Creating Effective Billing Guidelines

For any legal department, a clear and concise set of outside counsel billing guidelines is one of the most effective ways to ensure you get the most from your relationships with your law firms.

When to start and when to review?

We often speak to smaller legal departments who are growing and are seeing their external spend move above seven figures. If you have reached this size of external spend and don’t yet have a standardized guideline document for your firms—it’s probably time to put one in place.

We also speak with larger departments who may already have guidelines in place—but perhaps have not revisited them for a number of years. Industry norms are changing, and revisiting your guidelines annually is best practice. It allows you to tweak the parameters, or begin to include/exclude requirements if you feel they aren’t in the best interests of your department or norms in the market have changed.

What to include?

As a starting point, it is best to keep things simple. There are many useful templates available online. The Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC) is a great source of best practice information, including recommended guidelines.

Level 1 – Functional

The first level to consider is the functional elements of invoicing. You will want to outline how often you expect to be invoiced (e.g. monthly). You’ll also want to know who the invoices should be submitted to and in what format (e.g. PDF, LEDES, etc.).  These criteria are easy to define and play a major role in improving efficiencies and ensuring regular communication and updates from counsel are systemized. This helps avoid large unexpected invoices arriving without warning.

Level 2 – Resourcing

The second level is guidelines to set expectations around how you want your work resourced. If you don’t have clear guidelines currently with your firms in these areas, it can be an extremely effective way to bring cost efficiencies to your department.

For example, you will want to outline that any research costs should be pre-approved. You’ll also want to clarify that you won’t pay for timekeepers performing administrative work (such as photocopying). And that each piece of work should be resourced at the appropriate level of seniority. You should also note that only a specified number of timekeepers should attend meetings or calls.

Monitoring guidelines

This second level of resourcing guidelines is harder to effectively monitor than the first functional level. Ensuring these guidelines are adhered to can be difficult and time-consuming. Despite the fact that it is often a huge source of savings and efficiency for a legal department—a granular invoice review is not feasible given in-house time and resourcing constraints. Often invoices are simply paid without close scrutiny.

For a truly effective program, you will want both clear guidelines and an efficient and effective way to ensure they are followed.

Tools like Brightflag can help. It can read and understand narrative text and make recommendations on where adjustments should be made. This replaces the need for in-house lawyers to go through an invoice narrative line by line.

Achieving a balance

Of course you don’t want your guidelines to hinder your counsel’s work.  What looks like a breach of a guideline, may be justified due to an unforeseen complexity or change in the scope of a matter.

In order to achieve a balance between close monitoring and providing reasonable flexibility for your outside counsel, you’ll need context and open lines of communication. Tools like Brightflag help by bringing context and giving you information to decide quickly when a charge should be addressed with a firm and when it should be permitted.

Clear expectations set out in guidelines combined with an open and transparent review policy is the best context for relationships with outside counsel, engendering real trust and true collaboration.

In our next post, we will show how to review invoices effectively and efficiently.

Sample billing guidelines

Do you need examples of specific guidelines used by global legal teams? Download your copy!

Alex Kelly

Chief Operating Officer & Co-Founder at Brightflag

Alex co-founded Brightflag after spending more than six years at Matheson, Ireland’s largest law firm, in its financial institutions group. A legal technology thought leader, Alex is a frequent speaker at legal operations conferences on topics related to legal innovation and legal transformation.