A Strategic Take on Legal Billing Guideline Management

David Chai | November 14, 2019 | Blog Posts

Creating billing guidelines is often one of the first steps a legal department takes when trying to get a hold of out-of-control legal spend. But how can a legal department ensure that their guidelines and law firms are set up for success afterwards?

In our latest webinar, Daniel Michalek, Head of Legal Operations at Veritas, and Jamie Ingles, Senior Legal Operations Manager at Snowflake, shared their insights and experiences on how to strategically manage and enforce legal billing guidelines.

A Strategic Approach

Department Onboarding

Getting your department on board is critical to a successful implementation of your billing guidelines. To do this, both speakers recommend the following:

  • Get support from leadership. Your GC and practice area heads can help provide legitimacy and authority when implementing billing guidelines.
  • Help the department understand the why and when. Socialize your goals and the rollout timeline multiple times to help get everyone on the same page. Put any supporting documentation in an easily accessible location so they can be referenced by anyone who might be impacted.
  • Create cheat sheets. Easily digestible cheat sheets are great for quick reference and can provide guidance around what the team should look for during invoice reviews. Create separate cheat sheets based on roles (admin, attorney, etc.) as they will each need to look out for different things.
  • Leverage technology. Automated enforcement of billing guidelines is paramount to success. Your guidelines document the process of what it takes to do business with your department, and technology with e-Billing and spend management capabilities helps you scale that process.

Law Firm Onboarding

Not only does your internal team need to be on board with your billing guidelines, your law firms need to be as well. Overcommunication is key here and you can use the following insights from Daniel and Jamie to ensure law firm adoption:

  • Plan a series of communications. Communications should include the schedule of the rollout, links to helpful resources, as well as outline what they can expect. No surprises!
  • Leverage internal resources. Leaning on your GC, attorneys, and practice area leads will help you better manage compliance and keep law firms accountable.
  • Create cheat sheets. They should simplify your guidelines and include acceptable invoice formats, what are the exceptions, vendor portal information, and information on cost centers and entities, including addresses.
  • Conduct trainings. Simply sending law firms your guidelines and expecting them to adhere to them is often a quick way to fail. Schedule training sessions for your firms that go into your guidelines in depth. This also presents an opportunity to field any questions firsthand.
  • Incorporate guideline acceptance terms in your panel agreements. Including strict terms in your panel agreement demonstrates the importance of your guidelines to your law firms, increasing the chance that they will be respected and followed.
  • Don’t ignore violations. If a law firm is a repeat violator, let them know that you’ve noticed by sending them communications about why billing guidelines are important to your department.

Three Key Takeaways

While the webinar was jam-packed with valuable insights, here are the key takeaways that stuck with me:

  1. Keep your guidelines simple and easy to understand! The more complex your guidelines are, the longer it will take to enforce them. In order to do this, find team members in and outside the legal department to review specific components of your guidelines to ensure they are clear and make sense.
  2. Prioritize setting your law firms up for success. Your law firms are an extension of your internal team, so their success needs to be a key focus for you. A part of this includes making sure your guidelines expand beyond what law firms can and can’t bill for. You’ll want to add timing parameters for billing, how things should be billed, what the process is, and where to go for help. Also, be explicit about what happens if guidelines aren’t met. The goal here is to make it as easy as possible for them to follow your guidelines and succeed.
  3. There are two common things that are often left out of billing guidelines that should be included. The first is a Favored Nations Clause, which says if your law firm gives another client a better rate, they have to give that same rate to you. This helps to ensure that you’re getting the best rates that your law firm can afford. Second, be sure to include your expectations for accruals. You’ll need to work with your finance team to understand their requirements, but including this will help to ensure that legal’s relationship with finance stays a happy one.

Conclusion

These are but a handful of the insights Daniel and Jamie touched upon during the webinar. They also delved into billing guidelines best practices as well as common issues they’ve experienced and how they solved for them. I highly recommend checking out the webinar!