Local counsel can be indispensable when circumstances call for it. Moreover, as a recent article in Professional Liability Advocacy notes, “[t]o save expense and avoid duplication of effort, local counsel may be told that they should accomplish only those tasks specifically assigned or delegated to them.” Limiting the scope of a local counsel’s engagement can limit expenses.
Nevertheless, compiling and invoicing the local counsel’s time and expense entries adds to the significant non-billable administrative tasks law firms must already complete. Disorganization, manual processes, and non-compliant billing can further exacerbate the issue, leading to delays and unnecessary friction.
If it’s confusing for the lead counsel attorneys to parse though, imagine trying to explain things to the client. These administrative hurdles and delays can cost time, money, and hassle for clients, as well as for the local and lead counsel.
Having a streamlined organizational system for local counsel management is all but a necessity to avoid confusion and wasted effort between lead and local counsel, while keeping all parties on the same page with the client.
Fortunately, web-based platforms allow for efficient, automated local counsel management and billing. Moreover, many new online legal billing applications come complete with built-in analytic functionality to not only streamline the processing local counsel billing, but also provide feedback on how to better allocate resources in future matters.
Managing Local Counsel’s Access
To quote the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC), “local counsel will help you with knowledge of local rules, court systems, judges and potential jury considerations,” specifying “[e]specially in cases with higher monetary stakes, local knowledge and insight concerning the public’s perception of plaintiffs and defendants could be invaluable.”
This usefulness comes at a cost, however. For example, confidentiality and conflict avoidance practices call for limits on local counsel’s access to client billing information. The reality of being on the same side but not necessarily on the same team requires clear divisions in what lead counsel should make local counsel privy to, including as to billing.
Similarly, the ACC advises maintaining these divisions can help sidestep potential conflicts down the line. At the same time, the information local counsel does need access to must be readily available to them, to avoid unnecessary delays. A management system that allows for this protected integration would be able to marry the two issues.
Standardization Through Computer-Assisted Billing
Local counsel’s knowledge of local laws and rules, not to mention the experience with local judges and courts, make them valuable. However, these procedural differences could extend to misalignments on what constitutes a reasonable fee, as the amount of time needed to accomplish for example a motion to dismiss in one jurisdiction might differ significantly from another jurisdiction.
Lead counsel, local counsel and their clients must find a way to get on the same page to maintain the highest levels of efficiency.
Automation provides the means of standardizing local counsel management, primarily in terms of billing. This is an evolution that the ACC believes could lead to a significant reduction in the non-billable administrative workload on lead counsel and on clients.
Technology has caught up to the point of allowing local counsel to easily comply with the client’s billing guidelines and other expectations, while also integrating with most already existing legal management systems. This blends the accessibility of systems with which firms are already familiar, with the additional functionality that can speed up their processes.
Features to Look For With Local Counsel Management Software
Ideally, the online system used to manage local counsel would use the latest in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning to cut down on confusion, conflict, and time consumption to save everyone involved more money.
Existing technology allows firm management programs to:
- Keep track of time and expense entries for certain clients and matters as needed
- Automate the bill review process
- Assign rules to automatically clean up entries
- Automate and standardize implementation of UTBMS/LEDES codes
- Integrate with existing billing software without migration or installation
- Increase realization and collection rates for both lead and local counsel
Not only are these features useful for the day to day management of any size firm, but the customizable nature makes it suitable for atypical situations as well. For instance, the application should allow for adding local counsel while maintaining control of what the local counsel can and cannot see from their end.
Standardizing and keeping track of local counsel billing is only one of many practical applications of an online billing platform. With the right platform, local counsel management activities don’t need to be difficult or time-consuming.
Computer-assisted billing applications have found ways to simplify and optimize firm management and administrative processes, from everyday billing or more nuanced efforts like local counsel management. All that’s left to do is make use of them and help save everyone involved time, money, and hassle.
The article was first published in Evolve The Law on 11/18/2019.