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Williams Lea hosts outside counsel guidelines and e-Billing: A panel discussion featuring law firm leaders and their clients

News

24 Jul 2019

Our Williams Lea team was delighted to host Sandpiper Partners’ roundtable on outside counsel guidelines and e-Billing. More than 60 participants joined us for a lively discussion on the unique role guidelines play in defining client/law firm relationships and the factors that are having the greatest impact on firm priorities.

Williams Lea’s Managing Director, Tim Ryan was joined on the panel by leaders of large corporate legal departments and global law firms. The panelists’ diverse roles and experience provided perspectives on the evolution of outside counsel guidelines from suggested business rules to contractual obligation, the importance of outside counsel guidelines compliance to corporate legal departments and the challenges firms have managing the range of unique outside counsel guidelines and e-Billing processes.

Here are three key takeaways from the discussion:

1. Outside counsel guideline compliance is more important than ever for clients

Corporate legal ops leaders are demanding more, not less compliance with their outside counsel guidelines. Internal pressures on the corporate law department for more structure, better gatekeeping and greater cost control have them looking to their law firm clients for better risk management, process standardization and budget predictability. As one panelist put it: “fanatical adherence to the outside counsel guidelines needs to be the baseline”. Success starts with transparency regarding all aspects of matters, whether it’s better timekeeper information, faster budget breach notification or communicating invoice delays. The more timely information internal legal departments have, the better they will be able to proactively manage their internal stakeholders.

2. E-billing systems are both a help and a hindrance to providing superior client service

On the surface, e-Billing systems are intended to improve process, maintain compliance and provide accurate invoices that get firms paid faster; all of which would seemingly improve client service levels. However, do they inhibit law firm flexibility to do what’s best for the client? The panel discussed the challenges managing e-Billing systems that haven’t yet caught up with the growing use of alternative fee and budget arrangements or don’t easily define what’s accepted in the system for things such as rebills, disbursements, indemnifications and conflicts. Additionally, the law firm panelists pointed out that the outside counsel guidelines and e-Billing systems are different for each client. All agreed that e-Billing “done right” provides a competitive advantage but the challenge of managing so many formats and systems is daunting and costly. One C-level law firm panelist cited a 20% headcount increase just to manage e-Billing processes.

3. More technology won’t take the place of better communication between firms and clients

Automation and AI bots are gaining market prominence and are certainly paths to improved e-Billing process and greater efficiency. However, the law firm and the client panelists agreed: Technology will never take the place of strong communication across the relationship.

Clear and open channels between firms and clients regarding expectations and firm delivery are vital at the start of the relationship to make sure the firm and the client are aligned. However, better communication is required after the outside counsel guidelines are agreed. Expanding involvement with outside counsel guidelines compliance to a broader group of law firm stakeholders – such as associates and business support teams will help keep communication open and let the partner who owns the client relationship focus on delivering high-value legal services.

To gain more insight on how law firms are responding to outside counsel guideline complexities and e-billing challenges, download our Trends and Opportunities in Law Firm Outsourcing Survey Report.

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