If you work as part of a legal operations team, chances are you spend plenty of time thinking about how to improve legal spend – specifically, how to manage and reduce it. Under ever-increasing pressures to do more with less, the spotlight on legal spend is brighter than ever.
The following are just a few examples of how having the right technologies can go a long way toward reducing legal spend.
1. Improve Legal Spend by Moving to Electronic Invoices
You can’t improve legal spend without understanding what your baseline is. If your law department and its law firms are working with paper invoices, you limit the chances of understanding what your spend truly is and where you may be overcharged. Plus, paper invoices limit insight into vendor management, evaluations and comparisons.
Why? Because for most corporate legal departments, manual invoice review is time-consuming, tedious and can lead to human error. There are simply too many invoices and not enough time or resources to vet line items. Plus, it’s hard to compare and analyze costs when all information is on paper.
E-billing enables a corporate legal department to adopt industry standards for formats and billing codes. From there, legal ops can begin to capture and “digest” precious data for reporting and analysis – valuable indicators such as overall spending, trends and more – and compare them to industry benchmarks (more on that below). It also minimizes the time spent inputting invoices into billing systems for review and payment processing.
2. Use a specialized legal e-billing system rather than a general tool
There are a lot of e-billing systems on the market, but many of the most popular ones aren’t designed to handle legal billing. Too many corporate legal departments fall back on general e-billing tools when a tool that’s specialized for legal can better deal with legal-specific billing problems and improve legal spend.
Among other things, the right legal e-billing system will offer the following functionalities, which are traditionally not available in general e-billing tools: supporting electronic timekeeper rates from outside counsel, preventing law firms from billing to matters without approval, receiving invoices in the industry-standard Legal Electronic Data Exchange Standard (LEDES) format or comparing LEDES invoices against company billing guidelines, permitting write-offs or rejections of individual invoice line items, allowing for comparison of invoices against budget, supporting the automatic allocation of invoices to specified cost centers or codes, and allowing for reporting on spend by relevant factors such as time, activity, matter, firm and more. All of these capabilities are critical to accurate and efficient legal invoicing.
3. Automate billing guidelines that comport with outside counsel guidelines
Compliance with outside counsel billing guidelines is one of the most important goals of reviewing invoices. Manual review is not up to the task. Technology is, so make sure you have a tool that allows you to input your specific billing guidelines so they can automatically and consistently be applied across all your invoices to identify areas of improper charges and prevent overpaying.
The billing rules often come as part of legal spend management systems. They automatically scour incoming invoices from law firms and legal vendors for discrepancies and fix or flag the invoice for further review. This relieves reviewers from manually combing through each line item, often resulting in immediate savings.
4. Implement AI that looks between the billing rules
Legal invoice review has long been rules-based. While billing rules represent an excellent first step for reducing legal spend, it’s only the beginning. Invoices may still slip through the cracks with a purely rules-based approach or be incorrectly approved for payment.
How does this happen?
Billing rules, while valuable, rely on specific descriptions or words to identify potentially improper charges. If by some chance, an invoice employs different keywords or descriptions not included in billing rules to describe a line item, billing rules may not flag the charge. It may, instead, not identify the noncompliant charge and approve it for payment. After all, you can’t program billing rules to consider every potential variable in word choices.
If you want to further improve legal spend, consider an AI-powered invoice review tool that looks between the rules to find even more savings. These technologies work in conjunction with enterprise legal management systems. They are trained on millions of legal invoice charges to look for areas where overpayment is common, or correction is typically needed – things like block billing, vague descriptions, work done by the wrong class of staff or non-work travel.
When these issues are identified, InvoiceAI can either automatically adjust the charge to comply with outside counsel guidelines or it can bring the problem to reviewers’ attention, significantly reducing the likelihood of improper payment and lowering overall legal spend in the process.
5. Leverage Benchmarking Technologies
Knowing how much you spend on a particular law firm is great. Even better, though, is knowing how much you should spend based on what everyone else is spending – even down to a law firm in a specific location for a particular task. This is where benchmarking comes in.
Benchmarking is a critical part of any sound legal spend management system. But the benchmarking technology you select needs to provide attributes such as practice area, timekeeper level, work type and discounts, which will provide you with the negotiation leverage you need during conversations with your law firms.
For example, a top private equity firm saved 17% on its rates, realizing more than $27M in savings in the first year by leveraging smart benchmarking data.
Also, to ensure that you always understand the going rate for upcoming matters, make sure your benchmarking solution also has proprietary competitive cohorts of law firms based on at least 100 factors, including general firm expertise, rates and even individual partner expertise.
The pressure to do more with less likely won’t end any time soon, but there are ways of meeting that demand by implementing the right technology.