Outside counsel guidelines (OCGs) have become a standard part of the relationship between law firms and their clients. Typically, OCGs are created by in-house counsel and set out the policies and procedures governing the relationship, including legal fees, billing, and expense guidelines.
By clearly defining the expectations and parameters of the relationship from the outset, OCGs can help to prevent misunderstandings and disagreements down the road. In addition, OCGs can help to ensure that both parties are getting the most value from the relationship. When used correctly, OCGs can be an invaluable tool for managing the legal needs of a business.
At Matters.Cloud, we understand that billing compliance can be a challenge, especially for distributed teams. That's why we've implemented a series of the most common rules to make managing compliance with the rules one step easier.
Outside Counsel Guidelines - Types
The following provides a series of examples of how we manage the most common scenarios:
Agreed Client Rates
A decision on how much to charge for a particular type of work, or seniority of the person working has historically been largely a decision made by the law firm themselves. In recent years legal clients have increasingly set their rate expectations as part of their billing guidelines with a decision to be part of their preferred panel of outside counsel requiring that a law firm agrees to a standard set of rates.
This can be difficult for a firm to manage as they can be overwhelmed with different rates for each client that comes on board, often with more granular levels of rate-setting than they have dealt with previously.
To help manage this, we provide the ability to quickly create rates at multiple levels, whether agreeing on a rate for a specific user at a client level, adding matter rates, or specifying the rate for a particular activity, it’s easy to configure the required rates to ensure the correct rate is applied to each time record entered.
The practice of preventing ‘block billing’, where lawyers ‘block’ together a number of tasks without specifying how much time was spent on each, is a common feature within billing guidelines requested by clients.
Typically this involves time entries that include a number of descriptive elements separated by a semicolon or similar character, for example:
“8hrs: undertook legal research; compiled draft report; correspondence with client.“
To aid in complying with ‘no block billing’ rules we allow users to configure a client billing rule titled ‘blocked character’ that allows firms to configure specific characters (eg ; or ,) that cannot be used as part of entering time entries for clients with that rule associated.
Character / Word Limits
Demands for clarity on the time spent doesn’t stop at the prevention of characters typically associated with block billing. Legal clients are increasingly applying rules to the number of characters or words that are allowed as part of time entry narratives. This becomes increasingly complex where a firm may operate across multiple languages making a ‘one size fits all’ limit difficult to implement.
To cater to this, we allow users to configure a client billing rule for either ‘character limits’ or ‘word limits’, preventing a narrative from being entered that is outside the specified limits.
Legal clients may specify certain activities that they are unwilling to pay for as part of their service, typically this will be specified along the following lines:
‘We do not pay for travel time’
To make this easier to handle we provide two methods of preventing entry of activities that fall outside the policy. Firstly each matter can be allocated a specific ‘activity code set’, so for example if a matter does not allow the entry of ‘Travel’ then the code set assigned can exclude this particular category. However, this is not foolproof as users may still enter time entries and specify the word ‘Travel’ within their narrative. To cater for this, we allow users to configure a client billing rule for a ‘blocked word’ which will automatically prevent the entry of narratives that contain the specified word.
Setting Up Client Billing Rules
Users can associate Billing Rules with Clients as part of the client onboarding process or as new rules are stipulated by the client. The process to add new rules is straightforward and can be done directly from each client record:
Users are then alerted to any breaches of the rules when entering time records: