What you need to know about legal matter management

Kara Wen | May 5, 2022 | Articles

Project management is one of the top responsibilities for legal op teams. And while legal matters are some of their most significant projects to handle, they’re also some of the most complicated. From staying on top of constantly moving parts to analyzing hundreds of matters to find ways to improve, learning the ins and outs of managing legal matters takes time and practice.

Mastering detailed matter management is the foundation of effective legal cost control. General counsel at smaller businesses want to save around 14% by 2024, and you’ll find more ways to optimize legal spend and determine the ROI of in-house and outside counsel with concrete matter data on your side.

We recommend you nail down the basics of legal matter management, and then it’s time to learn how a digital tool can make a world of difference in helping you navigate this multi-faceted process.

What is legal matter management?

It’s easy to get case management and legal matter management confused because they both involve keeping track of legal documents. But that’s the sole purpose of case management: making sure files are organized in document-heavy individual cases. Legal matter management is way more comprehensive, with legal ops maintaining an updated collection of information on all internal and external matters.

Legal matter management encompasses many more aspects than case management and includes case management itself.

Creating legal matter records

When you log a legal matter, you’re able to keep track of who is working on it and how much the work is costing you. Recording gives you more data to analyze your company’s legal work and related expenses.

A standard legal matter record should include:

  • The case title
  • The date opened
  • The practice area(s)
  • The budget
  • The main parties involved and their contact information
  • In-house counsel
  • Law firms
  • Support staff
  • Invoice approvers

You can also include specific details for different matter types, such as the names of plaintiffs, defendants, and judges for litigation as well as matter risk and complexity levels. Be sure to document and follow formatting guidelines (e.g., including a judge’s name with or without the court) to ensure consistency and clarity across matters.

Establishing and maintaining budgets

Keeping detailed records of matters makes it easier to budget for future matters. Study legal analytics, like spend per practice area and timekeeper, to create a budget. This should eliminate surprises down the line because your planning is based on hard data rather than educated guesses.

Another way to prevent derailed budgets is by enforcing vendor billing guidelines. Establishing clear expectations with your law firm partners and holding them accountable will keep your workflow and budget on track. Unexpected charges add stress to you and your accounting team, so it’s important to get your vendors on board with submitting invoices and accruals on time. The same goes for incorrect legal invoice formatting.

Tracking and updating legal matters

Make sure that matter information is updated correctly and in a timely manner so everyone stays on the same page. It’s also important for creating effective reports for the GC.

Updating a matter is much more than just changing its status from open to closed. It also involves:

  • Adding and tagging new documents
  • Confirming received invoices and accruals as well as when payments are made
  • Noting changes in deadlines, staffing, or relevant meetings
  • Adjusting budgets if necessary
  • Making notes summarizing any additional relevant updates

And while it’s mostly up to in-house counsel to connect with vendors about legal workloads, you’re responsible for reminding in-house attorneys about upcoming deadlines.

Reporting on legal matters

Matter reporting involves compiling objective information on matters to identify successes, trends, and opportunities for matter costs and productivity to be improved moving forward. These strategic analyses are especially important for helping the C-suite understand what’s going on with legal spend management, giving them insight into backup choices that support a healthy bottom line. They’re also important for measuring the ROI of outside counsel and supporting respectful, open communication on ways to boost their performance.

3 ways legal management software overcomes matter management obstacles

Even if you’re on top of legal matters, you’ll still encounter difficulties because there are so many factors at play. Fortunately, the most common obstacles can be addressed with the right legal matter management solution. In fact, 79% of corporate legal department respondents in CLOC’s 2021 State of the Industry Report use one.

1. Provides an accessible, single source of truth

With just one digital location for matter data, different teams can share information and collaborate more effectively. This is especially true in a remote or hybrid work environment, where using both paper and digital files is a logistical nightmare.

Workday Legal Operations Manager Greg Bennett saw immediate benefits from centralizing data:

“Thanks to SimpleLegal, we’ve centralized access to data for both legal and finance. Both departments have a clear and consistent understanding of how legal uses its budget. We’re finally speaking the same language.”

When departments outside of legal don’t have to hunt down the matter information they need across different sources, they can spend less time clarifying over emails and calls. This reduces workflow silos and interdepartmental tension. Legal matter management software also speeds things up with specific permission levels, so different business units don’t have to dig through information that isn’t relevant to them.

Additionally, because matter management systems can integrate with commonly used tools like Tableau and document storage platforms to extract data, you’ll also see fewer errors from duplicate entries.

2. Reduces manual work

By using automation and other time-saving tech capabilities, a legal management system frees team members up from cumbersome processes like manual data entry so they can focus on more thoughtful work that adds business value. This leads to higher job satisfaction, which is linked to more productivity and better retention. Many legal ops teams are already dealing with flat or declining headcounts, so keeping staff engaged is critical to prevent burnout and turnover.

Some standard examples of handy digital features that help out busy legal ops members include:

  • Matter templates
  • Matter tags
  • Search filters
  • Full-text search

Another valuable feature in a legal management solution is optical character recognition (OCR). This advanced component can search text in image files — like PDFs, JPEGs, and PNGs — making it much easier to find what you’re looking for.

Lastly, automated billing guideline enforcement takes the pressure off legal ops and accounting to track down outside counsel.

3. Offers real-time insight into matter data

You know the saying, “if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it”? This applies to legal matter data too. Missing or outdated information limits your ability to create accurate reports and make strategic decisions. These problems tend to come up when using spreadsheets or legacy software with limited tracking abilities. It takes time and effort to cross-check the details to make sure they’re correct and up to date.

With a legal management solution, though, new data is fed into it and updated in real time. So, you have the knowledge you need to make more proactive adjustments to matter workflows or budgets and can be confident in the accuracy of your matter reporting.

End-to-end legal matter management software also makes it easier to track and sort through granular matter details like matter lifecycle times or spend by practice area. Using a spreadsheet for calculations takes time and leaves room for errors. Legal software automatically categorizes these key details for you — and they can all be pulled into a report with a click of a button.

Armed with this level of insight, you can make more strategic spend management decisions because you have the full picture of what’s happening financially with all your matters. These metrics also serve another dual purpose that supports cost control: objectively measuring vendor performance.

Effective legal matter management proves the value of legal ops

The more you can streamline legal matter management and thoughtfully analyze matter data, the more you can show how important legal ops is to a healthy bottom line. Schedule a free demo of our legal matter management software to see how SimpleLegal can help get your matters — and, therefore, your legal costs — under control.