other words, the moonshot is about process improvement and efficient use of resources to be sure, but it is ultimately about realignment and prevention. As Jeff Carr says, “The best legal problem is one you never have.”

Ask any astronaut, the key to achieving a moonshot is in the planning. ElevateNext, Elevate and Univar focused on this aspect of the project for months to make sure that all contingencies and potential contingencies were addressed.

The work first entailed a deep dive and analysis into how the law department functioned. Who was doing what? What matters were handled in-house, in what manner, and what was being handled outside, at what cost and with what outcomes? Inefficiencies and cost-savings opportunities were identified, as was a strategy to achieve Jeff’s vision — that the Solution design would free up an in-house lawyer to sit at the right hand of the head of each business unit. That close-knit relationship would be key to the prevention phase.

We agreed to a phased plan, following Jeff’s “stretch, step, leap” change model. The first steps are the easiest, purposely designed to succeed and create momentum.  The first phase involved a “lift and shift” of all contract management and review to Elevate in order to free up department lawyers and paralegals.

It also entailed training and empowering the business to handle various issues that were actually commercial issues, but that had previously been handled by the legal department. ElevateNext, using data analytics and consulting from Elevate, as well as our collective years of experience, assessed the performance of outside counsel, their efficiency and adherence to sound budgeting and decision-making processes. We identified ways to streamline efforts, lower cost and improve outcomes. ElevateNext now handles legal matters directly for Univar, acts as coordinating counsel for certain matters that remained with other law firms, and serves as “chief of staff” to the law department.

This first phase has proven successful, earning rave reviews from the business for producing favorable outcomes and improving the speed and business units’ operations.

The future phases (already in the design and planning process) will involve the development of technology to streamline and automate work. In addition, there will be detailed root cause analysis and a prevention program to avoid problems from occurring and to ensure cost savings continue year over year. Because cost savings are so important to the project and to demonstrate our confidence in what we could achieve, part of the compensation for ElevateNext and Elevate is a percentage of the cost savings Univar obtains.

While the Univar Moonshot Project is still a work in progress, we have successfully left the Earth’s atmosphere…and so far, the stars are shining brightly. And we haven’t had to say “Houston, we have a problem” even once.

“The best legal problem is one you never have.” 

– Jeff Carr, General Counsel, Univar, Inc. (and occasional race car driver)


As with anything new, there are bound to be questions. The more people question, the more we shatter the status quo. Fire away.