It’s not unusual for people to start a new activity or initiative with plenty of enthusiasm and the best of intentions, only for interest and energy to wane over time. The result? the new skill never gets mastered, or the project’s benefits are never fully enjoyed.
Whether learning to play a musical instrument or implementing new matter management and spend management software, failure to achieve the desired outcome often causes disappointment and frustration.
For example, you may purchase a technology solution for your legal department with great expectations, only to have it turn out the team isn’t able to find the time or resources to take full advantage of the capabilities.
Perhaps the system delivers a couple of outcomes that the legal team wants. That is, they can generate some bills or create some big matters. Unfortunately, there is no consistency in – or guidelines for – its use and no plans for process improvements. Soon, it effectively gets side-lined.
It turns out that just as consistent practice helps you learn a new instrument and improve over time, legal teams can become experts at getting value from their systems if they prepare correctly and put in the work.
Here are the top ten ways to achieve a virtuoso performance from your spend and matter management systems:
1. Assemble a team
Well before implementation, identify a team to decide how best to configure the system.
First and foremost, a decision-maker in the legal department must be on board. This can be the general counsel (GC) or someone who has been assigned the GC’s authority for this project. If the rest of the legal department isn’t made to believe this project is a priority for their boss, the chances of a systemic change in legal department operations decrease significantly.
For a large legal department, you may want a representative from each major practice area to give input into the configuration of the system. It’s important to involve someone from the accounts payable or finance department to discuss how invoices will be handled. Include someone from IT, especially if the system needs to integrate with other solutions.
Having this team in place gives the project authority within the department. Further, by including all other stakeholders, you minimize the risk of surprises down the road.
2. Make goals and set a timeline
So, you’ve gone through implementation, and you’ve got the system up and running with some core functionality your department needs. However, if your legal department is coming from a paper world where reporting was minimal, invoices were approved without following set processes, and few billing guidelines were in place, then there’s still likely to be a lot of room for improvement.
That’s perfectly normal for a legal department adopting a matter management system for the first time. During implementation, you probably received a lot of options and suggestions from your account manager, along with a lot of best practice advice. Depending on where your legal department started, the different possibilities and the effort to implement them may have seemed overwhelming. The key is to prioritize what you would like to implement immediately and make a yearly plan outlining what you want to accomplish over time.
3. Constantly improve
Toyota made famous the concept of kaizen, or constant improvement. Making and keeping goals is one element of constant improvement, of course. But the concept is much more than that. It includes empowering people to bring forward and implement ways to make processes more efficient and listening when they question how things currently are done both within and outside of the system. It also includes keeping up with industry trends and applying them to how the legal department is run. That means having enough flexibility in your roadmap to respond to these opportunities as they arise.
Even the most sophisticated legal department can improve because the landscape is always changing. Be sure to change with it.
4. Create billing guidelines
If you don’t have billing guidelines, it is time to create some. One of the great benefits of a legal spend and matter management system is that it helps you enforce billing guidelines with your firms efficiently.
But the software can’t create your guidelines for you. Look to your account manager to get you started on how other legal departments handle factors like expense guidelines, fee-earner rates and rate increases, late invoices, and more. Once these guidelines are in place (or updated) you can start automating their enforcement in the system. This equates to real money saved with little or no effort.
Depending on your department’s preference you can either review billing violations or employ an auto-reduce or auto-reject functionality to do it for you.
5. Have regular meetings with your customer service executive
Account managers should be experts not only on the solution and how it works, but also on what other law department clients are doing with the system. They should also be on top of industry trends. The person who is designated to assist your legal department should be able to give you best-practice advice on how to implement your next goal. He or she should even be able to strategize with your team on what the next goal should be based on their experience with many other clients.
If you’re not already talking to your account manager on a regular basis, it’s good practice to schedule a quarterly call to go over your system use and your goals. If there’s a feature that you really want in the product, let your account manager know. The voice of the customer should be extremely important to your legal system partner, and your account manager should welcome this input.
6. Stay on top of new releases
The company you’ve partnered with should be constantly improving and updating its product, adding features that customers want. The company should also have a vision for where the market is heading in the future and be updating the system to anticipate those future needs.
Keep up with these releases and understand the vision so your legal department can keep improving, following best industry practices, and growing with the system.
7. Attend client webinars
Look to your spend management provider to help you stay current on in-house law department issues, in addition to them helping you use their system. Often providers will offer professional development webinars covering topics such as
- Emerging trends for legal departments,
- Ideas for tackling key relevant issues in the legal industry
- Best practices for both using your system and running your legal department
- Training sessions for new users
- Deep-dive explanations of new releases or the product roadmap
These will help you save time and keep on top of not only the product, but also market developments.
8. Develop or update your policies and procedures
Along with your law firm-facing billing guidelines, you should also have internal policies and procedures addressing your department’s use of the system. This will help ensure the system is used consistently by your internal team.
Why is consistency important? The old database administrator’s axiom of “garbage in, garbage out” applies here. If the data is inconsistent going in, your reports will be inconsistent also. Using the correct matter types or areas of law, naming conventions, or the requirement of budgets or status reports for matters, for example, affects how these matters and their spending roll up into reports.
Regardless of what sort of reports your department heads and GC may want, the data needs to be consistent for the reports to be meaningful. The policies and procedures should also cover who is responsible for what in the system.
- Who reviews billing guidelines violations or fee-earner rates?
- Who creates matters?
- Who has matter responsibilities and matter access?
Anticipate these questions and document them for the team. This documentation can also serve as a training document for new hires.
9. Assess your provider’s professional services offerings
No matter how long you’ve been working with matter management and spend management systems, be sure to check out your provider’s professional services offerings. The services should be based on their experience with other clients, and so reflect common challenges in the market.
This could involve a simple assessment and advice on how to better use the system, or if you’re new, guidance on getting you up to speed as quickly as possible. The provider can guide you on creating complex reports in a time-efficient manner or give you a helping hand to overcome a specific hurdle and achieve your goals for the year. Regardless of your requirements, it can be very beneficial to revisit how professional services can get your department where you want it to be.
10. Reassess all your processes
You’ve worked hard and had some successes, but how do you develop and maintain a consistent position as a top performer? By constantly auditing and reassessing your processes.
First, auditing your system to make sure that everyone is complying with your policies and procedures is important to your data integrity. Remember, a GC is relying on these reports to be accurate and may be presenting them to the CEO or the board of directors. Spot-checking for consistency and accuracy in your processes once a quarter is a good rule of thumb.
Secondly, your billing guidelines with your law firms should be reviewed annually, preferably before new fee-earner rates come out toward the end of the financial year. Are you allowing rate increases this year? If so, what percentage raise will be allowed? These answers depend on the state of your company and the legal market, which changes yearly. You may also want to review what you did that was successful or not successful in the previous year and then tweak your processes as necessary.
If you follow these steps with your spend and matter management system, then practice really should make perfect.
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