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Did You Mean To Buy That? Advice For Billing Non-Compliance

  • Legal Operations
  • 3 Mins

"Did we mean to buy that?” This is, fundamentally, the question that Legal Operations professionals often want to ask their litigation team stakeholders. To succeed, Legal Operations and lawyer colleagues must collaborate as partners, as well as with outside counsel through better matter management and eBilling processes. 

Here are some myths around Outside Counsel Guidelines (OCG) billing and real-world takeaways to combat issues:

  1. Myth 1: Outside Counsel is aware of your policy, had read it recently, and understands its meaning.
    False! This is not always the case. To counteract this myth:

    a. Create that policy: You need a policy in place in order to convey your needs and protect your business. The Outside Counsel Guidelines (OCG) policy doesn't need to be complicated; it just needs to be clear, specific and reasonable. Most firms will follow and understand your rules 95% of the time; your problems will come from only 5% of the firms.
    b. Socialise and train your policy internally: Make sure you are communicating internally about your policy, its definition and enforcement. Don't assume that your staff are aware of this policy and has previous experience with compliant OCG billing. 
    c. Request acknowledgment: Just because your company has shared your OCG policy with outside law firms, doesn't mean that they have looked through it and digested the information. Request acknowledgement from the firm and their timekeepers, either implicitly or explicitly. Make it easily available through a system that works for you. Make sure you communicate with your outside firm on a regular basis: whether or not changes have been made, it's always better to reaffirm your policy with your OC.
  2. Myth 2: Outside Counsel is aligned with your department's understanding of what qualifies as billable work as codified in your OCGs.
    Sometimes true, sometimes false!
    a. Enforce the Guidelines: Once your team is aware and knowledgeable of the guidelines, they will understand how and when to enforce them properly. Draft an enforcement protocol document that your team refers to when problems arise; include real-world examples. Make sure you're communicating with your firms what's in your guidelines and how you enforce that. It's a myth that OC is aligned with your policy and understand what qualifies as billable work; make sure you question, clarify and enforce your policy against non-compliance.
    b. Collect Data & Analyse Metrics:  Collecting data will give your team an overview of its activities and spend. It's a powerful tool in understanding how your billing operates. Gather your team to decide what metrics are important to review; train them for financial literacy so they feel empowered. Once you have your metrics and a team that can competently review your data, you'll start to see the cadence and rhythm of OC spend.

  3. Myth 3: Law firm invoices are always scrupulously reviewed internally before being submitted to clients for payment.
    Mostly false!
    a. Deal with your bills promptly: Review your bills with your team on a weekly basis. Collect questions and review your enforcement policies if you need clarify something with outside counsel. Remember, bills are not like good Bordeaux, they don't get better over time.
    -Invoices aren't always scrupulously reviewed internally before they're submitted; make sure you understand what's being billed. Sometimes even the firm doesn't know what they're billing!
    b. Refresh your fees and guidelines: Remember to review and refresh your guidelines. Your financial landscape might change from year to year. remember to circulate your new updates to your outside counsel and confirm acknowledgment. This is also a great time to forecast and highlight items in your guidelines to look out for in the following year.

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The contents of this article are intended to convey general information only and not to provide legal advice or opinions.

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