Collaboration Focus: Legal Technology facilitates collaboration

Collaborate with Law Firms to improve legal department management 

With the increased pressure to run their department “like a business”, general counsel need to demonstrate improved efficiency, both internally and with how they manage external legal spend. One way to do this is to demand more transparent relationships with their law firms.

Areas, where you should be looking for increased transparency, include:

  • Cost visibility. As well as overall spend, obtain breakdowns of spend by practice area, work type and timekeeper.
  • Matter staffing. What level of attorney is being assigned to what matter? Are high risk matters getting sufficient attention? Are high fee earners doing work a paralegal could do? Don’t necessarily look to pay the cheapest cost, but make sure you’re paying the appropriate cost.
  • Openness from the firm to receiving feedback on the quality of work and results.
  • Willingness to use past spend data to negotiate future fee arrangements and terms of the contract.
  • Visibility of matter and document lifecycles.
  • Co-operation in using information and data to make the relationship meetings with your law firms more meaningful.

Trying to obtain this level of transparency without collaboration is difficult, so you need to work with your law firm to achieve these goals. Forcing a list of demands is likely only going to result in defensive responses and damage to the relationship. Going in like a bull in a china shop will leave your law firm wondering what they are getting out of the partnership, whereas collaboration creates win:win scenarios. The benefits include clear expectations and goals, a reduction in misunderstandings and data-driven rather than opinion-based discussions. The benefits of collaborating with your law firms to improve openness are amplified when using legal technology to facilitate collaboration. The next section covers a few examples.

Legal Technology facilitates collaboration

  • E-Billing allows for pre-agreed billing guidelines to be set up in a system and automatically applied to incoming invoices. As guidelines are pre-agreed, there is no ambiguity over what is dis/allowed and it is much easier for the law firm to manage than trying to memorise different clients’ different billing guidelines. This saves the law firm time, and also reduces billing-related conflict. If the system is rejecting invoices the law firm believes are acceptable, this history is logged and can easily be flagged to the in-house team. The two parties can openly work together on reviewing and finessing billing guidelines over time.
  • Legal spend management systems capture historic billing data at a very detailed level. Combined with market fee data, the law firm and client can take a data-driven approach to rate negotiations.
  • Matter management systems ensure communication about matters and associated invoices, documents and contracts are centralised in a single system and logged against a single matter. Finding matter information, collaborating on documents and replying to comments is faster as it removes the need to search in email inboxes, message chains, and local folders.
  • Cutting-edge technology, some of which is powered by AI, promises law firms the ability to boost productivity and complete client work faster while maintaining margins by automating and speeding up routine processes. For example, some law firms are using AI-powered deal-comparison software to support M&A and Corporate transactions. These systems “commoditise” the firm’s expertise so that it can be delivered as a web-based packaged solution and clients can buy a licence to use the firm’s branded AI contract-comparison tool.
  • Many legal technology tools have easy-to-use reports that are delivered to all parties’ inboxes at regular intervals, or bespoke reports can be created much quicker than waiting for a paralegal to find the relevant information and create an excel spreadsheet.
  • The proliferation of exciting new IT start-ups is bringing legal IT back to the ‘best of breed’ approach. So a firm could potentially use one or more IT systems for due diligence and contract review, another product for legal research/knowledge management, a specialist e-Discovery supplier and a further solution to create client-facing apps. Accessing these tools through a single platform and/or integrating them to analyse data can help firms and clients work together more efficiently and strategically.

Ultimately, technology saves both the law firm and the in-house team’s time by automating simple processes and centralising and standardising information so the task of collaborating on tactics and strategy is more efficient. It also generates data, which becomes especially meaningful the more integrated tools you have in place, for both parties to use at reviews. This means time can be better spent on driving business outcomes, improving value received from the firm, and building stronger relationships.