Technology doesn’t implement itself – it takes people to do it.
People, process, technology – these are the three pillars to creating a high functioning and efficient legal department. But software companies like us are often guilty of focusing on the technology, without giving enough time to the crucial role people play in the success of any initiative.
We have implemented Brightflag in very large international departments and smaller growing legal departments, but our learnings are the same: no matter how smart the software, it only works if the right people are on board working towards the same goal.
Let’s drill down on our space: e-billing and spend management for legal departments.
It can be tempting to think that e-billing systems are all about the technology in the background: the AI that automates invoice processing; the LEDES format that allows law firms and law departments to exchange electronic data; the encryption and data security that allows this all to happen securely.
But the most important element is the human element – legal operations needs to have robust reporting and know how to get it, lawyers need to have easy intuitive invoice review and pricing analytics, finance needs to have sturdy AP processes, and the leaders in the legal department need to know how to use the software to get better pricing and begin strategically to move towards alternative pricing models. No matter how wonderful the AI is, or how sophisticated the pricing analytics are, if the humans have their wires crossed, they won’t be in a position to act on the computer-generated insights they’ve paid for.
Every legal department that wants to use e-billing and spend management to manage their outside counsel should be clear on at least two things on the human side: (1) who is involved, and (2) what is their role in the implementation. Each law department is different, but here I am going to offer two general models: one for small legal departments (fewer than 15 lawyers), and another for larger departments (20+ lawyers).
For a smaller legal department: Here, the general counsel retains ultimate responsibility for the implementation project as a whole. The GC, however, will likely delegate considerable authority to an associate general counsel or legal operations manager, who will act as the point person on the project. This person would, for instance, be expected to identify the e-billing products and solutions that are right for the law department’s needs, and be a project manager for initial setup. They will also usually execute an implementation plan, probably relying on an administrator or project manager to manage the process, including coordinating with law firms to make sure their data is flowing into the system smoothly. Outside counsel are also going to be key participants in the process – so be sure you choose software that makes their life as easy as possible and doesn’t create barriers in the process.
At larger legal departments – who tend to have a dedicated head of legal operations or COO of legal – more people need to be involved in implementing e-billing. The key people are:
- The general counsel and head of legal operations/COO of legal: Together, these leaders should agree on a process, define the roles of others involved and engage with the company’s law firms to get them on board with the new process.
- Finance department – one individual should be responsible for the accounts payable handoff and processing budgeting and accruals data from law firms.
- Admin – typically a head of legal operations will designate a paralegal or e-billing specialist as a member of the legal ops team to assist with the implementation, and day to day running of the system.
- IT – the implementation will require coordination with IT to ensure that e-billing is properly integrated, particularly on the security side. They may also be involved in any integrations that are necessary.
This is just a brief overview of what is needed to successfully implement e-billing and legal spend management for a legal department. Spend management systems like Brightflag are smart, innovative pieces of technology which can drive significant savings. But even the best software in the world won’t work the right people aren’t devoted to them in the right way.