Outside Counsel Guidelines (OCGs) help define the relationship between a corporate legal department and its partner firms. Aside from the What, When and How of the invoicing mechanics, many also cover the scope of the invoices themselves – setting out the restrictions and prohibitions on fees and expenses which must be followed to ensure invoices get approved first-time, by in-house reviewers. These guidelines should be seen as being more than just a set of rules though, they are an important tool to help get invoices paid faster.
Whether implementing OCGs for the first time, or replacing an existing set, legal departments need to communicate the right message, to the right people, as easily and clearly as possible. Here, we share 5 helpful tips for you to consider when looking to draft, or redraft your guidelines;
1. Think about your outcome.
These guidelines should be aligned with your departments strategic objectives. The stakeholder(s) who own the OCGs should agree on the goals of publishing them and how those outcomes can be tracked and measured.
You should also use your Terms of Engagement to help you shape the message. Your OCGs reinforce these terms and, if your terms change, so should your guidelines.
Input from your internal lawyers can be very helpful in crafting the right message. You may also have lawyers internally that help manage your external relationships, through that engagement they can help to drive the changes of behaviour you’re seeking from your firms.
Consider sharing the OCGs internally too, so that your teams can get an understanding of what’s expected and can set a consistent message to the firms they engage.
3. Think about your audience (the ‘right’ people).
Ask yourself who you are sending these guidelines to – who needs to read and understand your message and react accordingly. Law firms separate responsibilities across what are often siloed teams. This means that you need to consider your target audience and distribution options to get the right info to the right teams, be they lawyers, finance, support or business.
For example, your law firms finance ops and relationship teams will likely need all of the technical and operational details. Fee earners however, will be focussed on understanding what matter management elements are required (e.g. getting a PO Number, a Matter ID Number etc), the chargeability of certain fees and expenses and any time recording obligations. Ultimately it is the behaviour of your time-pressed external lawyers that you’re trying to shape the most, don’t overburden them by giving them any more than what they need to know.
One of the main ingredients of successful invoicing – more so with eBilling – is collaboration. Engagement with your firms from early on in your eBilling implementation and right through BAU is critical. In that same spirit, consider sharing early drafts of your OCGs with some key firms for feedback so you can be sure as to which areas are clear and which need work.
You should be aware of how your internal processes and eBilling system design impact real-world operation. Understanding the implications of this for your own teams and your law firms is an important starting point. The guidelines you set around this should not start a zero-sum game – be reasonable when assessing what you’re asking of your firms and aim to create a mutually beneficial, operational relationship.
5. Measuring success.
In light of your commercial strategy for the next 2-5 years, consider the data around OCG compliance that you need to help you on that journey. Think about the data points you can leverage to ensure you stay on the right heading.
These compliance metrics – which should also include feedback from your lawyers – provide not just insight into the functioning of your OCGs, but also your processes and eBilling system. Take a holistic view of the areas of non-compliance and where you have gaps in your eBilling rules. You can then look to close those gaps through automation, which will save your lawyers time and increase your level of control on your external spend.
The easier your guidelines are to understand and apply and the more engagement you have with all those involved, the easier it will be to process invoices, the less scope you leave for spend leakage and the more reliable your data will be. With the right approach your department will have healthier relationships with everyone involved (internally and externally) and lower costs.
Outside Counsel Guidelines are not always easy to draft and implement successfully. If you’re just starting out with your guidelines, or if you’re having problems with your existing set, then get in touch. We’re just a call or email away from providing all the solutions you need.