The evolving role of technology

Latest technology can replace unreliable manual systems to control billing and management of outsourced projects, says Thomson Reuters

Today's legal landscape

For busy in-house legal teams, managing legal spend can sometimes be a challenge. Companies can have dozens or hundreds of legal projects ongoing at the same time, outsourced to a number of law firms across the country or worldwide.

With the hectic pace of activity across multiple locations, general counsel commonly struggle to see the complete legal landscape of their entire department. It may be hard to track which lawyers are working on which job, at what rate and what progress has been made. And it is a constant challenge for project teams of in-house counsel to manage deadlines and budgets.

So how does a typical day look? Invoices arrive on the client’s desk without warning. Some are scrutinised. Others are merely approved without a second thought, as it is often too cumbersome to confirm whether the hours, expenses and billing rates are correct.

Also lost in the process is tracking expenses against the budget, which more typically unfolds at the end of a project, revealing costs that were well in excess of what was projected when it is too late to address overspending.

All too often, general counsel resort to improvised management techniques, cobbling together spreadsheets, e-mails, paper documents and other applications. To maintain current reports, all this information must constantly be updated manually, which generally falls behind during the press of business. This is also time consuming and opens the door to typographical errors, meaning future reports could be based on inaccurate information.

Control and visibility

An e-billing legal spend management system using the latest technology can replace the patchwork of manual tools within a single, purpose-built system. An e-billing system allows legal teams to instantaneously transfer all of the information in bills from law firm systems directly into the client’s system for spending and budget reports without any re-entry of data.

Such systems allow legal departments to route, audit and approve bills online efficiently, then deliver them to accounts payable for payment, saving time and costs, and improving accuracy of reporting.

Thomson Reuters Serengeti legal department management system gives general counsel an overview of all legal matters going on internally, as well as externally with their law firms, meaning they’re always on the same page as outside counsel.

Systems such as Serengeti can offer a plethora of tools for gaining an overview of legal activities. Preconfigured or customised reports can be generated giving an instant guide to all ongoing matters, including status updates, costs incurred and where legal spend is against budget. General counsel can use such a system to enforce the billing guidelines which they set for their law firms.

Ros Innes, head of in-house at Thomson Reuters, Legal UK & Ireland, explains: “It is possible to specify, for example, how many lawyers are to work on a case. If you have previously agreed to what type of firm resources will be attached to a specific project, Serengeti will flag if a new person starts billing who hasn’t billed before.

“You can also summarise time by level or individual. On a complex matter you might want to specify that only lawyers with a certain number of years’ experience are allowed so that you are not paying for junior staff to be trained. You can then agree on rates, trusting the system to catch any unauthorised changes. You can also put limits on expenses, such as photocopying charges, for example.

“The system’s software is much more efficient at catching these issues, saving lawyer time for more important work.”

Mrs Innes emphasises how hard these things are to manage without a dedicated tool. “Things just slip through the net. Law firms will up their rates and forget to tell a client. Or they are used to first-class travel, and fail to follow your rules and keep booking it,” she says.

Serengeti examines each invoice and raises flags against potential violations which the client can reject at the push of a button. “From a cost perspective alone, corporate legal departments can save from 5 to 15 per cent of their legal spend in the first year on the system, simply by monitoring what their law firms are doing,” says Mrs Innes.

And there are other advantages. By gaining a unified overview of legal activities, companies can uncover trouble spots. For example, if a branch is generating higher than average human resources problems, such as unfair dismissal cases, then a training programme can be put in place to reduce the number of legal claims being generated.

There is also an evaluation process enabling companies to systematically track law firm performance, so that over time they can see which firms are delivering the best results. Serengeti analytics aggregate the data from more than 700 companies on the system – more than twice their competitors – enabling legal departments to compare the management of their legal work and fees with those of their peers, and benchmarking themselves against their competitors.

A growing community

Currently, more than 100,000 law firms in 182 countries use Serengeti to bill their clients, with no cost to the firms for access. A key benefit is their invoices are processed faster, enabling them to receive early payment. Companies who have negotiated early payment discounts are able to achieve the agreed-upon savings as a result of the streamlined payment processing.

This expedited process, benefitting both firms and clients, generates tangible savings which make a compelling argument for general counsel seeking approval from the board for a system such as Serengeti.

What about the installation process? It’s simple, since it is a web-based solution with nothing to install and no IT-involvement required from the user-side. Regular upgrades are installed for all users automatically at no additional cost and each customer benefits from the best practices of legal departments around the globe.

Built by lawyers for lawyers, queries are handled by Serengeti’s team of former lawyers. And from the autumn, data will be stored on UK-based servers – an important consideration for organisations concerned with data security.

The cost? For most companies, the cost is less than 1 per cent of outside legal spending, with no charges to law firms. Mrs Innes advises: “It makes sense if you are spending more than £500,000 a year or if you have a large number of cases to manage. The cost-saving alone means Serengeti ought to pay for itself quickly for companies meeting these requirements.

“However, many of our customers say that, though a great benefit, the cost-saving is not the main attraction of Serengeti – what they like most is the control and visibility it gives them over their portfolio of matters and legal spend.”

With almost a decade of proven performance, Serengeti is now used by corporations and law firms around the world. “There are no teething problems,” says Mrs Innes. “It’s a proven system with a long track record worldwide.”

To hear more about Serengeti or to arrange a demonstration of the service:

Call: 020 7393 7197

E-mail: serengeti.uk@thomsonreuters.com

Visit: serengetilaw.com/international/uk

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