Managing external legal providers: 3 pointers to a better outcome

In an earlier blog, we looked at how best to instruct external legal providers—providers such as barristers, solicitors, or legal consultants.

Why? Because all too often, working with such providers can be a dispiriting affair, leaving businesses wondering why they struggle to make sense of what they get back, and why the resulting invoice represents such seemingly poor value for money.

Instead, we argued, businesses should carefully think through the work that they want an external legal provider to perform, taking care to properly scope it out, and making sure that they try to carry out any associated low-value ‘legwork’ in-house.

Such a process, we observed, goes a long way to building a better experience and better outcome—and also, incidentally, helps to make it much easier to press the provider to quote a fixed price for the work in question. Which has to be good.

But the process doesn’t end with a formal agreement with a provider for them to carry out a specific piece of work, ideally at a fixed price.

Instead, we recommend proactively managing and monitoring the work while it is ongoing, which in our view again helps to deliver a better outcome, and a better experience.

So here are three pointers as to how to do this.

1) Constant communication is vital

Your chosen legal provider needs to be communicating closely with you about the work that is being performed, and how it is progressing. Many lawyers, it turns out, are often quite poor at project management, and good communications help to keep things on track.

In part, this is about working efficiently: you don’t want your legal providers to spend time and effort needlessly, especially when a quick conversation with you would have prevented this.

And in part, too, it’s about cost management. Don’t be shy about asking for updates on time spent, fees on the clock, and any unexpected items. Your chosen provider should be very aware that cost is important to you. You should never be surprised at an invoice—and close communications help to eliminate any surprise.

Above all, your provider should be very aware that you are monitoring and managing them. Ask about the progress, ask for updates, and ask about timing.

2) Beware of ‘over-lawyering'

When three or four lawyers read the same document, it gets expensive. But that’s often what happens.

It’s a fact that complex issues or documents might need input from several different lawyers, with differing skills and specialisms—an employment expert, say, or a data protection expert, or a regulatory expert.

But there’s no real need for them all to read a set of documents in their entirety, or for them all to be on the same conference call in its entirety. Our suggestion: break documents up into packaged ‘sections’ that can be reviewed by a single individual, and structure conference calls with agendas in order to ensure that people are only participating when required.

With a little thought, it’s possible to make substantial savings.

3) Check the time sheets!

Any invoice from a legal provider should be accompanied by a time sheet, detailing who did what, and how long they spent on it.

Again, it’s a fact that not all time sheets are correct. Mistakes occur, and lawyers don’t always account for their time as accurately as you might think.

In our experience, having challenged time sheets on behalf of clients, it’s far from unknown for such challenges to be successful. The golden rule: if a time sheet doesn’t look right, challenge it. You might be surprised at the outcome.

The bottom line

In other words, when working with external legal providers, never forget that you are the customer, and that legal providers work within a competitive marketplace.

It’s not unreasonable for you to demand frequent communications, it’s not unreasonable for you to want to avoid wasteful/unnecessary legal advice, and it’s not unreasonable to query costs if they don’t look right.

So if you’re not happy with how your provider responds, and not satisfied with the level of service that they provide, then tell them so. And don’t be shy about taking your business elsewhere.

These steps will be taken by a good in-house lawyer whenever an external law firm is instructed. This is part of the service we provide our clients, for whom we act as their in house lawyer on a part time basis, in situations where we need to instruct an external law firm for specialist advise or overflow work.

Please call us at any time to learn more. 

Posted Monday, November 5th, 2018 by Warren Ryland



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