The most effective working arrangement between inside counsel and outside counsel reflects the best elements of a successful business relationship and a true long term association. Specifically, it brings together two parties with needs and capabilities aligned; operates collaboratively, in an environment of mutual respect; and benefits from a foundation of trust and partnership.
Such a relationship doesn’t eliminate the need for “outside counsel management” or necessarily make that task any easier. Rather, in many ways it’s welcome evidence of successful outside counsel management by the in-house counsel – including, more and more often, the smart utilization of technology – and a willingness by outside counsel to commit to making the partnership work.
Following are 5 ways to optimize the outside counsel collaboration:
1. Regular communication with outside counsel
This should be the No. 1 priority for in-house counsel, because, from the beginning, communication forms the strong base for a collaborative partnership. Communication includes setting clear expectations – at the beginning and throughout the relationship – and addressing these expectations as often as necessary, as well as providing feedback to one another.
At the start, outside counsel needs to know the goals, objectives and priorities of the business and of the in-house team. It’s important to note that objectives and priorities can change over time and from project to project regarding particular elements.
It is also prudent to review and reset expectations from time to time. This can be done annually, or more or less often, depending upon the perceived need. The point is that just because expectations have been clearly set doesn’t mean they will remain that way for eternity.
2. Regular reporting on legal matter progress
Hand in hand with the communication element is the specific matter of progress reports. This allows outside counsel to provide details about what has been accomplished and share their updated roadmap. It is also an opportunity to note any unforeseen circumstances or scope changes that have arisen, or that may be forming on the horizon. Along with this, any potential budgetary impact can also be discussed.
3. Discussing budgetary limits
Budgetary limits should be established clearly and early. This allows outside counsel to plan their staffing and discuss it as needed with in-house counsel. Both parties should also agree that the budget reflects the facts known at the particular time of budgeting and outside counsel’s experience with similar cases, but that changes could occur.
4. Expediting payments and chargebacks with billing software
Along with providing transparency and accuracy, e-billing software can expedite the processing of payments and chargebacks.
Software can also support real-time billing conversations by allowing both parties to have identical, up-to-the-minute information about activities performed and the associated charges at their fingertips whenever they want.
5. Establish a relationship manager at the outside firm
Having one person designated to “own” the relationship can provide additional clarity. This person can also be assigned responsibility to perform billing reviews and track the matters in progress and how they stand against budget.
These are all elements that can help enable a successful, collaborative working arrangement between inside and outside counsel. If any of them sound constructive and aren’t a part of your current fabric, don’t hesitate to weave them in. They’ll likely give your operation a step forward in terms of efficient and effective outside counsel collaboration and management.