Cracking the Code: A Beginner’s Guide to Understanding UTBMS Codes

What are UTBMS codes, and why are they necessary? This article dives into the utility of UTBMS, LEDES, and ABA codes in more detail.

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What Are UTBMS Codes?

UTBMS stands for Uniform Task-Based Management System. It’s a standardized coding system used to categorize legal work, along with the electronic LEDES invoice file format. UTBMS codes were developed in the 1990s in response to a growing need for a more structured and uniform approach to tracking legal services.

What are UTBMS Code Categories?

UTBMS codes are divided into four main categories:

  • Phase codes: Categorize legal work into stages, such as pre-trial, discovery, and trial for litigation matters.
  • Task codes: Categorize legal work into specific tasks, such as pleadings, motions and document production.
  • Activity codes: Categorize the action performed to carry out the legal task, such as researching, drafting, and communicating with other parties.
  • Expense codes: Categorize legal expenses, such as travel costs, photocopying fees, and court fees.

Why are UTBMS Codes Important?

The use of UTBMS codes has several benefits for in-house teams. First and foremost, they provide a standardized way to track legal work and expenses, making it easier to understand and manage legal costs.

This can be particularly useful in large or complex cases where costs are high and in-house teams want to monitor law firm resources for each phase of work or specific legal tasks. It can also help compare similar matters in the past to forecast budgets for new matters.

Some e-billing systems require law firms to submit UTBMS codes to classify legal work. In contrast, newer systems can automatically apply these codes, reducing manual work for law firms while creating a completely consistent and accurate code set.

What are ABA Codes?

ABA codes are the subset of UTBMS codes that were created by the ABA Working Group on Task-Based Billing Codes. The most widely used ABA UTBMS codes are the litigation code set, created in 1997. The terms ABA codes and UTBMS codes are often used interchangeably, especially in the case of the litigation code set

Why are ABA Codes Important?

ABA codes are an essential component of the legal profession. They provide a framework for ethical behavior that helps to maintain public trust in the legal system. By following these ethical rules, lawyers can ensure that they provide the best possible representation to their clients while upholding the highest standards of professionalism.

Moreover, clients can use ABA codes to hold their lawyers accountable. If a lawyer violates the ABA’s ethical rules, clients can file a complaint with their state’s bar association, which may lead to disciplinary action against the lawyer.

Additional Glossary of Terms Related to UTBMS

  • Legal billing codes: A system of codes used to categorize and track legal work and expenses. Typically legal billing codes are pulled from UTBMS codes, but in some instances (e.g., when no appropriate UTBMS code set covers the work being performed), companies may decide to create and track custom legal billing codes.
  • Litigation code set: The set of UTBMS codes used to categorize legal work related to litigation. The ABA litigation code set is the most widely used. The DRI code set, released in 2007, is a revision of the original ABA litigation code set. It was designed for use by insurers and includes more granular task codes than the original code set. The EW-UTBMS J-Code-set is another alternative litigation code set designed for use in England and Wales.
  • LEDES/UTBMS expense codes: A set of UTBMS codes used to categorize legal expenses, typically used in LEDES invoices.
  • Legal task codes: Codes that are used to categorize specific legal tasks, such as pleadings, motions, and document production for litigation matters.

Shortcomings of UTBMS and LEDES

Legal spend management is a complex task that requires accurate data to make informed decisions.
The Uniform Task-Based Management System (UTBMS) and Legal Electronic Data Exchange Standard (LEDES) are two systems that aim to standardize legal spend data, but they have their drawbacks.

While UTBMS codes define the different phases of work in common matter types, including litigation, mergers and acquisitions, and intellectual property, assigning these codes accurately is difficult due to the subjective interpretation of lawyers.

Furthermore, LEDES invoices do not require UTBMS codes, leading to data gaps. UTBMS coding also creates issues for in-house legal professionals as it is prone to human error.

However, categorizing legal spend is essential to confidently manage legal spend. Therefore, platforms like Brightflag that leverage machine learning algorithms to analyze legal spend data accurately can help organizations make better-informed decisions with accurate invoice reviews.

We hope this article was helpful to you. You can find more information on UTBMS and other topics in the Brightflag resource center.

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Brightflag is a comprehensive cloud software solution for managing global legal spend, including the ability to: centralize vendors and rates; set and track budgets; manage matters; review and approve invoices; collect accruals; and run reports on everything.

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