Taking e-billing to the next level with a service provider

Legal teams that have already achieved the first wave of benefits from e-billing should now set their sights on the next level of returns

In the same way that it's hard to remember life before email, legal teams that have implemented electronic billing are already wondering how they ever functioned without it. Legal departments using e-billing solutions have already seen the benefits of automation: faster, more efficient processing and the ability to identify billing anomalies more quickly. Even at a relatively basic level of e-billing usage, most legal departments are likely to see measurable improvements in these areas.

However, far greater strategic advantages await those who tap a capable third-party service provider for e-billing support. With the right help, e-billing enables legal spend analysis at both macro and micro levels, giving in-house legal teams the ability to manage outside counsel spend in new and better ways.

Good help isn't hard to find

Several capable service providers have appeared in recent years, giving in-house teams access to experienced guidance as well as “arms and legs” to do the work that will take them to the next level of value. Granted, some in-house teams can staff and manage effective e-billing support, but few can do so as effectively or efficiently as a specialist provider that does e-billing support for a living. Besides, internal legal headcount is better used to move complex legal work in-house, not to provide e-billing support, especially when other effective support options exist.

Standardization and ongoing support

Streamlining and automation depend on standardization. To take full advantage of e-billing, guidelines must be developed, documented and shared with outside counsel and followed by all parties. With many successful e-billing implementations under its belt, a good service provider will help your team formulate and document guidelines and best practices, train outside counsel on the use of your e-billing platform and provide the ongoing administrative support required to monitor and ensure guideline compliance.

To minimize background noise, tap your service provider to answer all first-line questions from outside counsel and vendors related to invoicing, new matter creation, timekeepers and invoice status. Not only will this spare your own internal team time-consuming minutiae, it will create a feedback loop that will help your service provider deliver better, more responsive training on how to use the tool.

Information is power

With standardization and an effective support team in place, you can use your service provider to unlock the next level of strategic value in e-billing: leveraging spend analytics and historical data to ensure the billing rate for each timekeeper is consistent with portfolio averages and the industry based on position, experience and location.

Several new software tools are now available that enable this kind of analysis, but as with any sophisticated technology, these tools come with a learning curve. Capable service providers are already experienced with these tools and are better prepared than most in-house teams to shoulder the work required to produce meaningful, useful analysis.

Balanced scorecards and business reviews

To put this analysis to use, your service provider can help prepare objective scorecards that combine both quantitative and qualitative analysis of outside counsel performance. This information can then be shared with outside counsel partners in periodic business reviews to develop healthy collaborative dialogue about value alignment.

We also use our service provider to act as a neutral third-party facilitator for these discussions to help ensure the most objective and solution-focused tone possible, in line with the “legal ecosystem” approach about which I have written previously.

The journey awaits

Legal teams that have already achieved the first wave of benefits from e-billing should now set their sights on the next level of returns. By engaging a capable service provider, legal teams can achieve greater standardization, efficiency, billing compliance and budget predictability, and can use billing information to foster better, more value-based relationships with outside counsel.

Connie Brenton

Connie Brenton is chief of staff and director of legal operations at NetApp. Email her at connie.brenton@netapp.com.

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